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The Bantu Jareer Somalis: Unearthing Apartheid in the Horn of Africa

  • 1. University of Southern Somalia 2. Hakaba Institute for Research & Training 3. St Clements University


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Unearthing Apartheid in the Horn of Africa
Published by
Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd
P.O. Box 43418
SE11 4XZ
First Edition, April 2008
Copyright 2008 © Mohamed A. Eno
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN: 9781905068944 (HB), 9781905068951(PB)
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a re-
trieval system or transmitted at any time or by any means without the prior
permission of the publisher
Printed and bound in Great Britain
Unearthing Apartheid in the Horn of Africa
Mohamed A. Eno
The enormous task that involved the undertaking of this work may
not be complete without paying due respect to the individuals that con-
tributed to its being and the others who truly inspired me in one way
or the other. I am very grateful to Ali Jimale Ahmed and his family,
Abdi M. Kusow and his family, David Le Cornu, Saad Hassan M. Abu
Higail, Anthony Osambo, Naeem Al Momani, Mubarak Osman, Ab-
dullahi M. Warsame (Adde Duqow) and Mohamed Hagi Ahmed
(Hundhur) for their support and comment on this work; Agneta Sval-
berg, Abdi I. Samatar and Khadar Bashir Ali for their encouragement. I
need to mention Rowdha Hussein, Fawzia Fereja and Lydiah Wanjiku
as true friends who stood by me when I was initially putting this work
together as my PhD dissertation. Many thanks go to all the traditionists
and oral historians from the different Somali communities who al-
lowed me to access the wealth of their knowledge about Somalia.
I am extremely indebted to my brother Omar A. Eno without
whose advice and encouragement this work and my academic
achievement would have never been of any significance, and also to his
wife Ida Aju -- alias Dayu Eno. I am also very proud of my brothers
Sayid-Ali, Jibril and Ahmed and my sisters Binti, Saida, Mariam, Boola,
Batula, Nima and Shariffa for their support throughout the hard jour-
ney of my learning for a higher degree. I appreciate my wife Mariam-
Betty and my kids Jamal, Ismail, Malik, Aziza, Jamil, Nassir and
Khalifa for being supportive and very understanding about the limita-
tion of my time when they really needed more of my attention. A
strayed salvo on January 26, 1992 deprived Hagi Abdulkadir Eno, my
beloved father, of witnessing this achievement which he had initiated
the dream. My sister Amina and my brother Abdullahi too, did not live
enough to see this occasion – May Allah rest all of them in eternal
peace. My mother, Hagia Halima Hussein Hassan (alias Essow) has
been inspiring all the way and her knowledge and memorically ar-
chived versions of oral poetry and history were immensely useful. I am
very pleased to mention the special motivation from my nieces and
nephews, Alma, Abdinur, Halima, Najma, Adna, Ahmed Jomow, Ab-
dul and the entire group of Atlanta, very promising young learners.
Ahmed Keynan and Rasheed Farah, I dearly appreciate the knowl-
edge you gave me about the Gaboye/Baidari Somalis. I thank Hussein
Mohamud Mohamed, the counselor for Consular and Administrative
Affairs of the Somali Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed
Ba-Akaba of the Somali Consulate in Dubai, for helping me establish
network with resourceful Somalis in the UAE, particularly in Abu
Dhabi and Dubai. Many thanks are due to Ali Mohamoud Osman and
his family, and also to Mohamed Ibrahim (Ibi), Jamal M. Hagi, Ibra-
hima Diallo, Markus Greutmann, Simon Malele and Jehan Zitawi –
good friends and very helpful scholars. My utmost appreciation is also
due to Eng. Jaha Juma Jaha, Saada Ibuni Swaleh, Farida Mtengeti Cha-
bane, Radhia Mtengeti Chabane, Rahma Mtengeti Chabane, Abdul
Ghasley, Hamza I. Midigo, Hamadi Kumula and Hagi Hibaal.
