Sultan Nur Ahmed Aman (1841–1907), was the tribal chief of the Habar Yoonis clan from 1880–1899. In 1899 he became one of the founding fathers of the Somali dervish movement (1899–1920) [1] he was the principle agitator that rallied the dervish behind his anti-French Roman Mission that would become the causes of the dervish up rise[2]. He fought and led the war throughout the years 1899–1904, he along his brother Geele Ahmed (Kila Ahmed) were the main signatories of the Dervish peace treaty with the British and Italian forces in 1905[3]. Sultan Nur is entombed in a white doomed shrine in Taleh the largest dervish forts and the capital of the dervish since 1912, he died around 1907.[4]

The Somali Dervish "Taariikhda Daraawiishta" 1899–1920

The Somali Dervish movement was an armed rebellion that abruptly began in the spring of 1899 and lasted some twenty years till 1920. Initially, the rebellion began as an anti-French Roman Mission revolt. The rebelling mullahs and leaders opposed the church's missionary activities in particular educating young children and in some instances converting them to Christianity. They also protested what they alleged was an interference in their independence and a persecution of their members by the British Somali Coast administration.

The incident that sparked the Dervish rebellion and the 21 years disturbance according to the consul-general James Hayes Sadler was either spread or as he alleged was concocted by sultan Nur. The incident in question was that of a group of Somali children that were converted to Christianity and adopted by the French Catholic Mission at Berbera in 1899. Whether Sultan Nur experienced the incident first hand or whether he was told of it is not clear but what is known is that he propagated the incident in the Tariqa at Kob Fardod in June 1899 precipitating the religious rebellion that later morphed into the Somali Dervish.[5]

The Christian Somali children incident is erroneously attributed to Mohammed Abdullah Hassan the later spiritual head of the movement. Despite their anti-Christian profession, the dervish in Somaliland targeted primarily Somali nomads who were indifferent to their cause or wholly ignorant of it, for twenty odd years the Dervish wreaked havoc on the Somali nomads.

In 1909 the French Catholic mission in Berbera was closed by the British colonial administrations, when most of the clans demanded that the mission activity should be suspended as it was the pretext of the Dervish raids on the Somali nomads. They also demanded that the Mullah Mohammed Abdullah Hassan and the Dervish be crushed and finally a Risaldar Major Haji Musa Farah the highest native officer of Somaliland an ardent adversary of the Mullah and the Dervish was unanimously agreed by all the clans to be replaced for abuse of power.[6] Reginald Wingate and Rudolf Carl von Slatin were tasked in 1909 to ascertain the Somali nomads attitude to both the administration and the dervish and advice the British colonial office in as to how to improve the situation in the protectorate.

Despite the closing of the French Catholic mission and the British administration withdrawal to the coast in 1909 the dervish continued to raid and maraud in the interior of the country till 1914 when the British were forced again to reconquer the interior and pacify the well-armed marauding clans and push the dervish back from endangering the coast. From 1914–1919 the colonial administrator severely eliminated the military power and influence of the dervish in the far interior of the protectorate after long slow campaign employing the King African Rifles (some native Somalis and none natives), with Indian troops and Somali Camel Corps of separate units.

Finally in 1919, a final plan to crush the Dervish using airplanes was devised and in between January – February 1920 the dervish forts were bombarded and most of the dervish members either were killed, captured or fled to Ethiopia. A final raid of 3000 Habar Yoonis, Habar Jeclo and Dhulbahante horsemen led by tribal chief Haji Waraba raided the Dervish in Ethiopia putting an end to a movement that terrorized the majority of the Somali nomads irrespective of clan affiliations for two decades.[7]

The movement had its spiritual leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, it's sultan Nur Ahmed Aman and its chief lieutenant Ahmed Warsama Haji Sudi.

Sultan Nur Ahmed Aman (1841–1907)

Sultan Nur was the great grand son of the first Habr Yunis Sultan Deria Segulleh circa (1780–1859). He spent much of his early life before his sultanate as a religious Sufi pupil i Hahi and Berato Ahmadiya tariqa under its head mullah Mohomed Arab.[8] According to the wife of sultan Nur an Aden (Yemen) born Somali, Nur could not read or write but he could converse in Arabic.[9]

Nur became a sultan after the death of his uncle Sultan Hersi Aman (1825–1879)[10] in an intertribal fight. Sultan Hersi the chief of the Habr Yunis clan since the mid 1850s was killed in an inter clan war with the sage Haji Guled ( Hersi's. Great uncle) in 1879. This inter-clan war generated a number of poetry, celebrated poet emerged during the war for instance the poems of a young teenager Jama Amuume " Jama the mute " a 17 years old who lost two brothers in the war who later avenged his brothers by killing one Warsame the culprit. One poem of Jama the mute was recorded by the Italian explorer Luigi Robecchi Bricchetti in 1884, also another poem by a lamenting woman who lost her brother and father in the war, probably the oldest Somali poem on record authored by a woman.[11]

Haji Guled 1906.

The ascent of Nur to the sultanate caused a decade-long civil war when his great uncle Awad Sultan Deria declared himself a rival sultan in 1881.[12] Drake Brockman a medical doctor in Somaliland protectorate and the author of British Somaliland narrated the long conflict caused by Nur's ascent to the sultanate in his book[13]

Drake Brockman summarizing Nur's story as the following in 1911"

Deriyeh, the head of the Rer Segulleh, was universally proclaimed Sultan by the rest of the Habr Yunis tribe, and was really the first of the Habr Yunis Sultans, although his father, Segulleh, had tried to pose as such. Sultan Deriyeh lived to a great age, and had no less than eighteen sons, of whom the first two were borne to him by a woman of the Makahil section of the Habr Awal tribe, and the elder of these, Aman by name, joining with his brother, formed the Ba Maka-hil, while his remaining sixteen stepbrothers formed the Baha Deriyeh.

