HISTORY:- Sheikh Hassan Barsane the famous Anticolonial leader


Sheikh Hassan Barsane, known as Haji Hassan, the famous anticolonial leader of Somalia, was born in a dusty village called Barsane, in the Shabeylle regions in 1853. He was the son of a well-known respected elder. Whilst his family were traditional cattle-herders and pastoralists, as a young child he was taught the basics of the Islamic religion. Hassan grew up in a society of clan systems where an individual held firm to his kinsmen to survive. But his contemporaries claim that Hassan was intrigued by this behaviour. He felt that the Somali people needed to uphold their religion in order to become a great power. It was through this that Hassan felt greatly influenced by the Salihiya order of the Sufi stock.

In his adolescence, Hassan further pursued seeking knowledge of his religion and travelled to various towns and cities including Mogadiscio, Warscheikh, Harrar and elsewhere. Later on in his life he journeyed to Mecca and parts of Hijaz (Saudi Arabia) for pilgrimage as well as knowledge. There he met the equally known famous leader Mohammed Abdille Hassan, dubbed the Mad Mullah by the British. Both men, born of similar age and background had acquainted themselves with respect and harmony. At their sojourn they had discussed important affairs regarding the state of Somalia. Their stay at Mecca had coincided with the great colonial influence that overtook Somalia since 1870. Both men, who held colonialism with great contempt, had agreed a pact of brotherhood and defence against their enemy [1]. Hence, towards the last decade of the 19th century, Hassan returned to Somalia, setting up an important jama’a in a village called Jilyale. There, he gathered a powerful following, with the basis of teaching Islam. The Italians who now ruledSouthern Somalia had become concerned with his work and sent an envoy to monitor his work. Hassan felt increasingly disturbed by this and thereafter began his campaign to rid colonialism from Somalia altogether. He managed to set up a small fort in Taytayley, later to be destroyed by Italian-led troopers in the fascist era.


Hassan had great relations with the clan elders and figures of the South. From the townspeople of Brava to the elders of Maregh and Itala, Hassan ensured moral support to lead the anticolonial campaign. He held contacts with chieftains in the Ogaden desert, encouraging them to set up tariqa’s and anticolonial activities such as the village of Een near the Erer river. In 1891, upon the Italian conclusive settlement at Mogadiscio with the local rulers, Hassan set up a powerful base in Danane near Merca, to gather men and import weapons. This was at the time when Italian officials held meetings with tribal chieftains, in an attempt to sign treaties of protection and commerce. Although the Italians had secured agreements with several clans, there was a still a place of mistrust between both sides. In 1892, when the Italians had more or less secured their Somali colony, Hassan led an attack from his Danane port, killing an Eritrean contingent of Italian and British navy suppliers, who retaliated with a naval bombardment from one of their prestigious Warships, capturing hundreds of warrior-fighters and placed them in a ditch near Mogadiscio, including Sheik Abdi Gafle, Hassan’s fellow comrade, who later escaped and regrouped with Hassan. Although the Italians suffered minimal damage, this was a rare incidence in Somali history where colonial punishment reached paramount level. Hassan was now a daunting enemy and the Italians decided to hold onto their coastal possessions in order to regroup and save time.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 3,000 Amharic horsemen led by Ras Makonnen had been pushing down the Shabeylle river valley in an attempt to capture Somali territory and expand the Abyssinian Empire. [3] Ras Makonnen had previously informed colonial powers that everything beyond the Somali coastal waters was part and parcel of Abyssinia. Hassan, who feared for his people, gathered a united strength of kinsmen and confronted Amharic forces. The units of the local clans, commanded by his trustworthy students, Sheikh Abukar, Sheikh Oyaye etc were ready for battle. Also, after gaining help from Ololdin, a powerful sultan from Mustahil who befriended Hassan, further supplies were dispatched to him. Hassan’s forces clashed with Amharas in Galo Karor, Bulo Burti, Yaqbariwein, El Abdi and elsewhere. After months of clashes and collisions, the Amharas were eventually pushed back to the Ogaden desert, deep in the west.