I need to mention the good working environment availed to me by
the Board of Trustees of ADNOC Technical Institute as well as the ATI
leadership including Omar Al-Hamed, Ismail Al-Sheikh, David Heur-
ing, Ali Al-Maskari and of course Ahmed Kandil and Derek Korobkin.
Your assistance was timely in that it came when I really needed a space
of time to put sections of this book together.
All those who assisted me in one way or the other, but not men-
tioned here, please accept my heartfelt apology and gratitude for your
contribution to this work. Last but not least, my thanks go to my pub-
lisher Adonis & Abbey Publishers, their editors, and three anonymous
readers who fairly commented on this work and whose useful sugges-
tions were taken on board. My sincere thanks to all of you.
This book is dedicated to my late father, Hagi Abdulkadir Eno and my
mother, Hagia Halima Hussein Hassan, whose strong commitment to
the resistance of ethnic-marginalization inspired me not to give up in
the quest for higher academic goals. The dedication also goes to the
Bantu – Jareer people and the Gaboye/Baidari communities as well as
to the rest of the racially and socio-culturally oppressed peoples who
tolerate stiff social stigma in Somalia and elsewhere in the world.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgment iv
Dedication vi
Introduction 9
Chapter 1
The Debate over the Origin of the Somali People 15
Chapter 2
A Tale of two Bantu Communities: the Autochthons vs. the
Diaspora 65
Chapter 3
The Colonial Occupation of Somalia and the Stigmatization of the
Bantu People 105
Chapter 4
Post-Colonial Somalia and the Jareer Stigma: From Colonialism to
Neo-Colonialism 149
Chapter 5
Demographic Fabrication and Ethnic Marginalization: Looking into the
Background of the Enigma 193
Chapter 6
Endorsing Apartheid in a National Conference: The 4.5 Factor 215
Chapter 7
Amid Ethnic Marginalization and Identity Confusion: Who is a Somali
and What Determines Somaliness? 245
Chapter 8
Racial Discrimination in the Underbelly of Racial Homogenization:
Unearthing the Untold Apartheid 265
Table of contents
Chapter 9
Elaborating the Acts of Marginalization 275
Appendices 287
Conclusion 290
Bibliography 295
Index 313
Unearthing Apartheid in the Horn of Africa
For a long period of time, a general belief has reigned in the aca-
demic and non-academic circles that Somalis are an extremely excep-
tional people, in that theirs is a homogeneous society composed of men
and women from one eponymous father from Arabia. They celebrate
same nomadic culture, and one Somali language! In the background of
all the said shared commonalities, this study argues that the Somali
people are made up of communities of different ethnic backgrounds,
each group practicing its own distinct mode of living and culture in the
midst of a conglomeration of a multi-ethnogenic society.
Therefore, parallel to the fluidity underlying the believed univer-
sality of Somali culture and origin, this volume aims at clarifying the
vagueness implanted in Somaliness or Somali citizenship itself. It re-
veals that certain sections of the distinct identities and cultures in this
Horn of Africa nation are ethnically stratified on the basis of geo-
graphical and genealogical nobility while others suffer ethnic margin-
alization within the fusion of Somali self-sameness. The core theme,
however, is to put in the limelight the social situation of the Ja-
reer/Bantu people amidst the racialist nature of a pastoral Somaloid
stock. Relatively, the study intends to investigate the complexity of the
subject by focusing on some basic questions such as:-
a) Does Somalia constitute a homogeneous society of Arab origin?
b) If Somalia is a truly homogenous stock, why do ethnic ramifications
and clan nobility and supremacy exist among this ‘unique’ people, who
are supposed to originate from the same eponymous immigrant Arab
c) Why do some communities such as the Somali Bantu/Jareer people,
the outcast groups and others in certain geographical locations towards
the South suffer less-nobility and/or marginalization under the pretext
and banner of homogeneity?
d) In view of all these complexities, who is really a Somali and by what
criteria is the paradigm of Somaliness or Somalihood determined?
