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Exploring the Unique Culture of the Harari People in Harar, Ethiopia

Explore the rich cultural heritage of Ethiopia's Harari people in the ancient town of Harar, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the City of Peace.

Table of Contents

Harar Jagol City in Ethiopia: A bustling urban center with vibrant culture, historic architecture, and lively markets.

The Harari people have a rich and vibrant culture that has thrived in the Harari Region of Ethiopia for centuries. Located in eastern Ethiopia, the Harari region, also known as Harar, is a significant cultural and historical hub in Africa. The Harari community has preserved their unique traditions, language, and way of life despite centuries of outside influences. The Ethiopian Harar is famous for its ancient walled city, colorful markets, and distinctive architecture, all of which showcase the depth and beauty of Harari culture. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of the Harari people and their cultural heritage.

Key Takeaways

  • Harari culture is a unique and vibrant aspect of Ethiopia’s cultural diversity.
  • The Harari people have a rich history and unique language that sets them apart from other Ethiopian cultures.
  • Harar Jugol, the walled city of Harari culture, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit destination for travelers.
  • Islam plays a significant role in Harari culture, with many mosques and religious festivals throughout the year.
  • Harari language, architecture, cuisine, music, dance, and traditional clothing are all important aspects of the culture that visitors can experience and enjoy

The History and Origins of the Harari People

The Harari people have a long and fascinating history that dates back centuries. They are believed to have originated from the region of Yemen in present-day Saudi Arabia. According to historical accounts, the Harari people migrated to Ethiopia in the 16th century and settled in the walled city of Harar, which became their cultural and political center.

Harar Jugol, as it is known today, played a crucial role in the history of Harari culture. It served as a major trading hub and attracted merchants from across Africa, Arabia, and India. The city’s strategic location along trade routes contributed to its prosperity and cultural diversity. Over time, Harar Jugol became a melting pot of different cultures and religions, including Islam, which significantly shaped Harari culture.

Traditions of Harari Culture and Harari language

A room in Harari culture filled with numerous pots and a comfortable couch for relaxation.

Harari Language

The Harari language, known locally as Gey Sinan (“language of the city”), is a cornerstone of Harari identity. As an Eastern Cushitic language, it reflects a long history of interactions among various ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa. The language is rich in expressions and proverbs, which are integral to daily communication and cultural practices. Despite the pressures of globalization and the dominance of larger languages such as Amharic and Somali, the Harari people maintain their linguistic heritage with pride. This commitment helps preserve a unique cultural identity that is tightly woven into the fabric of their daily lives and rituals.


Harar’s architecture is a testament to its historical and cultural evolution. The city is renowned for its distinctive, colorful Harari houses with unique interior designs that reflect Islamic influences and African aesthetics. These homes are usually built around a central courtyard, promoting a communal lifestyle and family interactions. The walls of Harar, which once served as fortifications, now symbolize the resilience and enduring spirit of the Harari people. The architectural layout and urban design of Harar Jugol (the old walled city) provide a physical narrative of the city’s history from its Islamic beginnings in the 7th century through its growth into a major commercial and religious center by the 16th century.

Music and Dance

Music and dance are vital expressions of Harari culture, embodying the community’s emotions, stories, and traditions. Traditional songs often feature the krar (a lyre-like stringed instrument) and the masenqo (a single-stringed bowed lute), creating rhythms that invite participation through dance. These performances are not just entertainment but are also a means for the community to pass down history, celebrate important milestones, and strengthen social bonds. The Harari’s musical expressions are a vibrant portrayal of their Islamic and African heritage, showcasing a community that cherishes its past while embracing the communal joy of now.


Harari cuisine is a flavorful blend of spices, textures, and culinary techniques that draw from the city’s position as a crossroads of trade in the Horn of Africa. Dishes like shiro (a thick stew made from powdered chickpeas or broad beans) and firfir (shredded flatbread mixed with spices and yogurt) are staples, reflecting the blend of Middle Eastern and African culinary traditions. The use of ingredients like berbere (a spice mixture) and kibe (clarified butter) in cooking demonstrates the Harari skill in creating complex flavors that are both unique and inviting.


The traditional attire of the Harari people is as colorful as their festivals and as intricate as their language. Women typically wear bright dresses called dirac or kaba, often adorned with intricate embroidery and paired with a shawl called garbasaar, while men wear kuta, a long-sleeved shirt with a collar. These garments are not only practical for the climate but also carry cultural significance, often indicating social status, community roles, and participation in rituals or ceremonies. The clothing of the Harari people is a beautiful example of how traditional dress can serve as a living expression of cultural identity and pride.

Coffee Culture

In Harar, coffee is not merely a beverage; it’s a ceremonial pillar of community life. Known as the birthplace of coffee, the region’s beans are famous worldwide for their quality and distinct flavor profiles. The traditional coffee ceremony in Harar is a communal event, where roasting beans’ aromatic scent blends with incense to create an inviting atmosphere. This ritual is not only about enjoying coffee but also serves as a time for socializing, discussing community matters, and maintaining social ties. It reflects the Harari people’s hospitality and their deep-rooted tradition of community engagement.

