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Related subjects: African Geography

Background Information

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Hafun juts out to the east of the mid- Bari region (in red) of Somalia

Hafun ( Somali: Xaafuun) is a 40 km long low-lying peninsula in the Bari region of northern Somalia. The promontory juts out into the Indian Ocean, where it is known as Ras Hafun or Raas Xaafuun ("Cape Hafun"). The district is primarily inhabited by the Cisman Mahmoud and is the easternmost point in Africa.

The promontory is joined to the mainland at the town of Foar by a sand spit 20 km long, 1-3 km in width, and roughly 5 m above sea level. The fishing town of Hafun is located 2 km east of the sand spit and has a population of about 5,000 inhabitants.

Hafun in the antiquity (Opone)

Old mosque in Hafun, Somalia.

Ras Hafun is believed to be the location of the ancient trade centre of Opone. Opone is mentioned in the anonymous Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written in the first century CE, as a port strategically located on the trade route that spanned the length of the Indian Ocean's rim. Merchants from as far afield as Indonesia and Malaysia passed through Opone. As early as 50 CE, it was well known as a centre for the cinnamon trade, along with the barter of cloves and other spices, ivory, exotic animal skins and incense.

Ancient Egyptian, Roman and Persian Gulf pottery has been recovered from the site by an archaeological team from the University of Michigan. In the 1980s, the British Institute in East Africa recovered pre-Islamic Partho-Sasanian ceramics from Hafun which were dated to the first century BCE and the second through fifth centuries CE.

Modern Hafun

Hafun today has a population of about 2,500 fisher folk. On 26 December, 2004, the town was struck by a tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. It was the worst affected area on the continent, and the only location west of the Indian subcontinent where the waves pulled away from the shore before rushing in. The low-lying western part of the town (which sits at approximately 2 meters above sea level) was flooded. 812 houses were destroyed and another 400 reported damaged. 19 bodies were also recovered and another 160 inhabitants were reported missing. Parts of the sand spit connecting Hafun to the Somali mainland were flooded, but the spit was not overtopped by the waves.

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