Harari Basketry through the Eyes of Amina Ismael Sherif

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Author : Ahmed Zekaria

Harer is located in East-Central Ethiopia. The old walled city, known as Jugal, has a population of over 30,000. Jugal is pear-shaped and covers an area of 48 hectares. It is the home of the indigenous Harari as well as other peoples – Oromo, Somali, and Argobba. Indeed, people from virtually all parts of Ethiopia may be found in this great walled city.
Much has been written about the natural beauty of Harer. More than forty years ago John Buchholzer commented: “It doesn’t matter whether you go there when the coffee bushes are in flower and the air is heavy with their strong, bitter scent, or when the ripe fruit of the orange trees glow in the sunlight, it is always lovely in Harer; there is always something blooming, always something being harvested” (1955: 101). A mountaintop view of Harer reveals a mosaic of diverse scenery (fig. 3.2). One sees great natural beauty complemented by the beauty of the human-built environment. The colors are remarkable. Outside the city walls the lush green foliage and meandering streams remind one of Persian carpets. In contrast, inside the old walls the colors and shapes change; one sees primarily whites and grays and a diverse range of geometric shapes of varying size (figs. 3.3-3.4). The hill on which the old city rests is a constantly changing organic form, shaped and reshaped by the hands of masons for over a millennium. The houses, mosques, churches, marketplaces, and narrow streets form this magnificent work of art.
Moving from a macro- to a micro view of the city reveals an abundance of aesthetic traditions that echo this beauty. The Harari house is warm and inviting and displays a sense of proportion and a mastery of a building technology perfected over the centuries. Inside the house, one is overwhelmed with the balance and color composition of the traditional display of baskets on the walls of the living room (fig. 3.5). The colorful dress of Harari women is another dimension of the beautiful aesthetic that permeates Harari life.