A greek merchant, who wrote nearly two thousand years ago the "Periplus of the Eritrean Sea", called the inhabitants of the Dahlak “ichthyophagi”, fish eaters. This is obvious, because the islands do not offer much more than fish, due to poor rainfall. Truly, some experiment at growing there has also been, at least as stated in its report Arturo Issel, an Italian geologist who, in 1870, observed small plantations located near the village of Jemil. Some farming has been attempted in this century, but it must have not been a great success because nowadays the only food sources are local fisheries and livestock of goats. All other kinds edible
must be imported by traders on the island. Changed hands many times, the islands are a melting pot of ethnicities, but only Dahlak Kebir, Norah and Dohul are inhabited, after that Harat and Nocra have recently been abandoned by the inhabitants. All the inhabitants, perhaps 2000, are Muslims. Many of them claim to be heirs of the sultanate and they speak a Semitic language of their own, discovered only a few years ago, the dahlik, related to the tigrinya, the language of Eritrea highlands. The trade soul, however, leads many, especially men, to be multilingual and therefore it is easy to meet someone who speaks Arabic, Italian, Amharic or
Tigrinya. The isolation of the archipelago has delayed the modern progress and most of the inhabited villages, struggles with the biggest problem, the shortage of water, which in addition is not drinking water. Intestinal infections, as well as eye problems, are therefore the diseases that most plague the locals. Fortunately malaria is absent, because the islands are not suitable environments for the reproduction of the mosquitoes that transmit this disease. However there are some signs of progress, fortunately. Clinics and primary schools have been built in several villages, even if to attend secondary schools the students should move to
Massawa. A Jemila, on the larger island, there is a telephone station and satellite dishes are numerous in the houses of Dohul. The era of pearls and, fortunately, the slave trade, are declined, and nowadays the economic activities are only the breeding of goats and fishing. The latter is partly for the survival and partly to get commercial profits, even if it is practiced mostly with ancient techniques and the use of traditional dhows. Fishermen catch grouper, snapper, barracuda and offshore with the use of fishing-lines; the sharks and shrimp are catched with nets, the sea cucumbers with short immersions in apnea. A part of fresh fish is
exported to Europe, shark fins and sea cucumbers are exported to the Far East, the rest supplies the domestic market. Some village also tries to earn few Nakfa, Eritrea money, with the sale of shells to tourists. Perhaps the building of small tourist complexes will bring more money.

Licenza Creative Commons