Prominent orientalists, nationalist politicians and a section of So-
mali scholars have often misleadingly featured the Somali people as a
predominantly nomadic pastoral society whose relationships and po-
litical structures are based on segmentary kinship and clanism. How-
ever, recent ‘revisionist’ scholarship (Kusow 1995, 2004; Ahmed 1995,
1996; Luling 2002; O. Eno 2004; Eno & Eno 2007, 2008; Schlee 1994)
suggests that Somalia’s homogeneity and the Somali people’s genea-
logical attachment to Quraishite Arabs, the tribe of the Prophet of Islam
Mohamed ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul-Mutallib, cannot stand scrutiny. In
any case, arguments of both faculties of thought will be mirrored in the
next chapter.
This study defies the self-sameness theory by looking at Somalia
from a different perspective and as ethno-cultural diversities in identity
confusion. Amid these multiple patterns of identity confusion, it ex-
plores aspects of Apartheid, stigma and ethnic marginalization; this is
to say that categories of Somaliness and their qualification become a
subject matter for further analysis.
In a more radical nature, the author swerves from the paradigmati-
cally customized clan-based classification of the Somali people to a
more pragmatic categorization of ‘Jareer” and “Jileec” as a reality on
the ground. This phenomenon has become a basis for an untold type of
apartheid exacted on the Jareer/Bantu in respect of their ethnic back-
ground as well as Negroid physical features. The study delves into a
discovery of another version of Somalia as viewed through the socio-
historical as well as socio-psychological tidings of this oppressed com-
munity suffering under the cover of an unsubstantiated mythical ho-
In any case, after decades of colonial rule and upon unification of
British and Italian Somaliland in July, 1960, Aden Abdulle Osman was
nominated an interim provisional president till July of 1961, when he
was fielded for presidential candidature against Sheikh Ali Jimale.
Osman was re-elected to stay at the helm until 1967 when parliament
ejected him out by voting in Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the second
president of the Republic of Somalia. During the successive epochs of
both Osman and Sharmarke, the political situation was marred by
tribal rifts coupled with underdevelopment. The new nation-state be-
came a victim of poor leadership, clan chauvinism and corruption in
the corridors of the top administrative echelons.
Amid such pervasive rifts and internal political wrangles, Presi-
dent Sharmarke was assassinated in Laas Caanood by a bodyguard.
The leadership vacuum created rift and disagreement among parlia-
mentarians over the selection of the next president. The military coup
by Siad Barre was hatched out of this political humdrum, nearly throw-
ing the country into civil strife and political chaos. On 21 October 1969,
Siad Barre and other high ranking army officers plotted a bloodless
‘revolution’ whose ideological propensity would cause socio-political
transformation. However, on assuming power the military suspended
the national constitution, dissolved the civilian government and the
parliament, disbanded the existing political parties, detained or, as it is
often euphemistically claimed, “held in protective custody” the politi-
cal leaders of the former regime.
Unfortunately, most military leaders in Africa and elsewhere in the
world have the tendency to claim the relinquishment of state power
back into the hands of civilians after a short period, but it is a known
fact that most of them cling to power longer than they had promised.
The adamancy to power then plunges the nation into collapse, which in
the Somalia case both collapse and anarchy became reality.
Dictatorial rule and clan-based politics have led to deterioration in
people’s living standard as new elite of army officers emerged to mis-
use their ranks as an avenue for achieving personal gains. Top civilian
leaders also joined in the looting of public funds and expropriation of
individually owned agricultural land of the inter-riverine Bantu/Jareer
community. Competing classes rushing for the embezzlement of pub-
lic resources rubbed shoulders in the financial institutions. The solicita-
tion for unaccounted for loan facilities and individual development
funds masquerading in the name of ‘Iskaashato’ cooperative society,
and para-statal organization, became a common theme.
