Editor of Antiquity

The accompanying genealogical table is a conflation from the following sources:-

1.                 Newbold’s File ii, 484:  a mere list of names showing the ancestry of Sheikh Mahmud for 54 generations, through Adnan to Nuh. No authority is given for this list.

2.                 Ibid. 317: a genealogical table of the descendents of Hassan, son of Hidad, and a list of his ancestors up to Hibteis, attached to C.H. Thompson’s history of the Habab.

3.                 Ibid. 318-20: A history of the Habab by Hassan Kantibai Mahmud who lived eight years in Akkele Guzai, where he learnt it: written down in January, 1932.

4.                 Giuseppe Sapeto: Viaggio e missione cattolica (Rome, 1857), 160.

5.                 Carlo Conti Rossini: Note sul Sahel Eritreo, Rivista degli Studi Orientali, Vol. VI (Rome, 1914), 381. This pedigree agrees with the others, but omits three generations between Hadembes and Bumnet.

6.                 Hnno Littmann:  Bemerkungen uber den Islam in Nordabessinien; Der Islam i, 1910, 68-71.

Of the above, the last three sources are certainly independent of the first three and probably of each other. The third is probably independent of the first two. There are thus at least three independent sources, and perhaps four. It is satisfactory that they are all consistent.

Adopting c. 1920 as the date of Kantibai Mahmud, who was alive (but deposed) in 1932, we get, by dead reckoning backwards at 30 years for a generation, a date of c. 1680 for K. Habtas, c, 1500 for Asgade and c. 1200  for Zoudi. The middle date is in agreement with an independent source of 1482′ which mentions ” Un altro signore chiamato Aschadi”, This tribal chief was encountered by Suriano eight days after leaving another called Synosirave; this seems to mean the Shum (chief) of Serae, and may safely be identified with Debaroa, the chief residence or capital of the Barnagash. Now Mansfield Parkyns marks a district called Asgaddy, W.N.W. of Axum. It was part of the province of Shire, and if we take about eight days to represent about 80 miles in hilly and difficult country, it is possible to equate the Asgaddy of Mansfield Parkyns with the Aschadi of Suriano’ (It is quite usual for the personal names of prominent chiefs to be used as the names of districts). The exact location is not, however, important for the present purpose, which is to point out that, in 1482, Asgade had not yet migrated northwards into the present Habab region’ and that this passage of Suriano’s enables us to date the formation of the Habab tribe there not long after 1482, which agrees very nicely with the date (c. 1500) already assigned to Asgade by dead reckoning. 


1.     Etiopia Francescana, Vol. I Part I (Florence, 1928), P. lxxxiv.


2.     The 1/m. map (Asmara Sheet) marks a place called Adi Scium Ascale In Serae, Eritrea,

Between Adi Quala on the N. and the Mareb 29 miles N. by W. of Aduwa. The confusion of “l” and “d” is quite normal; compare the forms Lalibeda and Lalibela. This place cannot be identical with that of Parkyns, if his location is correct, but may contain the same personal name it. is on the main north and south thoroughfare.



Tribal tradition puts Asgade’s first home in Akkele Guzai, which Lejean’ calls Kollo Gouzay in Tigre-but it is not and never was in Tigre. According to the same author he had three sons, Abil, Takles and Tamariam, from the first of whom the Habab were descended. (Littmann’ makes these three the sons of Maflas, the son of Asgade.) The names indicate that they were Christian, according to Littmann Takles means Takla Iayasus, the plant of Jesus; Hebtes means Hebta iayasus, the gift of Jesus; and Tamariam means Hebtamariam, the gift of Mary.

Rossini puts” Asgade’s arrival in the Habab district at about the first half of the sixteenth century – a date based presumably on dead reckoning only. He settled on a plateau (rora) at a place called Laba, which is the name of a tributary wadi of the Anseba immediately south of. Asgede Bakla, near the ruins or Tzertzera where lived the Fung. He had many quarrels with the Fung, mostly the usual nomad squabbles about cattle. When Asgade came there he found the Balau and the Fung in Occupation; but on his arrival the Fung went away and there remains of them only one family. The Balau came from the Baraka, and there still remains a few of them.

