Tour to the Danakil Depression
The African Great Rift Valley stretches from Syria to Mozambique, dissecting Ethiopia into eastern and western highlands. The rift valley itself covers 23% of the total land mass of Ethiopia. A million years ago, the Danakil Depression, Dallol and Erta Ale were very suitable for life, but now its barren land and the hottest area in the world. The Afar Depression (also called the Danakil Depression or the Afar Triangle) is a geological depression in the Horn of Africa, where it overlaps Eritrea, the Afar Region of Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Afar is well known as one of the cradles of hominids, containing the Middle Awash, site of many fossil hominid discoveries: Gona, site of the world’s oldest stone tools, and Hadar, site of Lucy, the fossilized specimen of Australopithecus afarensis.
The Afar Depression includes the Danakil Desert and the lowest point in Africa, Lake Asal (–155 meters or –500 ft). Dallol is also part of the Depression and the lowest place in the world on land, one of the hottest places year round anywhere on Earth. The climate varies from around 25 °C (77 °F) during the rainy season (September–March) to 48 °C (118 °F) during the dry season (March–September). Only the Awash River flows into the depression, where it ends in a chain of lakes that increase in salinity.
Erta Ale: an active volcano
Erta Ale is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia, the most active volcano in Ethiopia. It is in the Afar Depression, a badlands desert area spanning the border with Eritrea, and the volcano itself is surrounded by an area below sea level, making it a relatively low-elevation volcano. Erta Ale is 613 metres (2,011 ft) high, with one or sometimes two active lava lakes at the summit, which occasionally overflow on the south side of the volcano. It is notable for being the longest-existing lava lake, present since the early years of the twentieth century (1906). Volcanoes with lava lakes are very rare: there are only five in the world.
Erta Ale means “Smoking Mountain” in the local Afar language and its southernmost pit is known locally as “the gateway to hell”. There was a major eruption on 25 September 2005 which killed 250 head of livestock and forced thousands of nearby residents to flee.There was another lava flow in August 2007, forcing the evacuation of hundreds and leaving two missing. Scientists at Addis Ababa University reported an eruption on 4 November 2008. Not much is known about Erta Ale as the surrounding terrain is some of the most inhospitable on earth.
Dallol is a volcanic explosion crater (or maar) in the Danakil Depression, northeast of the Erta Ale Range in Ethiopia. It was formed during a phreatic eruption in 1926, and numerous other similar craters dot the salt flats nearby.
These craters are the lowest known subaerial volcanic vents in the world, at over 116mts below sea level. The term Dallol was coined by the Afar people and means dissolution or disintegration, describing a landscape made up of green acid ponds (pH-values less than 1), iron oxide, sulfur and salt desert plains. The area resembles the hot springs areas of Yellowstone Park but appears to be more expansive.
The Afar People
The Afar (Danakil) claim to be descendants of Ham (Noah’s son). They are located in the East African countries of Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. They prefer to be known as the Afar, since the Arabic word “danakil” is an offensive term to them. They are a proud people, emphasizing a man’s strength and bravery. Prestige comes, as it always has, from killing one’s enemies.
The Afar consist of two subgroups: the Asaemara (“red ones”), who are the more prestigious and powerful nobles living primarily in the area of Assayita; and the Adaemara (“white ones”), who are the commoners living in the desert areas. Those who live in the desert inhabit one of the most rugged regions in the world, known as the Afar Plain or the Danakil Desert. One area, called the Danakil Depression, consists of a vast plain of salt pans and active volcanoes. Much of it lies 200 feet below sea level and has daily temperatures as high as 125 degrees F. The average yearly rainfall is less than seven inches.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Afar are nomads who herd sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. A man’s wealth is measured by the size of his herds. Not all of the Afar are herdsmen. Many of those who work in the Danakil Depression pry loose slabs of solid salt during the dry season, supplying ready-to-use salt in the form of crude blocks. Although they are Muslims and permitted to have four wives, Afar marriages are usually monogamous. Girls may marry as early as age ten.
Marriages between first cousins are preferred, particularly between a man and his father’s sister’s daughter. The night of the full moon is favoured for a wedding ceremony, and the presence of someone able to read the Koran is required. Meat and milk are the major components of the Afar diet. Milk is also an important social offering.
Lifestyle and Culture
Lifestyle and Culture Traditionally, the society is ruled by sultanates made up of several villages headed by a dardar. Afar are organized into clan families, and into classes — asaimara (‘reds’) who are the dominant class politically, and the adoimara (‘whites’) who are a working class.Circumcision is practiced for boys and female genital cutting is practiced for girls. A boy is judged for his bravery upon bearing the pain of circumcision, and is then allowed to marry the girl of his choice, though preferably someone from his own ethnic group.