An enduring disaffection with Barre’s dictatorial regime and eth-
nocentric aggrandizement has procured the uprising of a section of the
society who took up arms against the regime of a brutal military dicta-
tor. However, the battle abruptly changed its face into a clan and sub-
clan war whose mystery finds itself in the background of the ethno-
historical feuds in a society characterized as homogeneous.
Since Somalia’s independence, the Daarood have utterly manipu-
lated the political arena and the privileges associated with it. So the
ousting of Barre, the notorious Darood dictator in early 1991, needed a
robust group of armed Hawiye-militia to join forces to dislodge him
from power. Under the factional symbol of the United Somali Congress
(USC), the Hawiye waged heavy street battles to which a die-hard
Barre responded with massive artillery bombardment of Mogadishu,
the capital city. Consequently, Barre was expelled from Villa Somalia,
seat of the presidency. Whatever the effects, the war degenerated into
anarchy and more atrocities that saw the dehumanization of the un-
armed communities and abuses against the oppressed peoples, mainly
the ethnic Jareer/Bantu population.
For over a decade and a half, endless conferences, alliances, self-
imposed administrations, peace and reconciliation symposiums and
billions of US Dollars in humanitarian assistance and development aid,
could not lay the groundwork for the reformation and reconstitution of
a functional Somali statutory structure. The 14th Somali National Rec-
onciliation Conference, which was organized by the IGAD (Inter-
Governmental Authority for Development) member states and well-
wishers among the international community, was held in Kenya for a
period of about two years. It was concluded with the formation of an
interim federal parliament, an interim president and an interim cabinet,
none of which is functionally effective as of now (February 2008).
This study bridges together areas of my interest in the Social Stud-
ies discipline. The prolonged ‘civil war’ (or more aptly Regional War)
in Somalia, the social status of the Bantu/Jareer people and an insight
into the conflicting identities of the Somali people influenced me to
study the subject. The concentration, however, is not only in the social
history of the people but also on the effects of the dynamics in the con-
temporary social life. Having a wide knowledge of the Somali peoples,
their cultures and social systems, and involvement in various spheres
in the academic and social development fields over the years, have be-
come a basis for my desire to examine the realities about the different
communities in Somalia and their interplay with, and effects on each
The reader may think of this study as a general discussion about
the orientalists’ Somalia, presenting the traditional culture of nomadic
pastoralism in its entirety, but it is not. In fact it epitomizes to unlearn
that culture (for a while) for the sake of introducing an entombed ver-
sion of Somali cultural history. However, the bottom-line is to set the
stage for an extensive understanding of the Bantu/Jareer people whose
historiography and recognition of their ethno-cultural values have been
denied the due locus they deserve in the history of the Horn, particu-
larly in Somalia. In order to separate the Jareer and Jileec peoples of the
society, Chapter One explores through the Jileec section of the Somali
society while Chapter Two discusses the Bantu Jareer community.
Chapter Three focuses on the colonial domination of Somalia and its
effects on the Jareer. Chapter Four highlights post-independence Soma-
lia and how the Jareer continued suffering under the administration of
neo-colonial civilian regimes as well as how they were distanced from
state administration. Chapter Five sets the trend by revealing the op-
pression against the Jareer people and the stigma they face in Somali
social life as a community whose numerical enormity was tactfully but
also treacherously obscured in pseudo-homogeneity. Chapter Six gives
a reflection of an apartheid phenomenon dubbed 4.5 (four-point-five)
social segregation system which divides the people into very-Somali
and less-Somali categories of communities. What constitutes Soma-
liness itself and the nomad’s self-invented criteria to determine Soma-
liness is explored in Chapter seven. In the last chapters, eight and nine,
the study culminates in a quantitatively analyzed survey elaborating
the status of the Jareer/Bantu and the stigma they tolerate under the
guise of Somali ‘homogeneity’ and ‘brotherhood’.
