Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part
poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated
mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias.
Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupt the desert landscape in the zones of
Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.
More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself
reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of
the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression),
where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.
The Danakil depression is an area along the Great Rift where the earth's
crust has stretched and thinned and the land has sunk over time to 371 feet
below sea level, one of the lowest points on earth's surface. Here the earth's crust is
thin enough that new land surface is constantly being created by new lava that
oozes upward. Water also seeps down, to be ejected again as steam. volcanic
cones are common sights, as are deep cracks in the earth. Hundreds of small
earthquakes convulse the area every year.
10.000 years ago the Danakil desert was part of the Red Sea
when the earth's crust collapsed and water flooded in. Volcanic eruptions
brought about dykes of basaltic rocks which trapped the water. In the southern Danakil
region, which is of volcanic origin, there are numerous
lava flows which lay among the numberless cones distinctly truncated at their tops.
Subjected to a blazing sun, the inland sea gradually evaporated. Enormous salt
flats and very salty lakes are the last remains of that long process. For many
Afar tribes living in the area, salt mining is still a major source of income.
There is no rain for three-quarters of the year, and what water does flow down from the
highlands vanishes into shallow saline lakes. The wind, when it does blow, is too dry and
scorching to bring any relief.
Living in this waste of crumbling rock and broken lava flows
are a people as tough and often as hostile as their environment: The Afar.
The Afar people are largely nomads and almost entirely Muslim by faith. The
four major sultanates and numerous sheikhdoms are spread over three countries: 300,000
Afar live in Eritrea, 1,000,000 in Ethiopia, and 300,000 in Djibouti. The
Afar language (or Danakil) is a Cushitic language.
Most are herdsmen, tending goats and camels, the
essential beast of burden for these nomadic people. Some Afar in more favored areas, tend cattle.
Those with goats and camels migrate long
distances in search of scanty herbage; the cattle owners remain for the most part in specific grazing areas. Afars near the coast are, on the other
hand, expert fishermen. Many Afars have long been engaged in the
mining of rock salt, with which they trade with the highland interior.
Afar huts, called aris, provide shade from the sun, and storage for their owners' scanty
possessions, are hemispherical in shape and made of palm ribs covered with matting. Light enough to be transported on camel-back,
they are erected in semi-permanent locations in the course of seasonal migrations, usually near wells.
The diet of the Afar people consists chiefly of fish, meat, sour milk and porridge made from dura
flour, and heavy round pancakes made of wheat topped with red pepper and a sauce
of clarified butter called ghee.
Milk is so important to the afar that it is also used as a social offering,
given to visitors to establish a proper guest-host relationship.
Food must only be eaten
with the right hand. The left hand is used for impure purposes. To use it for
food, accepting a present, or for shaking hands, is an insult. The Afar also
drink an intoxicating potion made from the dum palm.
people generally live in isolation. The clan, a group of extended families, is the most important political
and social unit of Afar culture. Descent is traced through the male line, and it
is said that Afar men inherit strength of character from their fathers. Physical
characteristics such as height, and also spiritual aspects are said to come from
The Afar are an independent-minded people, and
one who lay great stress on a man's toughness, strength and bravery. Weaklings
do not survive in the Danakil Desert.
The Afar Coast with volcanic activity.
Light and portable, the Afar huts (or ari) provide shade from the
sun and storage for their owners' meager possessions. The Afar house
is hemispherical in shape and made of palm ribs covered with matting.
It can be built and dismantled quickly, a job usually reserved for women.
Guyot as seen from the air.
The road to Assab.
Blue skies, black mountains, white sand - Danakil Desert.
Weird volcanic landscape - Remote dwelling - Danakil
Scattered vegetation in lava fields.
Lava structures in the Danakil Desert.
Salt and mangrove forest on the Red Sea coast.
Erta Ale lava lake (Danakil Depression).
The Great Rift Valley was formed by a
ripping motion when large land masses pulled apart. Around 40 million
years B.C. the eastern coast of Africa experienced violent change and
pulled away from the rest of the continent. It left behind a very long,
steep-sided valley filled with volcanos. The valley filled with a huge
inland sea which drained and refilled several times over thousands of
Stretching from the Red Sea coast of
Eritrea through the mountains of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania,
the Great Rift Valley finally ends in southeast Africa in Mozambique. It
is named the Great Rift because it is the longest rift valley in the