Traditional Leaders of Jebertism ideology and Jeberti Brotherhood in Eritrea: Aberra Royal Family

Aberra family are descendants of the Representative of Khatmiyyah Order – a Sufi Order in Sudan, Kassala (Joe Venosa, 2013) in the highland of Eritrea. Aberra Hagos became the main mercenary of Italians in the highland. He became one of the most influential people in the highland of Eritrea, especially in Asmara throughout the Italian occupation, the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, etc.

His politics was complex and multi-dimensional. He was a nationalist, Islamist, Unionist, Sectarian, etc. Now, his grandchildren follow almost the same political style of their great-grandfather.

Like all Eritreans, most of the Aberra family now live in exile.
The politics of Jebertism is still controversial. It is mixed in politics, religion, identity, and social values. The search for Jeberti Identity is not complete. Even though the notion “Jeberti” has its roots in Somalia, around Zeila, Somaliland, the Aberra Family, and most other Jeberti community claim to be Eritrean indigenous people.

Dr. Mustafa Lysedie, recently wrote a book under a title, “who are Eritrean Jebertis?”. Dr. Mustafa noted that most of the Jeberti communities are of Beja origin and original habitats of Seraye region of the highland(now within the Southern Province of Eritrea). He added in his book that the Jeberti people were displaced from their original land by the Agows who migrated from Lasta, Ethiopia simply because they were Muslims.
Dr. Mustafa Lysedie’s claim is controversial. But, it has a serious political complexity that is merged within the struggle of the Jeberti community to be known as a separate ethnic group.

More than 80% Eritreans are believed to be descendants of Agow people. These families are scattered throughout Eritrea. Originally, Eritrea was the land of the Nilotic people. Then with the emergence of Kushitic civilization, a Kushitic culture and language dominated Eritrea. With the fall of the Kushitic civilization, Semitic culture started to emerge as a leading culture. Today, Eritrea is a product of Nilotic, Kushitic and Semitic civilizations. The people are of the same origin but exposed to different civilizations.

Since the 4thC, Christianity and then after the 7thC Islam changed many aspects of Eritrean identity. However, many Eritrean families have retained their kinship identity. This makes it easy to understand the social and anthropological make-up of the people. For this reason, it is hard to take Dr. Mustafa’s claim of the land-grabbing claim.

Islam has a long history in Eritrea. But, the rapid expansion of Islam took in the 19thC right after the fall of the Ottoman empire and expansion of European colonization. Many Arab missionaries crossed the Red Sea to preach Islam. Some prominent Islam preachers penetrated Eritrea. Families like al-Mirghani established their center in Kessela by establishing Khatmiyyah Order. This center became the new and strong base to spread Islam in Eritrea.

The father of Aberra family, Aberra Hagos, became a member of the Khatmiyyah brotherhood and became an instrument of spreading Islam in the highland of Eritrea. In addition, there was another Sufi Sheikh who established his base in Seraye. This Sheikh named Ahmed Kenani/Tijani is believed to come from Mauritania(West African country) through the network of Sufi Tariqah. His tomb is found in Abi-Adi Seraye. It is considered as a holy place by Jeberti community. Annual Pilgrimage is still continuing to honor him.

In all these activities, Aberra family play a central role. Even though Aberra Hagos lived in the 20thC, the family history can extend as early as the 19thC to see the overall picture of their contribution. Today, this family has the fourth-generation leaders of the Jeberti community working actively to promote Jeberti values and identity in Eritrea.

If you are interested in Sufism and Sufi Orders n Eritrea, please read these two articles

  1. Adapting to the new path: Khatmiyya Sufi authority, the al-Mirghani family, and Eritrean nationalism during British Occupation, 1941–1949 by Joseph Venosa
  2. The Role of Muslim Mentors in Eritrea: Religion, Health, and Politics by Silvia Bruzzi

As an Eritrean Liberal democrat, this family is an interesting family for the objective of understanding Eritrean politics, both religious and ethnic based politics. Here is below my expanded perspective.

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