Chapter 1
Several approaches could be used to classify the Somali people,
and which system to employ depends on who is using it, or for what
purpose. According to Ioan M. Lewis,1 a general perception exists in
the fact that the clan stands as the center-pole of the nomadic political
system. It holds the kinship together by suggesting the existence of
about 4 to 6 clan entities. Others may extend the number to even more,
by taking into valid consideration the separate units of Reer Xamar
(Banaadiri), Barawaans (Reer Baraawa), Madhibaan (Gaboye outcasts),
Jareer2 etc., and the list could go on and on. In this way, Lewis thinks
that the often memorized patrilineal genealogy is to the Somali the
same as “what a person’s address is in Europe.”3
Another method of categorization would lump all the communities
in the Somali peninsula into the two polar units of Jareer and Jileec
(hard hair and soft hair) in other words Bantu and non-Bantu, without
putting into context only the genealogical affinity of each group, but
rather through a classification established on the basis of physical com-
position of the people themselves as Negroid and non-Negroid respec-
tively. To the more conservative person, this approach may seem to
intimate an indulgence in a system not utilized earlier, but we can try
to make it the baseline of this study without violating the composition
of the clan systems existing in their own traditional rights. Therefore,
the adoption of this method represents yet [another] attempt of con-
tributing to the ethnic classification or stratification methods, a useful
categorization, which functions practically as the reality on the ground.
So, in order to grasp the essence behind the Jareer and Jileec diversifi-
cation, we start with the latter, the Jileec Somalis, in other words the
Non-Bantu, Non-Negroid Somali people.
Versions of inconsistent traditions
The oral traditions go that, in the beginning, an Arab immigrant ar-
rived somewhere along the shores of what is located in the northern
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
coastline of Somalia. He was washed away on the shores after experi-
encing trouble with his dhow, which was wrecked. He was received
by the local residents in the area, married from them and caused an
unusual human germination of massive multiplication, demographi-
cally outnumbering the host community. One Sheikh Ismail Jaberti, as
he was called, became a symbol of a rare case of an immigrant hero
who later became the factor behind the biogenesis as well as genealogi-
cal ‘transformation’ of an entire race of black Africans into what Ali
Jimale ironically describes as “Arabs with a tan.”4
Douglas Collins writes about a tradition, which suggests that this
‘noble’ Arab was cast adrift many centuries ago as a boy and upon
reaching manhood, fathered the Darod clan through his marriage to a
local girl called Donbira. According to Collins, it was “Bereda, a small
coastal fishing village,” that his informant, Yusuf, told him as the place
where “Darod, an Arabian noble, many centuries ago was cast adrift as
a small boy and later in life married a Somali girl named Donbirro and
so founded the great Darod section of the Somali people.”5
A very peculiar situation arises in the implement of the traditions
regarding the arrival of Darod as an individual, whether as a boy or a
grown-up, or even if we consider, for the purpose of this discussion,
that Jaberti Ismail begot him. Throughout the traditions, we are told
about the coming of Arab Sheikhs: Ismail Jaberti (some put Jaberti
first), Darod, Isaq, and so on, as individuals who married from the local
communities. Later, we find in the lineage construction that all the
Somaloid stock, including Digil, Isaq, Reewing (Mirifle), Darod,
Hawiye and many others have descended from Samaale whose ascen-
dancy is connected to Hiil, who counts back to Aqil and then further
behind to Qureishite lineage of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam.
In another tradition, A Handbook of Abyssinia presents that the
eponymous ancestor, one Sheikh Jaberti “was wrecked on the NE.
Coast where he settled and died, leaving a son Darod, the father of the
Darod branch,”6 who was later to foster the ‘noble’ people that make
the great nation of the Darod clan. For this reason, the 19th century
scholarship consisting of certain writers from the colonial regimes that
occupied Somalia, have focused on the northern part of the country as
being probably the cradle of the Somali nation since it was believed as
the entry point through which the Arab progenitors had arrived.