Both these accounts were certainly based on traditions recorded by the two authors who were personally familiar with the regions. They agree in the main with a rather confused, but independent, account written down in January, 1932, by Kantibai Mahmud’. The ancestor of the Habab, Zod Abu Sahl, emigrated from Akilli Kazai at the Muslim conquest. Later he occupied Nacfa and Rora. Asgeddi, son of Babinit, came to Rora, in a district called indilal, and with his brother Bigilai formed clans. They then divided up the country between them and made treaties with the Bellu and Baira “(This seems to correspond with the reference to the Balau and Fung in the preceding account). These were tribes of the Baraka, and they intermarried with them. (The rest of the story does not concern us here.).

          Sapeto, a missionary who lived for some years in the region and knew it and its inhabitants well and could speak their language, states that the Habab were not agreed about their original home. Some said that it was Tzana Daglid in Kolugusai, others Tedarar in Hamasen. (This would appear to be Munzinger’s Tadarar in Akkele Guzai, 37 miles S. by E. of Asmara). In any case it was certainly from such places that they came, for amongst their progenitors (Antenati) he had found the names of Barnagashes’ of Addi Baro and Debaroa, such as Karm-medas, Taluq, Giamman-oi, Giann-oi, Addam-bas, Abu-amnat. At Enzelal Sapeto Found Considerable (grandsissme) ruins of an “Abyssinian” City with remains to of churches and monasteries, “e akune lettere d’Mizione’ defaced by Muslims. He concluded that the city was like that of liha [Yeha] in Tigre and the letters Himyarite. His companion and guide Muhammad Faqaq (also called Naod) insisted that Enzelal was the same as Asgade Baqle, where there was nothing to be seen but a sheepfold or village like Tzerrtzera. This latter place was a large ruined village with many burial – cairns (Sepolehri, a biea) Sapeto states that Habab was the plural of a personal name Habib, and that Habib was the father of tha-Mariam. His languages not always exact and his meaning sometimes.

1.                 Voyage and deux Nils142, 1.12 (Abil is spelt Abib in his genealogical tree, and made the ancestor of the Temaryam).


2.                 Bemerkungen uber den Islam in nordabessinien, Der, Islam I, 1910, – 68.


3.                 Note Sul Sahel Eritreo: R.S.O Vi, 305-92.


4.                 Newbold’s file ii, 318-20.


5.                 Beuglin ENZELAL, II ruined village at the foot of Asgede Bakla: Pet. Fag. No. 13 (1801) Map 1.

Sepeto (Viaggio e missione, 1857, 347, states that” in Bairo live the Elgaden and the Hallenga” This seems to locate the Baira, if they are to be equated with Bairo, beween Kassala and the Baraka at Dunguaz.










Obscure; but his book contains much valuable information. He was the first European to explore the region, through Mansfield Parkyns had passed through the southern parts in 1843.

          The ruins of Anzelal are marked on the Italian. 1: 400,000 map of Eritrea (Sheet 2, Nacfa) 19 kilometers E.S.E. of  Ghirghir, and those of Tzertzera 8 kilometers S. by E. of Enzelal, both sites being on high ground some 10 to 15 kilometers E. of the Anseba. A full account of them has been published by Conti Rossini.

The traditional history of the Habab is important because it may confirm one theory of Fung origins. It speaks of the Fung as a tribe of nomads who are bracketed with the Balau, and not as the rulers of an empire; and for this reason it probably reflects events that took place before that empire was founded. The date of those events, as estimated by dead reckoning, is in close agreement with a contemporary reference to Aschadi, and cannot be much (if at all) later than 1500.

The word Asgedi is not Geez or Amharic. A certain Asgadr was one of the captains of Ras Sela Chrestos in the Galla war of 1618,” and the name is regarded by Dillmann, as a personal name derived from the Greek word exedra, a court. (I assume that Asgedi and Asgadr are the same).