Aman had ten sons, the eldest of whom was Ahmed, who died before his father, who himself died before his old father, the aged Sultan Deriyeh. Now, as soon as Sultan Deriyeh died there was trouble as to his successor. The Ba Makahil claimed that Ismail and Hirsi, of their section, were entitled to the honour ; but the Rer Segulleh and some of the Baha Deriyeh, said, " No, as several of the late Sultan's sons are still living, one of them should be their Sultan before any of the grandsons"; so they invited Awid Deriyeh to be their representative. In the meantime, Ismail was killed fighting with the Ogaden and Hirsi by the Baha Segulleh.

The Ba Makahil now had to look for another successor, so they sent for Nur, the son of Ahmed Aman, and nephew to Ismail and Hirsi, who was living the life of a Mullah at Hahi, near Odweina. Nur, much against his will, consented to be their Sultan, although he preferred the life he was leading as a Mullah. For some years now there were two Sultans of the Habr Yunis, namely, Sultan Nur of the Habr Yunis, Ba Makahil, and Sultan Awd Deriyeh of the Baha Segulleh; so it will be seen the powerful section of the Baha Segulleh had gone to the Baha Deriyeh for their representative."[14]

The dispute continued even after Awd's death in 1891 in battle with the ogaden/Daarood clan. In 1896 Mattar Hersi a nephew of Awad Diiriye declared himself a successor sultan to Awad another challenger to Nur thus emerging;

Awad Deriyeh was killed in a fight with the Ogaden Rer Ali, so the Baha Segulleh had to find another Sultan. Accordingly, they chose his brother Hirsi's son, Mattar; but this choice the Baha Deriyeh were not at all pleased with, so all the Habr Yunis tribe decided to meet and discuss the matter out and decide on one Sultan. After a great deal of discussion the two clans, Ba Makahil and Baha Deriyeh, who had claimants for the sultanate, decided to let them toss for it, the winner to be proclaimed Sultan, while the loser got one hundred camels as compensation from the winner. Sultan Nur won, and was proclaimed Sultan of the Habr Yunis tribe.[15]

Nur's ascent to the sultanate in early 1880s coincided with the Mahdi uprising (1881–1885) Muhammad Ahmad. Various Mahdi and Senussi emissaries visited the Somali coast rallying the population behind their respective Sufi branches. According to Walsh the British resident counsel at the Somali coast these two Sufi sects and their followers occasionally collided in Berbera.[16] Nur welcomed the Senousi emissaries and they were regular visitors to his hamlet according to Walsh[17]

Beyond few minor encounters with the British at the coast in 1884[18] and 1892,[19] nothing major took place. In February 1899, rival sultan Madar/Mattar Hersi after having assisted in recovering raided livestock for the mullahs from Kob Fardod, the religious settlement supported his sultanate and Mohammed Abdullah Hassan began to champion Madar's cause.[20]

Birth of the Dervish movement April–August 1899

In March 1899, one Duwaleh Hirsi a former member of the Somali Aden police then Mr Percy Cox's (former counsel-resident of Zeila and Berbera, 1893–1895) expedition guide in Somaliland allegedly stole a rifle and sold it to the tariqa at Kob Fardod. The vice-counsel at the coast Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux. Sent a letter to the mullahs at Kob Fardod demanding the return of the rifle. The letter was carried by a Somali mounted police named Ahmed Adan upon his return after the delivery of the letter Cordeaux interviewed Adan, he provided the following information:

I knew many of the people there—some of them were relations of mine. My brother-in-law, Dualeh Aoreb, was there. I asked them if they had any rifles, they said they at first had only six, but had just received fifty-five from Hafoon. I saw two or three of the new lot, they are Martins(new). They told me they had one or two "14-shot rifles." I saw some Mullahs walking about with Sniders. The Sheikh himself and some of his Mullahs used to practice daily shooting at a target; they put up a shield against a tree. I used to talk with people every day. We talked about many things, some of the words they said were good and others were bad. They called me a Kafir, and laughed at my uniform, saying that I smelt, and asking me why I wore the Sircars clothes. There were hundreds of people there, some from every tribe, Dolbahanta, Habr Toljaala, and Habr Yunis.[21]

What is particularly revealing about Ahmed Adan’s interview is the confusion that was caused by another letter carried by a Somali supposedly also from the British administration at the coast. This second letter angered the mullahs at the Tariqa ;

"On the third day the Mullah sent for me. I had seen him before; he often used to come into the house. I went to him, and he said he would give me his reply to the letter I had brought; that he had just received another letter which had been brought by a Somali. He asked me about it, but I told him I knew nothing about it, and asked him who had brought it. He said, “A Somali.” A man named Salan had come in that day. I thought that he must have brought the letter. He then gave me a letter. It was written on the back of the letter I had brought him. I saw the Government stamp on it. He (the Sheikh) said, “This is the reply to your letter. I will give you the answer to the other letter to-morrow.” He said that the second letter contained “bad words.” Next morning he gave me two letters, and I then went away, and got into Berbera on Saturday night.”[21]

The second letter provoked the mullahs, the hostile tone in the reply is due to the offensive second letter carried by Salaan the Somali. Both replies; one regarding the rifle curt but relatively inoffensive and a second addressing the confusing insolent second letter are in the British record.[22]

At the end of April 1899 Sultan Nur visited the Tariiqa at Kob Fardod, a report by Deria Magan a relative of the mullah Mohamed Abdullah Hassan (the later spiritual head of the movement) and chief translator of the Somali coastal administration since 1884[23] visited the Tariiqa, he added nothing new to the general information gathered earlier by Ahmed Aden other than the fact that some clans are leaving the mullah and that the mullahs have abandoned Madar Hersi and now are paying allegiances to sultan Nur whom they now espousing his sultanate .[24]

Another letter from the mullahs at Kob Fardod arrived at the coast on May 3, this letter had an overall beseeching neutral tone. The mullahs pleaded with the administration not to escalate the manner and pleaded to be left alone; but what is significant in this letter to the British administration is that the followers of the Tariqa and the leaders are now declaring that they are a government with their own Emir, sultan and subject;

"Praise be to God in all matters, and the blessing of God on our Prophet and his descendants, who are the best of men. This letter is sent by all the Dervishes, the Amir, and all the Dolbahanta to the Ruler of Berbera. We say that we complain against you and against your subjects. Our camels are oppressed by you. We assist your Biladiyahs, and turn away those who backbite you; but you do not guard our reputation, and do not turn away those who backbite us. We inform you that there is peace in all the country; there is no fear.