Commenting on one of such writers, specifically Lewis, Christine Choi
Ahmed says that the “first and best-known scholar to examine Somali
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
society… almost all his field work was done in the northern Somali-
land.”7 Yet Lewis himself acknowledged the paucity of factual sub-
stance in the content of the Somali traditions, often lacking in precision
in dating and in names.8
The more peculiar scenario about Somali genealogy is in its lack of
even two identical lineages in the more than five versions leading to
the Arab ancestral father Aqil. Generations of people have kept the
Arab-origin concept alive through the memorization of ‘abtirsi’ the an-
cestral name-count, not noticing the nature and origin of some of these
names, which sound more Cushitic/African than Semitic/Arabian. Sev-
eral names, supposedly of the same lineages, are also often counted
inconsistent with one another; for example, whereas some count 23
forefathers to their ancestor, others do fewer generations (see also
Luling, Somali Sultanate p. 101). The occurrences of such divergences
and inconsistencies invite the notion that every Somali group has con-
cocted at will a supposed chain of names to represent phony ancestors
of unreal existence (see also Virginia Luling, Somali Sultanate, p84).
Some of these traditions narrate about the arrival of an Arab immi-
grant who dug a well in a strange newfound land. He helped a young
herdswoman to water her flock from ‘his’ well. After sometime, her
father who was so impressed by the healthy growth of his animals fol-
lowed her. Upon arriving at the site of the well, the Arab immigrant
refused to open ‘his’ well unless, and until the girl’s father promised
him a marriage to his daughter. After he was made the promise, the
lonely immigrant removed the cover from the mouth of the well and
watered the flock. Though doubtful the tradition is, it contradicts with
the Somali saying of “wax la yaqaan guurso, wax la yaqaan ha laguu
dhalee”, which encourages marriage to the one known so as to foster
offspring whose origin is known and propitious.
This narrative though, seems to be a reconstruction of a modified
replica of the Qur’anic story of Moses9 who, after committing a crime,
emigrated from his home to a strange land where he helped to water
animals for two sisters. He was called for by their father and upon
agreement of providing service for several years, Moses was promised
marriage to one of them. After the completion of the stipulated duties,
Moses married one of the girls and later acquired prophethood from
The dissimilarity of the two traditions lies in the fact that Moses
was watering the two girls’ small ruminants from an existing well
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
whereas in the Somali traditions, Darod dug the well himself in a
strange land. How only one man could dig a well in a territory where
he was alien, and how he acquired the tools for digging are arguments
that the oriental anthropologists and historians did not investigate sub-
stantively. The tradition also suggests that perhaps no other citizens
either knew about this well or used it to water their flocks; or even pos-
sibly that Donbirro and her father were the only life existing in the
In the Darod clan family, a section of the traditions say that Darod
himself, the noble Arab, was cast adrift as a young boy and that he got
married to a local girl Donbirra upon his adulthood. Yet, it is bizarre
that there is no mention of who Darod’s foster parent/s were, since this
version of the historiography suggests Darod as an underage child.
More doubt also entails how and where he acquired the cynical non-
Arab name of ‘Darod’. Another question pursues about his ‘nobility’
because many immigrants fled from their home in Arabia due to perse-
cution as slaves, and some or all those who might have allegedly es-
caped to the northern Horn region (if the Somali pedigree is one of
them) could have as well been fugitive slaves who sought freedom
away from their masters, the same story as we have seen in the case of
the Wa-Gosha people of Somalia. But none of the various traditions
and scholars thinks about other possible postulates, nor did the early
orientalist scholars present a variant speculation of the topic except the
suggestion of population pressure being the reason of the Arab immi-
grants seeking a safe haven in Somalia.
The historical construction as seen here needs more corroboration.