          Interesting confirmation of the Habab tradition comes from the Ethiopian province of the Shire in Tigre. Shire is a tract of rolling uplands between the Mareb on the north and the Takkaze on the south, it is bounded on the east by the famous Aksum and on the west by Adiabo on the Eritrean frontier. In the North-western part of Shire, next to Adiabo, is the district mentioned above which is still called Asghede. Local tradition, recorded’ by the late Giovanni Ellero, whose death as a prisoner of was a great loss to Ethiopic studies, still remembers the origin of the name. Asghede was the grandson of a certain Ras Degena, a Christian, who left his home in agame in the first decade of the sixteenth century, accompanied by a Muslim called Abdullah. Some of Ras Degena’s followers settled in Mai Ducuma (Enticcio) and Mai Hasebo near Aksum; Ras Degena and the rest went on further westwards towards Adiabo. His son Zerabruch had seven sons: Asghede Zegai, who took the district called by his name; Redaa Tsembella, whose descendants now live in Addi Neccas Adghi, Asbe, stationed in Adiabo; Zahaman, in Medebai Tabor; Atiscium, whose descendants are to be found in Dembe Arcai and many villages in the Sclaclaca district; Tedai, in Addi Ghidad; Tsada, round Mai Gusccla. The leading families of Shire trace their descent to-day from these seven sons, through twelve or fourteen generations.

          It is to be observed, first, that in the accompanying genealogy, derived from wholly independent sources and other regions, twelve generations exactly separate Asghede from Mahmud (1920). Then the home of Asghede’s grandfather in Agame borders on Akkele Guzai whence according to the other tradition Asghede himself came. There are certain verbal similarities too; Giabiburuc the uncle of Asghede in my genealogy must surely be the same as Zerabruch his father according to the Shire tradition. Addi Ghidad (the village of Ghidad) recalls Asghede’s brother Gheedad or Qa’adat.


1.                 Antiche rovine Sulle Rore Eritree, Rendiconti della Reale Academia dei lincei, Vol. xxxi, Ser. 5a, fase, 7-10 (Sept, 1922), PP. 241-78.


2.                 Pereira, Susenyos, 147.


3.                 Lexikon Linguac Aethiopicac, C. 1405.


4.                 Bollettino della R. Societa Geografica Italiana, Vol. Lxxv11, 1941, 95-6.


5.                 The date is not one I should wish to find fault with, but one would like to know how” the “ancietus” from whom Ellero Heard the story reckoned it- certainly not in terms of the Christian era.











C 12000                                  Habab genealogy,


Hutal Fasel

Takal Hayamanout








Bubint                   Jabibro                  Semir

Babinli                   Giabiburucll

Bumnet                 Beit Jock


C 1500:

Askadi                  Bigilai            Atkimit            Qa’adat        5 Others

Asghedr                in the West at         Adcheme        Gheedad

Asghde                 his death the tribe

(In the cant)           Conquered by the

Daflah                   Beui A—–D

Kabirkitous            Bahailai


C 1680:

K.habtas                Hibient                  Takles                               Abib

Hebies                   Fikak                     Takles                             (Temaryam)

K.Bahrnakasi         Izad                      Teodros                          Gherenat

K.Nawdad             Nawid                   Galauchios                      Gabreas

K.Fikak                                              Derar                              Abu Bmmat

K.Hidad                                             Nasseh                            Sukur

K.Hassan                                           Azaz (1850)                    Faqaq

K.Hamid                                                                                   Sukar

C 1920K.Mahmud                                                                    (lM.l.u)                 

The date suggested by Ellero is a little too late. The Itinerary of Suriano proves that Asghede was already in existence in 1482, even if (as is possible) the name there had a general and not a personal connotation. The migration of Ras Degena must therefore have taken place at least a generation before 1482. In my Fung Kingdom (p. 150) I put Asghede’s northward trek and the foundation of the Habab at about 1500, referring in advance to this article for the evidence on which it was based. It will now be seen that that is partly dead reckoning backwards, partly Suriano’s mention. It is, of course, merely an approximation, but if Asghede was alive in 1482 it cannot be far out; these petty barbarian chieftains did not have long live, nor would such a migration be led by an old man.

          The importance of this episode for us in the Sudan lies in the possibility that Asghede’s northward trek may have started the Fungs on the move, as indeed one tradition says in so many words that it did. A date of about 1500 would therefore suit very well.

One final point requires clearing up. One of Asghede’s brothers, according to the Shire tradition, was called Atescium. The word looks very like Addi or Adi Shum, two words meaning “village” and “chief.” Now on the route that Suriano must have followed the 1: 1,000,000 map (Asmara Sheet) marks a village called Adi Scium Ascale, just north to the Mareb (Mr. Derek Matthews verified the name recently). Is, Ascale a form of, or a mistake for, Ascade? Is there any tradition locally about local about the origin of the name? The village is not Shire but in Serae, just across the Eritrean frontier.

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