“Secondly, I ask you, by God, by your Prophet, by your religion, and by your Church, do not create a disturbance in the country, do not ruin the country, for there is no harm on us if we leave your country, and drink our own milk, and eat our own meat.; for if you oppress us,

beat our people, take our money, and imprison our people, we will leave coming to your country, and the country will be ruined.We are a Government, we have a Sultan, an Amir, and Chiefs, and subjects. And how much of wisdom and forethought have we? "This is what we have written, and salaam."[25]

Its unknown when exactly the tribal followers of the Kob Fardod Tariqa and their leaders adopted the term “ dervish”, but the general time was in June 1899 before Nur and the Mullah raided the Mahamood Girad sub clan of the Dolbahanta. Again Sadler updating the colonial office conveyed the following updates on the progress of the movement ;

"Camp, Oodweina, Jun 16, 1899. Mullah Muhammad Abdullah has made no further move, and I have no further information as to his possible intentions. He is now at Bohotele, where he was for a time laid up with fever, brought on during his expedition against the Mahmood Girad. This expedition was not the success previous reports had made it out to be. He obtained no restitution of looted property, and his party was attacked, losing one man killed and several wounded. The horses he brought back were given him by some of the nearer sections of the tribe who had looted them from their neighbors. Sultan Nur is still with him, but is said to be soon returning to his country, when I shall take as early an opportunity as possible of coming to an understanding with him. Outwardly the country is quiet, despite reports of intended movements by one tribe against another which are always rife in Somaliland. All those who have been attracted to the Mullah call themselves Dervishes, and give out that they " do not want the Government." They further designate those who do not join them as Kaffirs, which has naturally aroused the indignation of the rival religious sects.[26]

Sultan Nur returned to his region in late June 1899. Hayes Sadler updating the colonial office on sultan Nur's attitude towards the British administration conveyed the following to Lord Salisbury office ;

About the end of June while Sultan Nur was at the Kob Fardod tariqa, the incident of the Christian children which became the rallying cause for the newly created movement began to spread. On that month the various assembled mullahs and leaders began to collect men and arms and solicit the help of the various Somali clan sultans, the mullahs at Kob Fardod sent a letter seeking Sultan Deria Hassan of the Aidagale to join the cause, this particular letter came to the attention of Hayes Salder's in June 1899. Sultan Nur meanwhile returned to his country at the end of June 1899. In mid July Sadler sent a letter to sultan Nur, Sadler did not mention what exactly was said in the letter but from sultan Nur's reaction the content of the letter was not to his liking. He immediately arrested the camel sowar and stripped him of his gun.[27]

Hayes Sadler updated the colonial office of the new development:

"Hargaisa, July 16, 1899. I have already informed your Lordship that the Habr Yunis are divided, and that this time last month only the eastern sections of the tribe had so far tribes affected by the Mullah's movement, the western section awaiting the return of Sultan Nur. Nur had called a large meeting of the tribe for the 22nd instant at Odweina, and I had arranged to have a man present to report what takes place. Yesterday I received letters from Haji Musa, the Head of the Mullah Community of Hahiya, informing me that the westerly sections of the Habr Yunis, including the principal portion of Sultan Nur's own tribe, the Rer Segullah, together with the Ishak sections, bordering on the Golis, amongst whom I passed, and whose elders I interviewed on my way here had bound themselves together to keep clear of all disturbance. They are said to have told Sultan Nur that they are dependent on Berbera for their supplies, and that they do not intend to get into difficulties with us on his account, and to have told him pointedly that if he does not ease from making strife in the country, and oppressing people by his exactions, he had better clear off as they would oppose him. If he remained quiet, and did not oppose the Government, they would accept him as Sultan, otherwise, they would have nothing to do either with him or with Madar Hirsi. As regards the Mullah, they are said to have declared that they belong to the Kadiriyah sect, that of Haji Musa, of Hahiya, and Sheik Mattar, of Hargaisa, as opposed to the Salihiya.[1] Sultan Nur hastily left eastward, and is supposed to have repaired to Burao, whence he will probably rejoin the Mullah. The eastern sections of the Habr Yunis are still with the Mullah, but the Position has so far improved that the westerly sections, whose attitude had before been doubtful, are now said to have definitely declared against Sultan Nur and the Mullah. At this point there is now every reason to believe this movement will now stop in its movement westwards, leaving the line of division as reported in my previous dispatch"[28]

Having failed to win over the western section of his tribe for the rebellion and the tribal assembly planned for July 22 aborted by Haji Musa of Hahia ( head Mullah of the Ahmedia Tariqa At Hahi), Sultan Nur for the last time left to the east and to Burao and joined the eastern section of the hi rebellious tribe in that location. Few weeks later at the end of August the Devrish and their clan followers assembled at Burao, the Mullah with his followers from the Dolbahanata, the various Habr Toljaala sub clans with their principle headmen (Haji Sudi, Deria Arale, Deria Gure and Duale Adle) and sultan Nur with his followers from eastern Habr Yunis clan, declared open hostility.[29] The assembled dervish and their clan allies sent the following stern letter to Captain Cordeauxe and James Hayes Sadler:

"This is to inform you that you have done whatever you have desired, and oppressed our well-known religion without any cause. Further, to inform you that whatever people bring to you they are liars and slanderers. Further, to inform you that Mahomed, your Akil, came to ask from us the arms we therefore, send you this letter. Now choose for yourself; if you want war we accept it, if you want peace pay the fine." September 1, 1899.[30]

After assembling at Burao the Dervish and their clan allies attacked the western Habr Yunis at Odweina in September 1899 under the insistence of Sultan Nur to punish the clansmen who opposed his call to join the rebellion ahd heeded the rival tribal mullah Haji Musa.[31] Having punished the western Habr Yunis their next target was the Ahmadia Tariqa at Sheikh, they burned and looted the Tariqa about the end of September the various dervish clan followers dispersed and the core dervish moved back once they came. The Mullah and sultan Nur apparently had a fall out and each dispersed to his own followers, the Mullah to Lasder with his Ali Gheri and the principle Dervish of the Aden Madoba including Haji Sudi. Sultan Nur with the Musa Ismail and Rer Yusuf moved to the Arori plains and the various Habar Tojalaa flowers camped at Ber.[32]

During this time the Dolbahnata chief Girad Ali Farah sent a letter to the British Coastal administration disavowing the Mullah and the Dervish.[32] On October the chief of the Dolbahnata Girad Ali Farah was murdered by the Dervish. Through the end of 1899 most of the earlier tribal followers of the Dervish made their peace with the coastal administrations, all deputations from Dolbahnata, Habr Yunis, and Habr Tojalaa made their peace. The core Dervish elements however crossed the Border into Ethiopia in November 1899 and settled at Harradiggit (Hara-Digeed) along their leaders.

Once the Dervish settled in Harradiggit and Milmil throughout 1900, the Dervish raided the local clans, they raided the Aidagale in July 1900, followed by a devastating raid on Samanter Abdillah and Ahmed Abdillah (Habr Awal) in September 1900 killing over 220 men, women and children.[33] Finally the affected tribesmen took manner into their own hands and raided the Dervish at Milmil and Harradiggit, also the Abyssinians began to raid the Dervish around the same time. Finally in March 1899 the Dervish were compelled to go back to their old settlement and they crossed the border back into Somaliland and settled in Samala (Sacmala).

The British administrations by then had assembled enough tribal forces, mostly from the disaffected tribes, tribes that have been looted and massacred by the Dervish, led by 22 British officers and trained by few Indian drill officers the tribal forces were by then ready for a battle the Dervish.

The British and dervish wars 1901–1904

Samala June 2–3, 1903.

Before dispatching forces to face the Dervish at Samala Consul-General Hayes Salder made the following instructions to the overall commander of the forces Eric John Eagles Swayne:

"In the unlikely event of the: Mullah offering to surrender, in his case and that of the Following: Ahmed Warsama (known as Haji Sudi), Deria Arale, Deria Gure Only an unconditional surrender should be accepted no guarantee of any kind to future treatment been given. Sultan Nur the late sultan of the Habr Yunis, may be guaranteed his life." J. Hayes-Sadler, His Britannic Majesty's Consul-General, Somali Coast Protectorate. Aden April 11, 1901."[34]

By December 1900, 17 officers were sent from Britain and from India 50 Punjabi were sent to operate the maxim guns by the spring of 1901. About 1,100 men in addition to 400 mounted infantry on ponies and 100 camel sowars and numerous Ishaak spearmen, all Somalis from the disaffected tribes were ready for battle.[35] To prevent the Dervish to flee west across the Ethiopian border Ethiopian cooperation were sought and the Abyssinian king sent a force of 8,000 soldiers in January 1901, the Ethiopian operations began at once 3 months before the British expeditions, the Ethiopians managed to push the dervish across the Somaliland border and punish the clans who were involved in assisting the dervish.

On May 22 Swayne’s forces in their way burned the entire settlement leaving only the mosque. Their next operation was to punish clans that supported the Mullah, the seized 3,500 camels from the Habr Toljaalaa Adan Madoba[36] and the Dolbahanta Jama Siad[37] On June 2 these tribes along with dervish forces attacked McNeill’s zariba at Samala to rustle back their herds, having failed to regain their stocks both the dervish and their clan allies retreated on June 3. Subsequently, it came to the knowledge of Swayne that the Mullah initially wanted to attack Swayne’s zariba but Sultan Nur persuaded the dervish an attack on McNeill’s zariba would yield some 400 rifles.[38][39]

The Dervish fleeing accidentally encountered the column of Swayne another chase ensued but the dervish managed to escape. The follow up continued till the dervish crossed in to the Haud. Later in June 1901 finally the dervish encountered Swayne’s forces, reporter from The London Times correspondence on June 22, 1901 sent a report of the various campaigns describing the next encounter after Samala reported:

"Prisoners asserted that the Mullah had sworn on the Koran to attack us that day, whatever the consequences might be, and Colonel Swayne, therefore, determined to anticipate him. We prepared to attack the largest body—that on the left side of the valley. The Camel Corps and Mounted Infantry at once moved out, and had proceeded some three miles, when scouts reported that the whole plain beyond the hill was simply swarming with men, both horse and foot, and that an attack' by the Mullah himself, with a large body of cavalry, on the rear of the column, was imminent. It was at once decided to zariba all the transport at the foot' of a small hill under the protection of two companies, and to engage the whole of the enemy with the remainder. Captain Mereweather, with a portion of the Mounted Infantry, was sent back to cover this movement of a large body of the ~ enemy's cavalry began to enter the' valley by an opening in the hills in the rear of our force. They advanced on the Mounted Infantry, firing as they came. The remainder of the Mounted Infantry and the Camel Corps were then reinforced by Captain. Mereweather, and after a few rounds from the Maxim the enemy began to move towards a defile' in the hills. The Mounted and Camel Corps at once started off at a hard galloping pursuit, and' after exciting long chase of about six miles caught up the enemy at the entrance to a "deep gorge in the hills". At this point some 20 of the enemy were slain, their losses killed during the pursuit being about 100. Our losses were two killed, five wounded, and seven horses killed. The retreat -here became a total rout. As the enemy went ' they dropped rifles and ammunition. Much of their ammunition is of the most deadly kind, flat-nosed bullets, split bullets, and soft-nosed bullets, with crosses cut in the tips, figuring prominently. It appeared certain that all three of the enemy's leaders were in front of our men. Namely, the Mad Mullah himself, Haji Sudi , and Sultan Nur, and we needed no further incentive to do our best. At intervals, hand to land fights took place, and the losses of the enemy were evinced by the number of riderless horses”.[40]

Ferdiddin July 17, 1901.

