Berbera locates Horn of Africa at latitude of 10’. 26 North and longitude of 45’.01 East, It was for centuries
the capital of the Somaliland region and also the colonial capital of British Somaliland protectorate from
1870 to 1941 when it was moved to Hargeisa. Located strategically on the oil route, Berbera has a deep
sea port that was completed in 1962, and which is still the main commercial seaport for Somaliland. It had
great history as it has many connections to different civilizations than any other town in Somaliland
The coastal town of Berbera historically was under different colonial administrations and civilizations in its
existence as reported by international and local historians. The legacy of these civilizations can be
observed in the town, and all the links to those civilizations are shown by the old buildings they left behind,
some still there inhabited by local and others in dire situation.
Many of these historical buildings need much attention as many buildings are not used by anyone. Some
buildings deteriorated after not getting repairs in many years. If utilized wisely these ancient buildings could
be used and changed into Museums and libraries for the good of the public.
Berbera’s ancient administrators were not all have their settlements in the town; like ancient Greece which
had trade relations with local populace. Some historians believe that the name ‘Berbera’ was first
introduced by Greek Merchants, also Oral Somali history supports that claim.
The civilizations who in one way or another administered this coastal town during pre-colonial and ancient
times among others:
The Ottoman Empire
People from Arabian Peninsula
The Ottoman Empire
In 1548, the Ottoman Empire first set foot in the coastal towns of Berbera and Zeila accompanied by
Egyptian soldiers. Instantly, they formed strong relations with the locales in Berbera as their Muslim religion
help their welcome in the coastal towns.
Around 1800, the Ottoman Empire built public structures, Mosques and water supply system for first time in
Berbera’s history using Dubar spring water. The Ottoman Empire was generous in supporting Muslin
people during its reign in the world affairs.
A Turkish Mosque built during Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire expanded its presence in the town by building first ever public library as way of
religious outreach services in the local inhabitants. Much of the Turkish influences in Berbera are still visible
to newly arrivers as they take a walk in the old main streets of this town.
Mosque library built by Ottomans in Berbera
People from Arabian Peninsula
As trading communities on the coast, Berbera inhabitants had long trading relations with the Arabs. One
certainty about Berbera over the following centuries was that it was the site of an annual fair, held between
October and April, which the writer Mordechai Abir describes as "among the most important commercial
events of the east coast of Africa.” Caravans from Harar and the Hawd, and Banyan merchants from
Porbandar, Mangalore and Mumbai (India) gathered to trade. All of this was kept secret from European
merchants, writes Abir: "Banyan and Arab merchants who were concerned with the trade of this fair closely
guarded all information which might have helped new competitors; and actually through the machinations of
such merchants Europeans were not allowed to take part in the fair at all”
The expansion into the peninsula as far as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean put the Somalis in sustained
contact with Persian and Arab immigrants who had established a series of settlements along the coast.
From the eighth to the tenth centuries, Persian and Arab traders were already engaged in lucrative
commerce from enclaves along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as far south as the coast of present-day
Kenya. The most significant enclave was the renowned medieval emporium of Zeila and Berbera on the
Gulf of Aden.
Qaxwaji Building in Berbera built by Ottoman Empire
In those years, Merchants from Arabian Peninsula settled in Berbera and built beautiful commercial
buildings in the town. Also there was inter-marriage between Arab merchants and locales.
Somaliland: A British Protectorate (1884-1960)
As the first European power in the region was Britain. In order to protect British trade routes and provide
safe anchorage for ships, Britain took possession of Aden (now in the Republic of Yemen) on the Arabian
coast in 1839. Subsequently, about 1875, Egypt, disregarding Turkish claims, occupied some of the towns
on the Somaliland coast and part of the adjacent interior. When the Egyptian troops left the area in 1882 to
help stem the revolt of Muhammad Ahmad (known as the Mahdi) in the Sudan, Britain occupied the
territory in order to safeguard the route to India through the Suez Canal, which had been opened in 1869.
In 1887 a British protectorate, known as British Somaliland, was proclaimed. The protectorate, initially a
dependency of Aden, was placed under the administration of the British Foreign Office in 1898 and of the
Colonial Office in 1905. At that time, British colonial officer were settled in Berbera, building their own
houses and administration offices.
District colonial officer’s house in Berbera
British influence in the coastal town of Berbera was formalized during the 1880s in a series of treaties
promising protection to the chieftains of various colonial Empires.
District Colonial Officer’s administration office, Berbera (Now Medical & Social Centre for SOS Children Villages)
In Berbera, there were also some British Colonial companies which had its offices in the town, one of this
companies include BIZ, which had operation offices in Berbera.
British Colonial Company BIZ office in Berbera
During the British Colonial administration, some churches were built by these colonialists in the town as
they are still there untouched by the locales.
A church house in old Berbera District, Sha’ab Area
In 1940’s, in Berbera was installed BBC world Somali Service studio for Somali listeners but due to much
resistance from the locales it was removed after few years of its service
BBC Somali Service building in the 1940s
its Radio receiver in middle of the town
During the colonial era, Berbera was dwelled by small Jewish Merchants who had their own business
centres and religious temples in the town. This highlighted that Berbera was town for all nationalities
irrespective of their ethnicity or religious affiliation.
Jewish religious temple “Wailing Wall” in old Berbera town
After Independence, Jewish people never returned in Berbera as they moved and sell their houses to
Elmi Boodhari “Father of Love” or the Somali Version of “ Romeo & Juliet” (1908-1947)
It was sometime before 1937, while Elmi Bodhari was working at a bakery shop in Berbera. In late
afternoon a young and beautiful lady named Hoddan bought bread from the store that employed him. From
that day on, Elmi was mesmerized by the natural beauty and elegancy that God had given to Hodan. What
followed that afternoon to the end of his life became the most famous love story in the continent of Africa.
Initially Elmi faced two difficulties not only was Hoddan's family much better off financially, he also faced the
cultural taboo that surrounded the concept of love. Both were formidable challenges for him to overcome
One could only imagine his anguish of trying to convince a society that regarded love as a disgrace and
The Bakery was named after his name “ Boodhari” people in love visit it as historic to their love affairs
His family, including his relatives, tried to convince him to stop bringing shame on the family but to no avail.
His heart was attached to Hodan and no matter what people tried to do, he demonstrated his devotion to
Hodan through countless romantic poems.
At one point a dozen beautiful girls from his tribe came to persuade him to forget about Hodan and settle
for one of them. Elmi's response was one of the most beautiful love poems in the history of the Somali
If the eye can capture something (beauty) and that could calm down somebody (somebody's heart)
or ever a human could be satisfied with beauty
I have seen khadra’s (hodan's) shoulders, neck, and face
however, I have stricken by love that divested my life
ladies, you have poked the part (the heart) that was in pain
you have hurt the heart that I was trying to heel
my upper body and hands are shivering (due to the painful effect of love)
the naked breast hurts my feeling
god forbids to send you to destruction, I ask you to cover your chest! Elmi Boodhari
After All that Historic Backround of Berbera, Berbera has the biggest beach and the only one Beautiful in Somaliland