Argobba people


Argobba / Ankober

The Argobba are an ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia.

A Muslim community, they are spread out through isolated village networks and towns in the northeastern and eastern parts of the country. Group members have typically been astute traders and merchants, and have adjusted to the economic trends in their area. These factors have led to a decline in usage of the Argobba language. Argobba are considered endangered today due to exogamy and destitution.

The are saturated in Northeast, Amhara, Oromiya and Afar regions; Rift Valley in Yimlawo, Gusa, Shonke, Berehet, Khayr Amba, Melkajillo, Metehara, Shewa Robit, villages area (Source: Ethnologue 2010). Group members have typically been astute traders and merchants, and have adjusted to the economic trends in their area.

Argobba people call their language Argobgna and their population is about 202.000 (

Argobba people map



Further information: Aklilu Asfaw. A short History of the Argobba

According to scholars, the Kingdom of Axum's army moved south beyond Angot, encountering a nomadic people named Gebal in eastern Shewa, who are supposedly the precursors to Argobba. Gebal would develop into settlers of Harar region known as Argobba after their conversion to Islam and having significant ties to the Arab world, dominated trade in Zeila and Harar. Modern Argobba claim they originate from Arabia through Zeila in modern Somalia and first settled in the Harar plateau. They were involved in launching the first Islamic state known in East Africa, the Sultanate of Showa in Hararghe, sometime in the ninth century. In the 13th century, Argobba created a ruling class Walashma Dynasty which would become leaders of the Ifat Sultanate and Adal Sultanate. Argobba and Harla seem to have relied on each other in the Islamic period. A power struggle erupted between the Abadir dynasty of Harari and the Walasma dynasty of Argobba throughout the Islamc period until Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi took control of Adal Sultanate by executing Walasma sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad in the 16th century. In the late sixteenth century, Argobba were involved in several conflicts with the Oromo during the Oromo migrations and due to the withdrawal of Adal from Ethiopia, came partially under Ethiopian Empire rule losing land rights. Many Argobba were forcibly baptized in Shewa by Menelik II. In the nineteenth century Emperor Yohannes IV ordered forced displacement of Argobba for refusing to convert to Christianity. Due to expansions from two dominant ethnic groups, many Argobba speak either Amharic or Oromo language today in Wollo, however those who self identify as originally Argobba are substantial in the region. The last remaining villages of a once larger Argobba speaking territory are Šonke and Ṭollaḥa. Under the new government of Ethiopia the EPRDF, ushered in the early 90's the Argobba obtained regional political power after launching Argoba Nationality Democratic Organization.



Argobba communities can be found in the Afar, Harari, Amhara, and Oromia Regions, in and along the Great Rift Valley. They include Yimlawo, Gusa, Shonke, Berehet, Khayr Amba, Melka Jilo, Aliyu Amba, Metehara, Shewa Robit, and the surrounding rural villages.



Argobba are exclusive adherents to the Muslim faith. They are also widely believed to be the first to accept Islam collectively, in the Horn of Africa and vanguards for early Islamic expansion. The Shonke Argobba reportedly forbid their children from attending school due to the possible unislamic influence, it might have on them.



The Argobba traditionally speak the Argobba language, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Semitic branch. According to Getahun Amare, Argobba is not a dialect of Amharic as previous linguists believed, but a separate language. In some places, Argobba has homogenized with Oromo. In other areas, the people have shifted to neighboring languages for economic reasons. At this time there are only a few areas left where the Argobba are not at least bilingual in Amharic, Oromiffa or Afar.