Whilst this may have seemed like a great victory, Haji Hassan was on the watchout for the Italians who were seemingly trying to move further into the Banadir hinterland. [4] The Italians were already stationed at various places in the South including Adale, Lugh, Baidoa etc. Both sides had remained in this status quo for a short period. However, in 1910, the Italians managed to come to a mutual understanding with Haji Hassan regarding the slave encampments.


By 1915, the Italians had made little progress in dealing with Haji Hassan and the colony overall. Although auxiliary troopers and the Zaptie which the Italian consul general dipatched from Eritrea had succeeded in leading several confrontations and skimirshes, particularly in the lower Shabeylle basin, [5] the Italian parliament were now frustrated with the lack of progression since Haji Hassan pursued two policies which enabled a balance of power for himself. The first was that he ordered his forces to poison some of the field crops and harvest around the Giohar area in order to make the local agriculture inadequate. Whilst Hassan saw this as part of a greater campaign to deter the Italians, many were stressed with the possibility of starvation. His forces however, worked on tirelessly, chanting out “Su’aal Sh Xasan baa leh, siibista anagaa leh” (the issue lies with Hassan, but the work is carried out by the faithful). The second policy was that he revived the slave camps, although the Italians had abolished it [6], in order to maintain supplies since the slaves were specialized in weapon-making. Tittoni, the Italian Foreign Minister, who had now become concerned with Hassan’s movements, questioned his officials based in Mogadiscio, who claimed that Hassan was a mere Muslim who understood little of his own religion. Critics however, pointed out Hassan as a “warrior-mullah and a freedom fighter”.

When the Italians became occupied with the World War, much of their colonial activity decreased. This enabled Hassan to conduct alliances with Lij Iyasu, the Emperor of Ethiopia who converted to the Islamic religion in 1916. Local colonial agents and spies had reported Iyasu plotting with Hassan and several other chiefs including the Mad Mullah .
An exchange of letters had shown that a plan to resurrect a Muslim Empire in East Africa, free from Christian influence was discussed. And Hassan for the first time ever, had come across international support, that being from the Ottomans and the Germans of the Central Powers, who were at war with the Allied forces, which included Italy. Although some suggest that Hassan had already acquired support from Zanzibar officials based in Brava and Kismayu. In all conclusion, this was the first time since the Sudanese Mahdi when thoughts of a Muslim theocracy were encouraged.


The defeat of the Central Powers gave the Allied forces a greal deal of global power. The colonialists had encouraged a stronger grip on their possessions seeing as there was no longer a rival hanging in the gloom. It was during this time that Italy was overrun by a Fascist regime, appointing De Vecchi as governor in 1923. And seeing the British finally solidify their portion of Somaliland, De Vecchi thought it be necessary to likewise end the tirade of Haji Hassan, in a plan to conquer ‘La Grande Somala’.

In 1924, De Vecchi ordered Haji Hassan to give up his weapons and submit to Italian rule. [8] Hassan, enraged by the arrogance and delusion of the fascists, induced a meeting with his associates and agreed to send a threatening letter that warned the Italians of an all-out war. He claimed:

“In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful … I have received your letter and understood its contents, but must advise that we cannot obey your orders and join with you in a covenant . . . Your government has its laws, and we have ours. We accept no law other than ours. Our law is the law of Allah and his Prophet . . . We are not like other people, none of us has ever enrolled in the Zaptie (colonial forces), never! … and if you come to our land to fight against us, we will fight you with all possible means … The world is very close to its end, only 58 years remain. We don’t want to stay in this world. It is better to die while defending our laws.”

De Vecchi did not tolerate such display of defiance and ordered his commanders to prepare and launch a final showdown in order to capture Hassan alive.