Social Structure

The social fabric of Harar is tightly knit, characterized by strong familial bonds and community networks. The Harari people are known for their egalitarian society, where respect and social welfare are given paramount importance. This structure is visible in their everyday interactions and communal decision-making processes, where each member’s voice is valued. The elders play a significant role in governance and conflict resolution, ensuring that the wisdom of past generations guides the present and future.

Heritage and Identity

The identity of the Harari people is intrinsically linked to their heritage. Each aspect of their daily life, from the clothes they wear to the languages they speak, is a reflection of a rich historical legacy. The use of the Harari language, alongside the preservation of ancient architectural styles in the city’s design, speaks to a community that values its past while navigating the challenges of the modern world. Their identity is also reinforced through the preservation of traditional crafts such as weaving and basketry, which have been passed down through generations.

Places to visit in Harar

Harar Jugol

The heart of Harar’s rich history beats in Harar Jugol, the fortified historic town. With its intricate network of narrow alleyways and over 82 mosques, the town is a mosaic of Islamic culture and architecture. Constructed in the 13th to 16th centuries, these walls have historically safeguarded the city against invasions.

The five historic gates, or babs, serve as the traditional entrances to the city, with Harar Gate being the most renowned. These gates are not just architectural feats but also cultural landmarks, representing the fusion of African and Islamic architectural styles that characterize the city. As one of the oldest Islamic centers in Africa, Harar Jugol not only serves as a spiritual hub but also as a capsule of history, preserving the essence of Islamic and Harari culture through centuries. Walking through Jugol, visitors are transported to a time when the city was a bustling center of trade and religious scholarship.

Wall And Harar Gate 

Harari wall: A massive stone wall with intricate carvings and patterns, showcasing the architectural brilliance of the Harari people.

Assum Bari (located in the North)

Assum Bari, the northern gate, is known for its strategic location and historical role as a key trading post. It traditionally served as the primary access point for traders and travelers coming from the north, linking Harar with the trade routes across the Horn of Africa. Today, Assum Bari stands as a vibrant entrance to the city, offering visitors their first taste of Harari hospitality and the bustling life of its streets.

Argobba Bari (located in the East)

To the east lies Argobba Bari, a gate that has witnessed the flow of culture and commerce between Harar and the Somali region. This gate is particularly noted for its beautiful construction and the intricate designs that reflect the blend of Islamic and African architectural styles. The eastern gate is a reminder of the cultural exchanges that have enriched Harari culture, making it a melting pot of traditions and histories.

Suqutat Bari (located in the Southeast)

Suqutat Bari, the southeastern gate, is historically significant for its role in the daily commerce of Harar. It is closest to the city’s main market areas, where the vibrant trade in textiles, spices, and crafts takes place. This gate is a bustling hub of activity, offering insights into the economic life of the city and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Harari people.

Badro Bari (located in the South)

The southern gate, Badro Bari, is key to understanding Harar’s defensive architecture. Positioned to guard against invasions from the south, this gate showcases the military precision and planning of ancient Harari architects. Badro Bari also offers a more tranquil entrance to the city, leading directly into some of the quieter residential quarters where the true essence of daily Harari life can be observed.

Asmadin Bari (located in the West)

Asmadin Bari on the western side serves as a crucial link between Harar and the Oromo regions of Ethiopia. This gate has historically facilitated cultural and social interactions between different ethnic groups, contributing to the diverse cultural landscape of Harar. It is through this gate that influences from the western regions have permeated Harar, adding to its rich tapestry of cultural expressions.

Rimbaud's House & Museum

Rimbaud's House & Museum in harari, featuring a large wooden house with a balcony.

A French trader and poet Arthur Rimbaud used to live in this well-decorated old house which became a centre and Museum.It’s a G+2 setup, where anyone can just ascend the stairs to the first and second floors, taking a glimpse at the exquisitely adorned old house, adorned with paintings and pictures adorning the walls. Through the colorful windows, one can relish a splendid view of the Harar cityscape.

Sherif Private Musuem

The collection at the Sherif Harar City Museum was initiated by the current curator, Mr. Abdulah Ali Sherif, who diligently gathered Harari cultural artifacts since the early 1990s.

The Sherif Harar City Museum is an impeccably arranged institution housing a private collection of historically significant Harari and Arabic manuscripts, religious and scientific books, some dating back 700 years, as well as armaments, paintings, jewelry, Harar coins, basketry, household implements, weaponry, audio recordings, music recordings into the digital system and, and numerous other artifacts.


Located in a traditional Harari house, the Harar Regional Museum is dedicated to preserving the region’s cultural and historical artifacts. The museum’s collection includes traditional weapons, musical instruments, and religious texts, illustrating the diverse cultural fabric of Harar and its surrounding regions. A visit here offers a comprehensive understanding of the area’s history and the various influences that have shaped its culture and identity.