Crossing the border into Italian Somalia by July the dervish encamped at Ferdiddin. Swayne waited until a permission of the Italian was obtained, along with few of his forces and 350 Dolbahnata tribesmen they attacked the Dervish at Ferdiddin: Sawyne describing the fight at Firdiddin:

“On getting this news I moved my force from Bohotele via Yaheyl and Weyla Hedd to Firdiddin, and attacked the Mullah at later place. The Mullah's Mijjertein rifelmen were in considerable strength with Lebel and Martini-henry rifles. His force were however scattered, and he himself was driven back into Italian territory.The Mijjertein lost heavily, and also the Mullah's own family. His brother-in-law, Gaibdeed, was killed, as well as two sons-in-law, Haji Sudi's brother and nephews, &c. Sultan Nur's camels and the Mullah's cattle were captured. The pursuit was carried on into the bush in the Haud”[41]

“I was impressed with the danger of the Dervish movement. Until I actually saw the Mullah’s men fighting, I had no idea that a Somali could be so influenced by fanaticism. I am speaking of the Dervishes, the men who, following the custom of the Suakin Dervishes, have thrown over father and mother and their own tribe to follow the Mullah. They have passwords, wear a white turban and special bravery, and have sworn to throw up all worldly advantages. Of course a certain number even of these Dervishes have joined the Mullah simply for the sake of loot, but there are, on the other hand, a considerable number who are pure fanatics. At Ferdiddin and at McNeill’s Zeriba these were the men who led and who were shot down. At Ferdiddin, after the others had fled, a number of these men remained behind to fight to end, and were shot down as we advanced. When recording the name of the enemy’s dead, I found that a large number were Hajis or Sheikhs.”

Erigo/Erego October 6–7, 1902.[42]

In December 1901 the Dervish raided the a sub sections of the Habr Tojaalaa and on February 1, 1902, news reached the Somaliland protectorate British authority that the Dervish were planning a raid against the tribes from their positions east of the protectorate. On February 7 and 13, the dervishes waged a devastating attack on Habr Yunis and Dolbahnata tribes men east of Burao. The London Gazette reported "On the 7th February, the Mullah had despatched another raiding force against our Jama Siad friendly tribes, 100 miles to the east of the scene of his raid of the 13th February, and here again our tribes suffered heavily. Burao and Berbera became filled with destitute refugees and 2000 persons were fed daily at Burao alone.[43] 1903 [44]

On the first week of October the Somali and Yoas led by few British officers at last arrived within the reach of their enemies. They formed a Zariba in a clearing Awan Eergo in a very dense bush, and around 4.pm the enemy were hiding in all the surrounding bushes. The British led forces were compelled to advance slowly, immediately the Dervish attacked from all directions causing the British led forces front line to fall back in a disarray, but the rear companies stood firm holding their position, the 2nd King African Rifles and 6th King Africans Rifles in the extreme right and left, however, fell back in a sudden panic, rescued by one-half company in the front the troops rallied and held their ground under intense fire. In the severity of the fight the transport camels stampeded with the 2nd African Rifles and two Somali companies Ltd Swayne managed to push the enemies for 2 miles and recover 1,800 of the transport camels. in the aftermath of the battle it was discovered a maxim gun was missing, casualties included 2 officers killed and 56 levies. Both the Somali and Yoa performed great in the 6th but on the 7th of October the severity of the fight sunk their spirit and the officers leading the forces complained that they couldn't rely on their men. The dervish in the other hand lost greatly, some 62 death 40 of them Hajis and Mullahs and all 6 commanders of their force were killed[45]

In the western side of the protectorate the highest Somali native officer Risaldar-major Musa Farah attacked the dervish tribal allies, "By June 10, Musa Farah's detached Levy of 450 rifles had reached Kurmis. After collecting 5,000 tribesmen from the western side of the Protectorate, Musa Farah had transported them across the waterless Haud where it was over 100 miles broad, had attacked the western Dervish encampments, had routed them in all directions, and had finally succeeded in transporting his force back across the Haud, together with his captured livestock, amounting to 1,630 camels, 200 cows, and 2,000 sheep. For this service His Majesty King Edward VII rewarded the Risaldar-Major with a sword of honour.[46]

At the conclusion of the first and second expeditions, the British administrations and the colonial office were satisfied at the conclusion of the first two expeditions, despite the leaders of the Dervish all not been either killed or captured. Gabriel Ferrand, the Vice-Council of France following these events observed that "Neither the Mahdi nor his chief advisor Ahmed Warsama, better known under the name Haji Sudi, nor the Sultan Nur,leader of the Habr Younis clan were killed or captured. The optimism Colonel Sadler and Lieutenant-Colonel Swayne in the latest reports relating to military operations is inexplicable." [47]

Gumburu April 17, 1903 and Daratoleh April 22, 1903.

