Heis (Somali: Xiis, Arabic: حيس) is a historic coastal town located in the Sanaag region of Somaliland.[2][3] The town was important for trade and communication with the Somali interior and was used to export frankincense to Arabia.[4]

Xiis  (Somali)
حيس (Arabic)
Heis (town).jpg
Heis is located in Sanaag
Location in Somaliland.
Heis is located in Somaliland
Heis (Somaliland)
Coordinates: 10°53′47″N 46°55′16″E / 10.89639°N 46.92111°E / 10.89639; 46.92111
Country Somaliland
DistrictErigavo District
 • Total4,000
Time zoneUTC+3 (EAT)



The site said to be identical with the ancient trading post of Mundus (Ancient Greek: Μούνδος) that is described in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, an anonymous account by a Greek Alexandrian salesman from the 1st century CE.[5]

"Two days' sail, or three, beyond Malao is the market-town of Mundus, where the ships lie at anchor more safely behind a projecting island close to the shore. There are imported into this place the things previously set forth, and from it likewise are exported the merchandise already stated, and the incense called mocrotu. And the traders living here are more quarrelsome."

— Chap.9.[6]

A large collection of cairns of various types lie near the city.[7] Excavations here have yielded pottery and sherds of Roman glassware from a time between the 1st and 5th centuries.[8][5] Among these artefacts is high-quality millefiori glass.[7] Dated to 0-40 CE, it features red flower disks superimposed on a green background.[9] Additionally, an ancient fragment of a footed bowl was discovered in the surrounding area. The sherd is believed to have been made in Aswan (300-500 CE) or Lower Nubia (500-600 CE), suggesting early trading ties with kingdoms in the Nile Valley.[10] Ancient edifices have also been found in Heis.[11]


Legendary Arab explorer Ahmad ibn Mājid wrote of Heis and a few other notable landmarks and ports of the northern Somali coast, including Berbera, the Sa'ad ad-Din islands aka the Zeila Archipelago near Zeila, Alula, Ruguda, Maydh, El-Sheikh and El-Darad.[12]

Early ModernEdit

The Habr Je'lo derived a large supply of frankincense from the trees south in the mountains near Heis. This trade was lucrative and with gum and skins being traded in high quantity, Arab and Indian merchants would visit these ports early in the season to get these goods cheaper than at Berbera or Zeyla before continuing westwards along the Somali coast.[13] During the British Somaliland period the recorded statistics of Heis show it as a leader alongside Maydh in the east with hundreds of thousands of hides and being the leading exporter of tanned skins with 16,000 reaching Berbera taken by Habr Je'lo traders by dhow. As well Heis exported a large quantity of skins and sheep to Aden. Heis also imported a significant amount of goods from both the Arabian coast and western Somali ports and reached nearly 2 million rupees by 1903.[14]

John Hanning Speke, an English explorer who made an exploratory expedition to the area in an attempt to reach the Nugaal Valley, described the port town:[15]

Without landing, Lieutenant Speke coasted along to Bunder Hais, where he went on shore. Hais is a harbour belonging to the Musa Abokr. It contains a "fort," a single-storied, flat-roofed, stone and mud house, about 20 feet square, one of those artless constructions to which only Somal could attach importance. There are neither muskets nor cannon among the braves of Hais. The "town" consists of half a dozen mud huts, mostly skeletons. The anchoring ground is shallow, but partly protected by a spur of hill, and the sea abounds in fish. Four Buggaloes (native craft) were anchored here, waiting for a cargo of Dumbah sheep and clarified butter, the staple produce of the place. Hais exports to Aden, Mocha, and other parts of Arabia; it also manufactures mats, with the leaves of the Daum palm and other trees. Lieutenant Speke was well received by one Ali, the Agil, or petty chief of the place: he presented two sheep to the traveller.

— Sir Richard Francis Burton, First Footsteps in East Africa, Or, An Exploration of Harar


In modern times Heis is no longer as commercially active compared to the past but it remains a coastal settlement of the Habr Je'lo and locals also fish. The large Asli Maydi frankincense company harvests the trees in the mountains south of the town and across Sanaag.

In 1988, the Somali government closed the port of Berbera. For this reason, small natural ports such as Maydh, Heis, Las Khorey, and Zeila were used for the export of livestock. However, their volume was very small compared to the exports from the port of Berbera.[16]


The town is predominantly inhabited by the Uduruxmiin sub-division of the Habr Je'lo Isaaq.[17]

Heis is extremely hot, so residents live in the mountains for about six months, mainly in the summer, and spend the rest of the year near the coast.[18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ unicef (September 2002). "SANAAG REGION NUTRITION SURVEY REPORT" (PDF). Retrieved 2021-07-11.
  2. ^ Mire, Sada (2015). "Mapping the Archaeology of Somaliland: Religion, Art, Script, Time, Urbanism, Trade and Empire". African Archaeological Review. 32: 111–136. doi:10.1007/s10437-015-9184-9. S2CID 162067194.
  3. ^ Rodríguez (2018). "Against All Odds: The History of Archaeological Research in Somaliland and Somalia". Northeast African Studies. 18 (1–2): 271–310. doi:10.14321/nortafristud.18.1-2.0271. hdl:10261/216289. JSTOR 10.14321/nortafristud.18.1-2.0271.
  4. ^ Lewis, I. M. (2017-02-03). Peoples of the Horn of Africa (Somali, Afar and Saho): North Eastern Africa Part I. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-30817-3.
  5. ^ a b "Mundu" (in German). University of Bern. Archived from the original on 2007-08-15.
  6. ^ Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Schoff's 1912 translation
  7. ^ a b Newsletter of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists in America, Issues 8-13. Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary. 1976. p. 5. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  8. ^ Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
  9. ^ Meyer, Carol (1992). Glass from Quseir Al-Qadim and the Indian Ocean Trade, Issue 53. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. p. 37. ISBN 0918986877. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  10. ^ Hatke, George (2013). Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa. NYU Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0814762837. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  11. ^ Mire, Sada (2015-04-14). "Mapping the Archaeology of Somalia: Religion, Art, Script, Time, Urbanism, Trade and Empire". African Archaeological Review. 32 (1): 111–136. doi:10.1007/s10437-015-9184-9. ISSN 0263-0338.
  12. ^ "Ibn Majid". Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. 2005. ISBN 978-1-135-45932-1.
  13. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (1965). "The Trade of the Gulf of Aden Ports of Africa in the Early Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries". Journal of Ethiopian Studies. 3 (1): 36–81. JSTOR 41965718.
  14. ^ Great Britain, House of Commons (1905). Sessional papers Inventory control record 1, Volume 92. HM Stationery Office. p. 385.
  15. ^ Burton, Richard F. (2019-09-25). First Footsteps in East Africa; or, an Exploration of Harar. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-7340-8950-3.
  16. ^ Candlelight for Health, Education & Environment Hegiras (March 2006). "Impact of Civil War on Natural Resources: A Case Study for Somaliland". Retrieved 2021-07-11.
  17. ^ Hunt, John Anthony (1951). A General Survey of the Somaliland Protectorate 1944-1950: Final Report on "An Economic Survey and Reconnaissance of the British Somaliland Protectorate 1944-1950," Colonial Development and Welfare Scheme D. 484. To be purchased from the Chief Secretary.
  18. ^ BBC (2021-07-06). "Isbedalka Cimilada: Deegaan Soomaaliyeed oo kuleyl dartii looga cararay". Retrieved 2021-07-10.