Pre-ImperialismThe northeast region of Somalia has, since August 1st, 1998, been referred to as Puntland State of Somalia. The territory is characterized by vast semi-arid range lands on which nomadic pastoralists raise herds of camels, goats and sheep. There are also a number of small towns and small coastal settlements where people practice rudimentary fishing.
The economy is primarily dependent on pastoralism, the livestock trade, and the import and export of goods at the port of Bosaaso on the northeast coast. Stretching from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to the north and east, to south Mudug region in central Somalia and bordering Ethiopia and Somaliland in the west, the area encompasses the traditional territory of the Harti clan group of the Darood clan-family and a number of other Darood clans and is considered one of the most homogeneous Somali regions.
Although pre-colonial Somali society did not have a national government with modern structures and clearly defined international borders, the northeast region had traditional structures of government dating from the 18th century. These traditional structures of government included:
The Sultanate of Migiurtinia (mid 18th century - 1927)
The Sultanate of Obbio (1878–1925)
The Warsangeli Sultanate of Sanaag (1896–1925)
The Dervish State (1899 -1920)
These Sultanates had administrative and military structures, which safeguarded security, social welfare and political stability until they were disrupted by colonial powers (the Italians in the first two Sultanates and the British in the last two).
As Prof. Said Samatar of Rutgers University put it:
In precolonial times the only states worhty of the name in Somali peninsula had been the Migirutinia Sultanate of Boqor, or king, Cismaan Mohamuud and the kingdom of Obbia (Hobyo) belonging to Cismaan's nephew, the dour Yuusuf Ali Keenadiid. These were both highly centralized states with all the organs and accoutrements of an integrated modern state - a hereditary nobility, titled aristocrats, a functioning bureucracy, a flag, an army and a significant network of foreign relations with embassies abroad.
Nowhere else in Somalia did anything even remotely comparable ever arise, expect perhaps the Ajuuran on the Shabelle valley and Adal on northwestern coast, both states having reached the apogee of power in the sixteenth century. In modern times the Migiurtin (majerteen) stand alone, absolutely alone in having created a centralized state.
The Warsangeli Sultanate was noted for its robust tax-based centralized administration and trade and commercial relations existed between the Sultanates, the Indian sub-continent and Arabian Gulf states. For instance, ad valorem taxation systems, export of livestock, animal and agro-forestry products and import of consumer goods thrived in the Sultanate of Migiurtinia during the second half of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th century.
In Puntland, “Isim” (singular) or “Isimo” (plural), the traditional titled leaders or paramount chiefs, are usually crowned in a traditional ceremony known as “'Aano-Shub” (meaning crowning with milk, pouring milk on the head) or “'Aleemo-Saar” (meaning showering with green leaves). The highest traditional position for the Darood clan is the Boqor (king), with other positions denoted as Ugaas, Garaad, Islan, Beeldaaje, Sultan, Qud, Caaqil (chief), Nabaddon, Samadoon and Oday.
Boqor Cusmaan Boqor Maxamuud (King of Migiurtinia).
Sultan Yusuf Ali Keenadiid (Sultan of Obbio).
Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire (Sultan of The Warsangeli Sultanate also know as “Sovereign of the House of North East of Somaliland Sultanate” and “Sultan of Sultans of Somaliland”).
The traditional life of the northeast regions was disrupted from 1900-1920 by the turmoil of battles waged by Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan against European and Ethiopian colonization of Somali territories, and subsequently from 1923-1927 by the resistance of the Sultanates of Obbio and Miguirtina to Italian direct rule.
In the beginning of 1920, the British struck the Dervish settlements with a well-coordinated air and land attack and inflicted a stunning defeat. The forts of Hassan were damaged and his army suffered great losses. The British Royal Air Force’s (R.A.F.) bombing Jidali Fort was the first aerial bombardment of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Soon after Hassan’s defeat, the British, dreading the prospect of another several decades of costly and difficult battles with yet another Somali potentate, set about attempting to neutralize Sultan Shire’s influence. Shire was secretly invited to a conference in Yemen, ostensibly to discuss possible ways of settling differences. After a short session before the meeting was scheduled to begin, he was taken into custody by the British authorities. Sultan Shire was later tried without proper representation in a kangaroo court.
The fascist government was surprised by the setback in Obbio (Hobyo). The whole policy of conquest was collapsing under their nose. The El-Buur episode drastically changed the strategy of Italy as it revived memories of the Adwa fiasco when Italy had been defeated by Abyssinia. Governor De Vecchi took the situation seriously, and to prevent any more failure he requested two battalions from Eritrea to reinforce his troops, and assumed lead of the operations. Rome instructed De Vecchi that he was to receive the reinforcement from Eritrea, but that the commander of the two battalions was to temporarily assume the military command of the operations and De Vecchi was to stay in Muqdisho and confine himself to other colonial matters. Fascist Italy was poised to re-conquer the Sultanate by any means necessary. To undermine the resistance, and before the Eritrean reinforcement could arrive, De Vecchi began to instil distrust among the local people by buying the loyalty of some of them. In fact, these tactics had better results than the military campaign, and the resistance began to gradually wear down. Given the anarchy which would follow, the new policy was a success.
On 13 October, Coronaro was to meet Boqor Cusmaan at Baargaal to press for his surrender. Under siege already, Boqor Cusmaan was playing for time. However, on 23 October, Boqor Cusmaan sent an angry response to the Governor defying his order. Following this a full scale attack was ordered in November. Baargaal was bombarded and destroyed to the ground.
In December 1925, led by the charismatic leader Hersi Boqor, son of Boqor Cusmaan, the sultanate forces drove the Italians out of Hurdiyo and Hafun, two strategic coastal towns. Another contingent attacked and destroyed an Italian communications center at Cape Guardafui, at the tip of the Horn. In retaliation, and to demoralize the resistance, Italian warships were ordered to target and bombard the sultanate’s coastal towns and villages. In the interior the Italian troops confiscated livestock.
After a violent confrontation Italian forces captured Eyl, which until then had remained in the hands of Hersi Boqor. In response to the unyielding situation, Italy called for reinforcements from their other colonies, notably Eritrea.
With their arrival at the closing of 1926, the Italians began to move into the interior where they had not been able to venture since their first seizure of the coastal towns. Their attempt to capture the Dharoor Valley was resisted, and ended in failure.