The third expedition was launched January 3, 1903 with a new commander Sir William Henry Manning. The plane was to encircle and trap the dervish from all sides. The main body of the forces were to advance from Obbia in Italian Somalia to the wells of Galkayo while one land at Berbera and form lines through Bohotleh. The dervish leaders upon hearing news of the Obbia forces landing with a body of horsemen left for Milmil and Haradiggitt rallying tribal allies:

Towards the end of March news reached the British forces of whereabouts the bulk of the dervish forces. Defectors and captives claimed the dervish forces were in Galadi. A reconnaissance patrol led by captain Plunkett was sent by Manning to Galadi where they met the bulk of the dervish forces majority made of Somali Bantu clans of the Makana and Derjele tribes. Between 16–17 April the British small forces made up of Somalis, Indians and Yaos were encircled from all directions and decimated. All 9 officers were killed and 89 rank and file were killed. The battle took place in a small hill Gumburu close to Galadi. Before the news of the disaster at Gumburu made it to the British forces another column from Bohotleh forces engaged another dervish forces at Daratoleh the later forces were defeated by the British forces.

The bulk of the main dervish forces without their tribal allies moved to Halin in June 1903; according to the intelligence report of the period:

"A deserter from the enemy stated that the Mullah. accompanied by Haji Sudi and Sultan Nur, with a large force of horse and footmen, reached Kurmis on 8th June, camped near Lasakante on 9 June, and moved towards Dannot early on 10 June on their way towards the Nogal. On 12th June mounted scout could not get through from Bohotle to Dannot owing to the numbers of the enemy's horsemen watching the road. On 13th June two deserters from the mullah came into Bohotle and stated that the Mullah with his whole force was on his way to Nogal with a view of establishing his Haroun at Halin. Intelligence Report from 11th July 1903".[48]

4 August 1903. — a deserter from the Mullah, named Abbas Isman (Ibrahim), came into Bohotle at 5.30 a.m. His story is as follows Haji Sudi is still his trusted adviser. Sultan Nur still lives with the Mullah, but no longer is keen to help him. Abbas was with the Mullah at Wardair during the fight. When the fight was over a horseman galloped to Wardair and announced that the English had been wiped out. The Mullah immediately mounted his pony, Dodimer and rode hard to the field of battle.[49][50]

These two encounters despite a heavy loss by the dervish were the only dervish victory over the British forces.

Jidballi January 10, 1904.[42] Charles Egerton

This was not the mere handful they had fought at Samala, at Gumburu, or at Daratoleh. It was no reconnaissance, nor yet was it a hastily recruited tribal levy such as they had faced at Ferdhiddin or Erigo. In comparison, General Egerton’s force at Jidbali must have seemed to them a mighty army; and, in very truth, it comprised some of the best seasoned British, Indian, and African troops at the Empire’s disposal. On the other hand, the Darwishes numbered from 6000 to 8000 fighting men, representing the pick of the Mullah’s forces.

Pestalozza Agreement 1904–1905

The Mullah, resentful of the English and the Mijertein Somalis, after consulting with his dervish and religious rebels was willing to negotiate. In 1904 he wrote to the Italians through Abdilahi Shahri the dervish. In the second meeting October 17/1904 Pestalozza was accompanied by Sylos and Paladini,

“Now, O Pestalozza, you and Abdallah Sheri, are delegated by me and to you I bestow the power for our cause. If you ask me pacification, I accept the peace and mutual trust – and I promise to stop the discord and the war in the interior. I, the Derwishes and all my people will molest no one, neither Mijerteyns, nor the people of Yusuf Ali, neither the English nor their dependents” “I and my people are the people and dependents of the Government of Italy if it favours us and cools our heart (the text says our stomach or our desire); we will be under its flag. We only request that the Government of Italy allow(s) us to build a country at a point which it will consider suitable, from Gabbee to Garad.” ." Declaration by the Mullah to Pestalozza, Ilig, I7 October 1904.[51]

After a long three-way negotiation between the powers Britain, Itali and Ethiopia with the Dervish the British received a dervish delegation:

1. Abdallah Shihiri, Habr Toljaala, Adan Madhoba; 2. Diria Arraleh, Habr Toljaala, Adan Madhoba; 3. Adem Egal, Mejertein, Rer Egaleh; 4. Moallem Mohamed Nur, Dolbahante Kayet.[52]

At last in 1905 the treaty of Ilig or the Pestalozza agreement was signed between the dervish and the powers, the dervish represented by their chief sultan Nur and other dignitaries signed the final agreements. In the original Arabic the following signatures appear - sultan Nur Ahmed (the chief dervish sultan) and his brother Geele Ahmed (Kila Ahmed), Ugas Diria Arabe and Ugas Issa Farek.[53][54]

The Dervish were now technically an Italian protected religious community, they had their own semi-autonomous enclave and from 1905 till 1909 they resided in what then was called Majirtina. Throughout these years the dervish were in active looting expeditions aganist Daarood clans within Italian Somalia, British Somaliland and Ethiopian Somaliland.

Sultan Nur's death 1907

Taleh forts and tombs of dervish Somaliland 1930

The last intelligence report mention of Sultan Nur in the Italian archives was in 1907.[55] After the death of sultan Nur 1907/1908 in the dervish camp at Taleh his son Dolal sultan Nur ascended the sultanate in the dervish camp, while among the none-dervish Habr Yunis clans Jama sultan Hirsi Aman (the son of Sultan Hersi Aman circa 1825-1879) the first cousin of Sultan Nur was proclaimed a sultan.[56]

Sultan Nur was buried by his dervish in a large domed tomb in Taleh before the later forts were built and his tomb predated the later dervish forts. His white tomb in the dervish capital is a testimony to his contribution to the movement. Few dervish founders are commemorated in Taleh numbering four mullahs [57]. MacFadyen a British geologist and the only scholar to study the structures of Taleh fort, mentioned the handful of tombs constructed by the dervish for their leaders described the tombs in 1931 in his article Macfayden only identified Sultan Nur's tomb by name out of the 4 dervish entombed in Taleh:

"South of the main cave-well is the considerable tomb of 'Abdullah Hasan senior, well plastered inside and out; it is now said to be empty. Adjoining this on the west is a walled garden with massive gateway and guard-house; the rest of the wall is not more than 5 feet high and plastered. There are still odd bushes and signs of cultivation to be seen, but the comparatively deep well in the middle is dry. To the east lies a row of four tombs. The most northerly is that of one Soldan Nur of the Habr Yunis tribe; the next two, neither being plastered. and the first with the top left unfinished, are those of Hawiya notables whose names my Somalis did not know. The most southerly tomb is that of a man of the Habr Jaalo tribe. The isolated tomb still farther east is that of 'AbdullahHasan's mother. All the tombs are provided with narrow but very massive wooden doors, swinging about vertical extensions from top and base of one side."[58]

Modern Somali Dervish revisionism 1974-1991

Despite such high regard by his dervish contemporaries sultan Nur along with most of the non Daarood dervishes were entirely expunged from Somali history. Aw Jama Umar Ise and his assistant Ahmed Farah Ali Idaja and the rest of the Somali Academy of Sciences and Arts. The Somali Academy of Sciences and Arts, (Mogadiscio, Somalia) a government institution in 1976 printed the Somali official version of the dervish history (Taariikhdii daraawiishta iyo Sayid Maxamad Cabdille Xasan, 1895-1920. 1976) by Aw Jama Umar Ise (Aw-Jama Omar Isse) in that official Somali account Sultan Nur appears in that book in one sentence.[59]

Said S. Samatar in his book (Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: The Case of Sayid Mahammad 'Abdille Hasan. 2009) basically a reinterpretation of the Somali official version of the dervish into English passingly reduced the role of sultan Nur in the dervish rebellion in one paragraph in which he claimed Mohammed Abdullah Hassan deposed sultan Nur as the head of the Habr Yunis clan and replaced him with another sultan a claim that he fails to substantiate by any citation . In other versions of his dissertations which later was published as a book, he claimed Nur used the influence of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan to outset his rival Madar Hersi.[60]

Abdi Sheik Abdi another Somali author of a book about the dervish (Divine madness: Moḥammed ʻAbdulle Ḥassan (1856-1920).1993.) again essentially reduced the Dervish history into a clan narrative, where one side was in British lines and the other clan in dervish sides, further contributing to the one clan based dervish Somali narrative widely propagated by the late dictator Mohammed Siad Bare, where his clan was depicted as anti colonial nationalist while the rest in particular the Isaaq (Sultan Nur's clan) was depicted as a British collaborators. Abdi Sheik Abdi minces no words in his book applying the " collaborators" to the Isaaq and despite the majority of his Daarood clan been in the anti dervish camp and British and Italian camp he never uses such term to describe their position as collaborators.[61]

The Late dictator himself Siad Barre believed in the clan based narrative of the dervish, where the dervish story is reduced to a Daarood struggle against Great Britain, according to one time the chief of the Somali police and the author of (The cost of dictatorship: the Somali experience) the Somali dictator believed that he was the new Mad Mullah incarnate and that the Isaaq were responsible for the defeat of his "hero" Mohammed Abdullah Hassan.[62]

The Dervish historiography in Somali society was dominated by a one clan, virtually all of the Somali authors of the dervish, history and poetry hailed from Siad Barre's clan, with the exception of Musa Haji Ismail Galal, one clan using the state resources the Somali history was turned into what professor Ali Jimale Ahmed called a process of " dervishization" of the Somali history to the exclusion of all others.[63] This on sided narrative dominated the Somali media, school curriculum and even the public discourse. During the civil war Bashir Goeth a Somali author from the Gedabursi clan which during the civil war was allied with Siad Barre clan against the Isaaq and SNM, called for the destruction of the what he called " Isaaq the troublesome child" , in his article Goeth used the Dervish one sided narrative to depict the Isaaq as "traitor"s he opened his diatribe with the following paragraph:

"...I will try to tackle the Isaq threat to Somalism, starting from their stand on the Dervish Movement to the present situation in a historical perspective. I will not even go into details to include some of their terrorist activities such as hijacking a Somali ship in 1961 and a national carrier in 1966 and again in 1987.The Dervish Movement, led by Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, started the first Somali patriotic struggle against the colonialists. This nationalist movement which entered a long and a bloody war with three foreign powers, namely the British, the Italians and the Ethiopian kingdom, would have been victorious if the Isaq clan did not conspire against it with the British administration. The British government armed the Isaq – the ‘friendlies’ as they were called (Lewis, I. M: The Modem History of Somaliland; Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1965) – to fight against Sayyid Mohamed’s nationalist movement. They also spied on and guided the British forces to the Dervish bases. The Isaq had even sent several unsuccessful missions to Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan on the pretext of mediating between him and the British but each time they asked him to surrender. Sayyid Mohamed never yielded to the Isaq games and even punished them on several occasions for their treachery and cooperation with the colonialists."[64]

The Dervish history was used and disseminated as a clan propaganda, minor foot soldiers and later comers into the dervish camps were elevated above the original founders of the movement and supplanted them all, thanks to the Siyad Bare's government overhaul of the Dervish history. Ismail Mire (circa 1880s-1961) was promoted in the early years of Siyad Bare's rule as the commander and lieutenant and right-hand man of the movement replacing Haji Sudi. [65]