Obviously, it is not by genuine coincidence that many foreign Arab
immigrants arrived in the Somali peninsula at various dates while at
the same time all trace their ‘asal’ origin, across variant routes, but to
the same Qureishi tribe or ‘Reer Banu-Hashem’ the offspring of Banu-
Hashem. Even if we accept the idea as that, how can we justify an
Arab naming his children Sab and Samale, Cushitic names unknown to
For the section of the traditions which suggest Jaberti Ismail as the
Arab newcomer marrying Dir’s daughter Donbira, we encounter a con-
troversy because we hear some traditions opinionating the descent of
Dir and Hawiye from Irir, who also came from Samale, one who tracks
Hiil as his agnatic forefather. This version seems to support the
thought that Dir fathered both the Isaq and the Darod, as Ioan M.
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Lewis illustrates.10 More suspicion encompasses the origin of some of
the names in the ‘abtirsi’ genealogy, such as ‘Kombe’, which can be clas-
sified as ethnic Bantu rather than a Semitic Arab name. Whatever the
case, it is rather hard to regard credibility to any of these traditions be-
cause of their inconsistency and the controversies that make none of
them plausible.
Most of the Somali progenitors have their traditions based on imi-
tations of either ancient Arab stories or other Cushitic traditional he-
roes found on a tree or watering animals from a well. Abdalla Man-
sur’s11 details on the subject reveal not only the confusion surrounding
the topic but they also devaluate the authenticity of Qureishite geneal-
ogy of those who deem a high regard for the affiliation of their identity
to an Arab eponym.
This specification being a basis for Somalia’s claim of Arab origin,
which some scholars justify was exacted by population pressure from
that region of Southern Asia in the proximity of Somalia, and a recent
Somali migration from the north Horn to the south of the country, have
misled many seasoned scholars by placing northern and northeastern
Somaliland as the point of origin of the Somali race. As Professor Gun-
ther Schlee enlightens, “Not only the more general historians (e.g. Low
1963: 321) but also the best specialists (e.g. Hunting Ford 1955:19;
1963:65-6; I. M. Lewis 1955: 45; 1980: 22-3) have succumbed to this er-
ror.”12 In a similar contention, Ali Abdirahman Hersi comments on the
trend as “…puzzling,” explaining the implausibility of the theory as he
states, “Stranger yet is the fact that so many authorities have persisted
in these far-fetched and untenable explanation.”13
Another link to Arab genealogy is deemed to the Isaq clan. The
supposed descendents of this forefather stand perceptually firm about
their beginning from Sheikh Isaq. According to the traditions, Sheikh
Isaq was an Asiatic-Arab from Kerbala in Iraq and stayed in Hadramut
in Yemen for some years. He is claimed also to have been a close kin of
the prophet of Islam, Mohammed, with some of the traditions placing
that relationship as cousins.14
Sheikh Isaq, just like his other immigrant counterpart Sheikh Ja-
berti, lived among the local people. He married a local African woman
of the Dir15 community, and laid his name as the ancestor of ‘mulatto’
generations. Later, they would claim and uphold a noble pedigree that
connects them biogenetically to Mohamed the Prophet as their consan-
guine relative. However, Sheikh Isaq’s arrival in Somalia falls in a
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
much later date than Sheikh Ismail Jaberti’s, the eponymous ancestor of
the Darod clan.
According to Georges Revoil, the arrival of the Darod clan’s patri-
arch, whether Sheikh Abdirahman son of Ismail Jabarti or Darood or
anyone else, is set at the 75th year after the Islamic Hijra from Mecca to
Medina.16 But in The Modern History of Somaliland, British anthropolo-
gist I.M. Lewis, renowned as ‘authority’ on Somalia, set the date at
some time around the 11th century.17 While former Ambassador Hus-
sein Ali Dualeh avoids a possible controversy from the complications
related to historical dating, Ali S. Muhamad was able to track Sheikh
Isaq’s arrival in northern Somalia to the year 548 A.H.18 corresponding
approximately to around 1153. Dr. Lewis opines his version as 12th or
13th century.19 Whatever the arrival date, the unanimity as per the
chronology of arrivals is unequivocal about Sheikh Ismail Jaberti or
Sheikh Abdirahman or Darod preceding in the migration from Arabia
than that of Sheikh Isaq, thus further defending the conception that the
Darod (as far as the Somali context is concerned) have by far acquired
their Arab pedigree earlier than the Isaq clan whose ancestor set foot in
the Somali peninsula in a much later date.
