By Suba Hais
Oct. 25, 1998
Irob is one of the Ethiopian territories invaded by the Eritrean armed forces this year. When news of the invasion broke, I observed that many Ethiopians, including Tigrayans, did not know anything about Irob, even its existence. After almost five months, there is not much change in this regard. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to provide some information about the people and the location. It will also discuss the current condition of the people after the invasion.
LOCATION, LANGUAGE AND RELIGION
The Irob people occupy a small, semi-arid, mountainous region with a wide altitudinal range in which almost all types of crops can be potentially cultivated. It is located in Agame, northeast Tigray/Ethiopia. The territory is bordered by the Endeli River to the east and to the north-east, by Shumezana to the north-west, by Guolomakeda to the west, Sae`se` to the south and Afar Region to the south-east. The Irob neighbors to the east and north-east are predominantly Muslims and speak the Saho language. The Afars are Muslims as well and, of course, they speak the Afar language which is very similar to the Saho language. The other neighbors are Tigrigna speaking Christian highlanders.
The Irobs who live in this geographic location speak Saho. Many other Irob descendants who live in the rest of Agame and some other adjacent places have adopted the Tigrigna language. Irob is an ethnic community made up of three sub-groups: Adgadi-ârere, Bouknaiyti-âre and Hasaballa. Adgadi-âre and Hasaballa are predominantly Tewahido Christians, while Buknaiyti-âre is mostly Catholic.
Most of the three Irob groups claim to be descendants of one man, Summe. Acccording to the oral history of the people and several written records, Summe’s father, Negus (King) Werede-Mehret, is believed to have come from Tsira'e in Kilite-Awla'elo, Tigray about 800 years ago. That is around the time when the so-called “Salomonic” dynasty took control of political power of the Ethiopian empire from the Zagwe dynasty. It is recounted that WoredeMehret, himself a local king, was a descendant of Emperor Yitbarek of the Zagwe dynasty. Negus WeredeMehret’s forefathers left their ancestral land probably for political reasons related to the change of political power in Ethiopia. In fact, for many centuries, the Irobs isolated themselves to this remote, militarily strategic, mountainous region keeping their distance from the political centers.
Many different tribes inhabited the Irobland before the descendants of Weredemehret went there. But most of those tribes left the region for good. The main ethnic group who dwelled in the region when the descendants of Weredemehret moved there were the Kayayta people. Today too the Kayayta people are one of the main social groups who live in the Irobland. The Aydola (Aydoli-dik) are some of the early inhabitants of the region as well. Anyway it is not the purpose of this article to deal with the question of the Irob ethnic group in general. However, putting it briefly the Irob ethnic group is a community composed of the descendants of Kayata, Summe, Aydola, Ga’aso, Dabrimela, Hado/Hazo and some few members of other lineages.