See also


  1. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland, and consequent military operations, 1899–1901
  2. ^ Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI, New Delhi, Inclosure 2 in No. 1. And inclosure 3 in No. 1.
  3. ^ Il Benadir , Vico Mantegazza. 1908. pp. 323–324
  4. ^ Taleh by W. A. MacFadyen, The Geographical Journal Vol. 78, No. 2 (Aug., 1931), pp. 125–128
  5. ^ F.O.78/5031, Sayyid Mohamad To The Aidagalla, Enclosed Sadler To Salisbury. 69, 20 August 1899
  6. ^ Letter from Sir R. Slatin to Sir R. Wingate pp. 5–13. 125/6/151, Durham Papers.
  7. ^ "Churchill and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, p. 209". 
  8. ^ Somalia e Benadir. pp. 426–427
  9. ^ Under the flag: and Somali coast stories by Walsh, Langton Prendergast. pp. 257–258
  10. ^ G. A. Haggenmacher's Reise Im Somali-lande, 1874: Mit Einer Originalkarte By Gustav Adolf Haggenmacher. pp.10–12
  11. ^ Rendiconti by Reale Accademia dei Lincei; Reale Osservatorio del Campidoglio published 1885. Page 227-228 .
  12. ^ The Unknown Horn of Africa By Frank Linsly James pp. 55–56
  13. ^ British Somaliland By Drake Brockman. 1912.
  14. ^ British Somaliland by Drake Borckmen, pages 79–82, 1912.
  15. ^ British Somaliland by Drake Brockmen, 1912
  16. ^ Under the flag: Somali coast stories.p.212
  17. ^ Under the flag: and Somali coast stories by Walsh, Langton Prendergast p. 259
  18. ^ Under the flag : and Somali coast stories by Walsh, Langton Prendergast. p .243
  19. ^ Somali Coast administration Report of the protectorate 1892–1893, Bombay Castle, NAY, New Delhi
  20. ^ Das Staatsarchiv, Volume 65 .p. 3
  21. ^ a b Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI, New Delhi. In closure 5 in No. 1. Statement by Ahmed Adan, Camel Sowar
  22. ^ Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI, New Delhi, Inclosure 2 in No. 1. And inclosure 3 in No. 1.
  23. ^ under the flag: Somali coast stories. p. 233
  24. ^ Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI, New Delhi, Inclosure 1 in No.1 Report by Dragoman Deria Magan
  25. ^ Foreign Department-External-B, August 1899, N. 33-234, NAI,New Delhi, Inclosure 2 in No 1.
  26. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed. 1901 v.48. p. 3.
  27. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland, and consequent military operations,1899-1901.pp.4-5.
  28. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland, and consequent military operations,1899-1901. p.5.
  29. ^ Sessional papers Volume 48 p. 8
  30. ^ Sessional papers Volume 48. p. 15
  31. ^ Broad Views V.2 .p.217
  32. ^ a b Sessional papers Volume 48. p.27
  33. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland, and consequent military operations,1899-1901. pp. 61 and 64
  34. ^ Official History of the Operations in Somaliland. 1901–1904 Vol. I p. 54
  35. ^ F.O. 2/2479, Sadler tel. to Lansdowne, no.18, 15 Mar. 1901, and no. 21, 5 Apr. 1901.
  36. ^ Official History of the operations Volume 1. 1907. p. 73.
  37. ^ The British Somaliland Protectorate to 1905. By A.M. Brockett, p. 324, Lincoln College, Oxford, 1969.
  38. ^ In pursuit of the mad mullah by Malcolam McNeil, p. 123
  39. ^ http://querv.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0910F93A5DlA728DDDAA0A94DE405B818CF1D3
  40. ^ https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OAM19010902.2.39
  41. ^ Command Papers volume 69 1902. p. 15.
  42. ^ a b Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India Volume VI, Expeditions Overseas, reprinted by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
  43. ^ The London Gazette, September 2, 1904.
  44. ^ The dervish were brutal in their sudden attacks on the tribes , sparing not women and children and it has become a mark of their 20-year-long campaign [Cd. 1394] Africa. No. 1 (1903). Correspondence respecting the rising of the Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland and consequent military operations, 1901-1902. pp. 7–9
  45. ^ .[Cd. 1394] Africa. No. 1 (1903). Correspondence respecting the rising of the Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland and consequent military operations, 1901-1902. pp. 85–87
  46. ^ Mad Mullah Of Somaliland ,1923. p. 78.
  47. ^ Les Çomâlis. .Ferrand, Gabriel,1903. p. 268.
  48. ^ Official history of the operations in Somaliland, 1901-04 by Great Britain. War Office. General Staff Published 1907.
  49. ^ Official History Of The Operations in Somaliland,1907, pp. 410–412, 1901-04 volume 1.
  50. ^ A captain of the Gordons service experiences 1900–1909, edited by his mother Mrs. Margaret Miller, and his sister Helen Russell Miller p. 177
  51. ^ Caroselli, op. cit. 78-9.
  52. ^ Ministero della Guerra, Comando del Corpo di S.M./Ufficio Storico: SOMALIA, Vol. I, Dalle Origini al 1914, Roma, 1938- XVI, pp.308, 309, 315, 318,319.
  53. ^ Il Benadir, Vico Mantegazza. 1908. pp. 323-324.
  54. ^ Il Benadir by Pizza, Giuseppe. 1913
  55. ^ Ferro e fuoco in Somalia, con lettera introduttiva di Emilio de Bono. Francesco Saverio Caroselli. pp.105-106
  56. ^ British SomaliLand by Ralph E Drake Brockman .1012. p. 82
  57. ^ Taleh by W. A. MacFadyen, The Geographical Journal Vol. 78, No. 2 (Aug., 1931), pp. 125–128.
  58. ^ Taleh by W. A. MacFadyen, The Geographical Journal Vol. 78, No. 2 (Aug., 1931), pp. 125–128.
  59. ^ Taariikhdii daraawiishta iyo Sayid Maxamad Cabdille Xasan, 1895-1920. 1976. p. 40
  60. ^ Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: The Case of Sayid Mahammad 'Abdille Hasan. p. 114.
  61. ^ Divine madness: Moḥammed ʻAbdulle Ḥassan (1856-1920).1993.) p.200.
  62. ^ The cost of dictatorship: the Somali experience.1995. p. 160.
  63. ^ The Invention of Somalia by Ali Jimale Ahmed.1995. p. 138.
  64. ^ The Isaq: Somalia’s Troublesome Child by/Bashir Omer Goeth: Awdal Phenomenon.1989.
  65. ^ Ismaaciil Mire, A. F. Cali ("Idaajaa.") 1974 - Somali language