In March 1924, a battalion consisting of a thousand dubat (colonial troopers) marched from Mogadiscio, another thousand from Warschiek and another thousand from Jazira. The plan was to surround the sphere of influence of Haji Hassan, reaching from the Mahas village of Central Somalia, to Beledwein in the West, all the way down to Lego and finally Taytayley near the coast. Since Haji Hassan withdrew his strongholds from the Banadir coast earlier in his campaign and lost his cordial relationship with Ethiopia (Iyasu was overthrown by a Christian successor who severed ties with all Somalis), the Italians were greatly advantaged to win the battle. Hassan’s forces, ingnited with zeal, lay to defend themselves. Several hundred descended from Mahaddai to attack the enemy who had advanced, resulting in a mass zone of bloodshed in Biyo Adde village. The Italian-led forces moved on, capturing the towns of Run Nirgod and Wanlawein. In a scene of gore and extreme outcry, the Italians further secured the entire region of Giohar, freeing the slaves who had suffered long in their encampments and then escaped to Afgoi. At Taytayley, the Italians defeated the alliance of clans who defended the fort, enabling the Italians to bring it down to complete ruins. Hassan was not in the slightest put off from his cause and one famous chant from his followers during the War went as,

“Gaalo maa gaalo ka giiran, gaalo waa tii gumar shiire, gibilkeygaa is guraayee, ii geeya gaalada yuubleyda!” (Is an infidel better intrigued than another, the infidel is of Gumar Shere-an Ethiopian general who had been slain by Hassan during the Ethio-Somali war, just as my skin flames with rage, take myself to the petty infidel!)

As the War continued, Hassan’s forces were dwindling, as the Italians ushered further supplies to their forces and continued capturing more villages. Finally, towards the closing of March and beginning of April, the Italians had entered Jilyale, the biggest stronghold of Hassan’s movement and lay destruction to all the livestock and treasuries he owned, killing every warrior to the last man. Hassan, who had been enclosed in a ditch near the river, was finally captured along with his acquaintance, Hussein Daqane. When the Italian officials were informed, a burst of cheering and celebration lit up within the Italian residence at Mogadiscio. After an entire month of warfare and expeditions,
the man whom they failed to subdue for so many years was now in their hands.


Although initially the Italian Government ordered the execution of all rebels captured in Somaliland, De Vecchi had personally made sure that Hassan was kept alive, whilst executing all his associates that were captured with him, including Abikar Gafle and Hussein Daqane. Haji Hassan was placed in a prison cell at the Mogadishu Central Prison, sentenced to life. The Italians took glory in torturing and mutilating Hassan, a policy common amongst Fascist proponents. By 1926, at the age of 73, Hassan finally passed away. 2 years of imprisonment and torture had finally brought him down. At the request of local Somali elders, Hassan was allowed to be given a burial, in a Mogadiscio suburb not far from the Central Prison. It was attended by thousands, who felt sorrow and grief at the death of such a leader.


Whilst Hassan died in the hands of the colonialists, he was revered by many as a martyr of a noble cause. Sheik Gabyou, a poet who greatly supported Hassan in his years of revolt, composed many poems in admiration of him. Sufi Baraki, a young cleric who witnessed such incidence, attempted to form a brotherhood that would defeat colonialism in order to avenge Hassan although he was also captured and killed in 1928. Though this rebellion finally ceased all together and the Italians succeeded in conquering Somalia as a whole, this idea of a national resistance against outside forces lived on for many decades, shaping and modeling the existence of Somalia as a republic in 1960.


[1] “Pithless Nationalism; the Somali case” by Hassan Mahadala.
[2] Abstracts of Italian archives by Luigi Brocchetti.
[3] “The shaping of Somali society: reconstructing the history of a pastoral people, 1600-1900″ by Lee Cassanelli.
[4] “Italian Colonialism in Somalia” by Robert Hess.
[5] “Italian Somaliland” by Sylvia Pankhurst
[6] Chapter from “Slavery Scandal and Somali Sheikhs’ Resistance to Abolition” by Mohamed.A.Eno
[7] “War by revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the era” by Donald M. McKale.
[8] “A tale of resistance” by Dr Haji Mukhtar.

Voice Of Somalia-SOMALI LEAKS