Local Holidays and Festivals in Harar

Shewal Eid Holyday/Festival

On the first day of Shewal, Eid al-Fitr is joyously celebrated, marking the end of fasting, followed by a six-day fasting period. Then, on the 8th day of Shewal, comes Shewal Eid, a special Harari cultural festival. Hararis traditionally commemorate this occasion, almost unparalleled in its pattern and through Zikr rituals.Shuwal Eid’ stands out as a distinctive cultural ceremony, observed on the 8th day of the Shuwal month following Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. For a woman, the celebration of Eid al-Fitr remains incomplete until she compensates for her six-day break.

Ashura and Feeding the Wild Hyenas

Ashura’ is celebrated by crushing freshly cut wood. During this festival, hyenas feed porridge prepared by the local people. Harari partake in various events steeped in cultural significance. Among these is the Wirshato, the smashing of the gourd, accompanied by song. Another significant event is Ashura, featuring porridge feeding for the community. It’s believed one must consume sufficiently, even excessively, to avoid the specter of hunger throughout the year. An astonishing aspect of Ashura is the feeding of hyenas. Despite their wild nature, hyenas are revered as messengers of Sheiks, respected figures who communicate through thunderous roars.

The Importance of Islam in Harari Culture

Islam has played a significant role in shaping Harari culture and traditions. The majority of the Harari people are Muslims, and their religious beliefs and practices are deeply intertwined with their cultural identity. Islam was introduced to Harar in the 10th century and has since become an integral part of the city’s history.

Mosques hold a special place in Harari culture, serving as not only places of worship but also as centers for education, social gatherings, and community events. 

Harari Cuisine: A Taste of Ethiopia's Cultural Diversity

Harari cuisine is known for its distinct flavors and unique dishes. It reflects the cultural diversity of Ethiopia and incorporates influences from Arab, Indian, and African cuisines. One of the most famous dishes in Harari cuisine is “Ful,” a hearty stew made from fava beans and served with bread. Other popular dishes include “Doro Wat,” a spicy chicken stew, and “Injera,” a sourdough flatbread that is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine.

Harari Traditional Houses

Harari traditional houses, locally known as Gezira, are a hallmark of Harari architectural genius and cultural identity. These houses are not merely structures; they are a reflection of the Harari way of life, carefully designed to accommodate family activities, social gatherings, and religious practices. Built predominantly from locally sourced materials, such as stones, wood, and mud, these houses are adapted to the environmental conditions of Eastern Ethiopia, providing cool interiors during the hot days and warmth during the cooler nights.

Structural Layout

A typical Harari house is characterized by its unique layout, centered around a main courtyard known as the Gidir Magala. This courtyard is the heart of the home, where daily activities unfold, from cooking and socializing to religious observance. Surrounding the courtyard are various rooms, each serving specific purposes such as sleeping, storage, and receiving guests. The design reflects a communal lifestyle, emphasizing family cohesion and easy interaction among its members.

Decorative Elements

What sets Harari houses apart are their vibrant interiors, adorned with intricate Islamic art, colorful wall baskets, and handwoven carpets. The walls often feature beautiful frescoes and carvings that tell stories of the family’s history or depict scenes from nature. These decorations are not only aesthetic but also serve as a form of cultural expression, showcasing the artistic heritage and skilled craftsmanship of the Harari people

Traditional Clothing in Harari Culture


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Traditional clothing is an important aspect of Harari culture and plays a significant role in identity. The Harari people have their own distinct style of dress, which includes colorful garments made from locally woven fabrics. Men typically wear a long white robe called a “Jelebiya” or a “Sherwani,” while women wear brightly colored dresses called “Dirac” or “Guntiino.”

The clothing is often adorned with intricate embroidery and embellishments, reflecting the craftsmanship and attention to detail that is characteristic of Harari culture. Traditional jewelry, such as necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, is also worn as a way to express cultural identity.

Frequently asked questions

  • What is Harari culture?

    Harari culture refers to the unique cultural practices, beliefs, and traditions of the Harari people, an ethnic group in Ethiopia. It is characterized by its Islamic influence, distinct language, and rich history.

  • Where is Harari culture located?

    Harari culture is primarily located in the Harari Region of Ethiopia, which is located in the eastern part of the country. The region's capital city is Harar, which is considered the cultural center of the Harari people.

  • How Many Wall are in the Harar Gate 

    Assum Bari ,Argobba Bari ,Suqutat Bari ,Badro Bari and Asmadin Bari.

  • What are some key features of Harari culture?

    Some key features of Harari culture include its Islamic influence, unique language, traditional dress, music, and dance. The Harari people are also known for their skilled craftsmanship, particularly in the areas of weaving and pottery.

  • What is the history of Harari culture?

    The Harari people have a rich history that dates back to the 7th century, when they first settled in the region. Over the centuries, they developed a unique culture that was influenced by their Islamic faith and interactions with neighboring ethnic groups.

About Author
Tsedeniya Miraw( Content Marketing Specialist )

Tsedenia Miraw is a dynamic content marketing specialist with a deep passion for Ethiopian history. Her extensive experience in content creation spans various industries, where she consistently crafts engaging and informative stories that resonate with audiences and drive results.

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