The Saho are a Cushitic ethnic group from Eritrea, and they also inhabit some parts of northern Ethiopia.[4] They speak Saho as a mother tongue.

Flag of the Saho People's Democratic Movement.svg
The Saho ethnic flag
Total population
900,728 [1]
Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia55,000 (2020)[2]
Star and Crescent.svg Islam
Related ethnic groups

Ethnicity and societal structureEdit

According to Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad, most of the Saho (like the Afar and the Somali) have a primordial view of their own ethnicity, and claim to be descended from Arabian immigrants; this in turn allows for an identification with the family of Muhammad, and for an association of their history with that of the Near East. The societal structure is patrilineal and hierarchic, with society vertically organized in tribes and clans and families. The tribe (meela, kisho, or qabila) is organized into sub-tribes (gaysha, harak, or 'are) or clans (dik or 'are), but these two concepts are not always clearly distinguished, which are the most important strata because they indicate an individual's "personal descent or origin". Family descent is memorized going back at least 30 or 40 generations. Also memorized and narrated are laws and customs, and consanguinity plays an important role in these traditions, indicating again the primordial quality of tribal and ethnic identity.[5]


According to Ethnologue, there are approximately total Saho speakers. Most are concentrated in Eritrea (172 512), with the remainder inhabiting Ethiopia (255 000 speakers , 2020).[6] Within Eritrea, the Saho primarily reside in the Southern and Northern Red Sea regions.[7]


The Saho people speak the Saho language as a mother tongue. It belongs to the Saho-Afar dialect cluster of the Lowland East Cushitic languages, which are part of the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family.[8] and is closely related to Afar and Somali.


The Saho are predominantly Muslim. Majority of the Saho had adopted Islam by the 13th century due to the growing influence of holy men and traders from the Arabian peninsula.[9] A few Christians, who are also known as the Irob, live in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the Debub Region of Eritrea.[10]

Customary lawEdit

Regarding the customary law of the Saho, when there is an issue the Saho tend to call for a meeting or conference which they call rahbe. In such a meeting the Saho people discuss how to solve issues related to water, pasture or land, clan disputes and how to alleviate these problems. This is also discussed with neighboring tribes or ethnic groups and sub-clans to reach a consensus.[11]

A skilled representative is chosen for this meeting, this representative is called a madarre. A madarre brings forth arguments to his audience and sub-clans or tribes who are involved and tries to win them over. This is discussed with clan or tribal wise men or elders, ukal.

On smaller scale conflicts between 2 individuals, one of the 2 takes their grievances to the ukal, they in turn appoint shimagale or mediators for the dispute[11]

The Gadafur, who are considered the saintly lineage. When it comes to customary law of the Saho, the Gadafur, who are considered part of the holy families, act as religious leaders and political mediators of the Minifere tribes. The Gadafur have a high status and are highly privileged and respected among the Saho. It is said that the Gadafur are originally from the tribe of Gadabuursi[12]

Saho women in traditional attire.



  1. ^ The World Factbook
  2. ^ Olson, James Stuart; Meur, Charles (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-27918-8.
  3. ^ Joireman, Sandra F. (1997). Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa: The Allocation of Property Rights and Implications for Development. Universal-Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 1581120001.
  4. ^ " - CBSi". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  5. ^ Mohammad 58.
  6. ^ "Saho, Irob in Ethiopia".
  7. ^ "Saho". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  8. ^ Mohammad 162.
  9. ^ Miran, Jonathan (2005). "A Historical Overview of Islam in Eritrea". Die Welt des Islams. 45 (2): 177–215. doi:10.1163/1570060054307534 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ "". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  11. ^ a b Qānūn Al-ʻurfī Li-muslimī Ākalaguzāī. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 26.
  12. ^ Mohammad, Abdulkader Saleh (2013-01-01). The Saho of Eritrea: Ethnic Identity and National Consciousness. LIT Verlag Münster. ISBN 9783643903327.


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