People of Eritrea
People of Eritrea
The Saho, sometimes called Soho, are an Eritrean ethnic group living largely in the Northern Red Sea region of Eritrea, but some also live in adjacent parts of Ethiopia. They are predominantly Muslim. A few Christians, who are also known as the Irob, live along the southern border of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Saho are also found intermingled amongst the Tigrinya speaking population in parts of Eritrea’s southern or Debub region. They also intermingle with Tigre speaking tribes in Lowland regions.
Known as great pastoralists, the people have fought for centuries with highlanders over the pasture of the highland mountains. Some Saho are sedentary farmers and are also known for their beekeeping.
The Saho speak a language called Saho that belongs to the family of Afro-Asiatic languages, previously known as Hamito-Semitic languages.
The Saho are organized under sub-tribes known as Kisho, Mela, or Are. Each sub-tribe is divided into numerous kinship groups known as Dik or Abusa, which usually bears the names of individuals, the founders of the lineage.
All Saho tribes share a common language, culture, and history. However, not all Saho tribes have common origin or trace their lineage to a common ancestor. The earliest known Saho tribes, known as “Bado Ambalish” or bearers of land, are Kabota, Idda, Asa Bora & Gadafur.
The dominant Saho tribes today are conquerors of the earliest Saho tribes. However, the conquerors adopted Saho language and culture; others came to settle among them in around 800 A.D. to preach Islamic religion. They too gradually adopted the language and culture eventually becoming part of the Saho tribe.
Contemporary Saho tribe can be divided into 11 tribal groups. Many of the clans have a single clan-head called Redanto, who presides over a hierarchy of lesser chiefs and headmen known as Nabara and Chiqqa. These clan leaders do not preside over political-legal courts with firm means of executing their judgments and upholding their position.
Rather they are to be regarded as representative figureheads exercising an extremely important role in mediating within their own clan in conjunction with clan elders and in negotiating with other groups. Most important group decisions reflect a general consensus amongst the elders.
Matrimony among the Saho
As with nearly all Eritrean ethnic groups, engagement is arranged by the parents of the boy and the girl. The future husband and wife do not know about each other’s character till they get married.
When the parents look for a match for their son, they take religion, tribe health, wealth and age into consideration.
The deal, which requires the reciprocal giving and receiving of gifts and cash money, is left for the two families to make.
After the date of the wedding ceremony is fixed, the whole village takes part in collecting firewood, water including logs and branches for the construction of the make-do shed for the wedding feast.
As is common in other ethnic groups, prior to the wedding day, the bride-to-be is made to refrain from inordinate eating, confining herself to meager fare, which includes milk and dried bread. The idea is based on the belief that a bride should present herself to her husband in a proper physical and mental condition.
The bridegroom and his friends are expected by tradition to travel to the village of the bride, but they are not allowed to enter the village until a certain ceremony is performed. This ceremony consists of sending buttered bread from the village to the waiting group.
Clothing and Ornament
Saho women follow the Islamic injunctions in the way they dress avoiding as much as possible short and short-sleeved dresses. As for men, they are forbidden to wear shorts or sleeveless shirts during worship.
Before the coming of the Italians Saho women used to wear ornaments (Jewellery) on the head, nose, hand and leg. Most of this gold and silver was crafted by local professionals. But unmarried women did not wear any jewellery except beaded necklace.
Girls wear their hair in various styles until they grow old depending on their age and marital status. During mourning, Saho women undo their hair, part it into two strands and stay like that for four months and ten days.
Like the rest of womenfolk in various ethnic groups, Saho women also use Kohl, Likhay, Ilam or Henna and Tish or smoke bath. Slashing the cheeks (slightly) is at times practiced by women during marriage.
According to the Saho ethnic group, there are certain things when done at a wrong time cause malediction. The ungodly time is mostly at nighttime.
For example, brushing one’s teeth at night results in poverty, chewing gum at night is like eating the flesh of dead people, sitting on millstone results in death of parents.
In addition, sweeping floor at night is believed to take away riches, undoing the hair at night results in too much thinking and worrying and pulling out the tooth results in eventual and complete falling-off of one’s teeth.
As regards to places and objects, it is forbidden to leave an umbrella open inside a house as it causes disruption. It is forbidden to pass urine on water and to slaughter an animal indoors.
Sleeping on the left of a woman results in an offspring who may become unruly and troublesome. One is not allowed to pass urine facing northward as holy sites are found in that direction (the holy land) whistling in a place where the holy books are kept is considered a devil’s act.
Standing by the side of a seated person is frowned upon, as it is believed that the standing person draws blood from the seated person unwittingly.
Food and diet
The usual way of eating among the Saho ethnic group is for the family to sit at the same table to eat. However, in the past, the husband and wife ate together only until they had their first child. Afterwards, they ate separately because according to tradition, the moment the first child is born the wife begins to feel shy of her husband. Today this practice is declining due to urban influence.
Since the Saho are entirely Moslem, alcoholic beverages are never used. The most common beverages are tea and coffee. Coffee is flavored with ginger while cinnamon is added to tea. The rich drink coffee three times a day, while the poor make do with one.
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