The Ajuran Empire, ruled by the House of Garen, belonged to the Somali Muslim sultanate and it had ruled part of the Horn of Africa.
The empire resisted the invasion of Oromo and the Portuguese. In the architectural aspect, the Ajuran regime remained one of the Somali powers engaged in buildings.
The expansive empire, one of the largest in the region, covered a huge part of Southern Somalia.
The influential Somali kingdom had several capitals including Mareeg (Central Somalia), Qelafo (Somali region of Ethiopia), and Merca (a port city in the Lower Shabelle of Somalia). Other cities were: Mogadishu, Hobyo, Kismayo, Barawa, Warsheikh, Afgooye, Baidoa, and Gondhere.
Ajuran is an Arabic word, ijara, meaning rent or tax. The name derived from the extortionate nature of the empire and today they are part of the Somali community living in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Many people during this period converted to Islam because of their Islamic based government. Water sources from both river Shabelle and Jubba remained under their sole control. Sorghum, maize, beans and cotton were grown during two seasons; gu (spring in Somali) and xagaa (summer in Somali)
Based on Islamic sharia, the Garen rulers were the highest authority of the empire and had other leaders coming under them: Imam – head of state, Emir – Commander of the armed forces and navy, Na’ibs – Viceroys, Wazirs – Tax and revenue collectors and Qadis – the chief judges.
The Garen authority, maintaining power and control through exclusive control over access to water, had a monopoly over their subjects and were the only hydraulic empire in Africa. This saw the construction of large wells which, ultimately, attracted Somali and Oromo pastoralists.
Economy taxes collected from subjects inform of crops and domestic animals and the empire had its own currency for trade. It was called the Ajuran currency with Ajuran sultans inscribe in it.
The economy entirely depended on agriculture and trade. Merchants of the Ajuran empire did business with various states including China, Malaysia, the Maldives, Portuguese, Dutch republic, Egypt and Ethiopia among others.
The Somali language was the official language while Arabic used for studies since the government was strictly Islamic particularly Sunni Islam.
Most objects such as spoons, bowls and combs were made of woods. The traditional Somali house – aqal hori – also remained common among the Ajurans.
During the era of the Ajuran Sultanate, Somali merchants founded the Sofala Bank – which means ‘go dig’ in Somali – an area in Buzi river, Mozambique where the empire established a colony due to its abundant resources.
The regime had well established army which protected its territory and subject. Ottoman empire was the major ally and firearms through the port of Mogadishu, the current capital of Somalia. Somali traditional weapons were entirely used.
Tristão da Cunha, a Portuguese explorer and naval commander, came into contact with the Ajuran empire and the first battle – the battle of Barawa was fought. The Somalis defeated the Portuguese.
The naval commander was wounded. By 1538 – 1589 Somali – Portuguese tension remained high with the Ottoman empire supporting the Ajuran empire. At the height of Ajuran power, the Oromo invaded the sultanate and Garen rulers conducted the Gaal Madow war and defeated the Oromo warriors and converted captured soldiers to Islam.
The Ajuran state gradually lost its power and this paved way for other new Somali powers. Major revolting issues were taxation and primae noctis – allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women, in particular, on their wedding nights.
Goobrron dynasty by Ibrahim Adeer, an Ajuran general took over and ended the Ajuran empire by the later 17th century.