Though both immigrants have the title of Sheikh 20 to their names,
a title which is earned in more aspects than one, it is the latecomer,
Sheikh Isaq that has done more teaching. But by analyzing the dates
Hersi cited from Muhammad’s article in the Somaliland Journal, if that is
anything to go by, Sheikh Isaq came to Zaila in 548 AH, having left
Baghdad in 498 AH.21 By employing simple differential calculation, we
see that Sheikh Isaq, though his age at the time of his departure from
his point of origin or any other transit area was not satisfactorily estab-
lished, landed on Somali soil at around half a century later than his
year of departure from Baghdad. What age exactly he was at the time
of the commencement of his incursion is not illuminated either beyond
any reasonable doubt. If we assume that he was a mature and stout
young man of 30 years when he departed from Iraq, upon his arrival
on the north coast of Somalia he is already an old man of 80 years. Can
we then assume that he was teaching Islam to his in-laws at that age for
16 years, tolerating painstakingly the effects of gerontology, as well as
raising young children from his African wife/wives? The oral traditions
then add that he later set on another journey to another territory, the
Arussi area.
To increase the confusion, Lewis gives elsewhere in his volume
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Saints and Somalis (p.14) that a certain Sheikh Ali Sh. Ibrahim who de-
tailed the hagiography of Sh. Isaq, records 727AH as the year of Sh.
Isaaq’s death. Reconciling these dates becomes a constraint since logic
denies rendering credence to one version against the other for their in-
consistencies. The discrepancy is so wide that it ridicules Sheikh Isaq’s
life span to over two centuries, and that he was bearing children at that
unthinkable age.
The extrapolation in this postulate somehow differs with the aver-
age rationale, regardless of how much benefit of doubt considered in its
favor. For Sheikh Isaq to have begotten children at old age may not be
the only point under contention, but more questions remain unan-
swered for the traditions regarding his eponymy to relate construc-
tively. He was said to have journeyed with an entourage of about
ninety people, but there is obscurity over what has become of the lives
of the entourage. Who of them have reached Somalia with Sheikh Isaq?
How many of them have also married from the local community and
how many had come with their Arab wives? Have any of them re-
turned to Arabia ever since, taking some of their offspring and/or
wives with them? Which sub-clan/s represents the descendents of
Sheikh Isaq’s relatives among his entourage? All these and many more
questions in fact lack the answers they beg for, hindering to facilitate
the reconstruction cohesively for the clearer reckoning of the historiog-
raphy of the Isaq nation of families.
Comparatively, the same investigation is applicable to Sheikh Ja-
berti as controversy also surrounds the identity of his wife Donbira, the
so-called Somali girl married off to him. Some sources state that the
early people to whom Donbira belonged were Galla/Oromo who lived
in the region prior to the arrival of the Somalis. Other traditions have it
as Hawiye or Dir whom Donbira belonged to. Whichever source we
take into consideration, the conundrum toward the achievement of a
satisfactory response to the hypothesis of immigrants of unsubstantial
number exceeding their respective sedentary host communities does
not only sound miraculous but also seems historiographically irresolv-
able. What has caused the disappearance from the scene of the local
African people? Why are the Somalis more related to the Bo-
ran/Oromo, Baiso and Rendille culturally, physically and linguistically
than to the Arabian people?
In another extreme but substantiated discordance with early colo-
nial scholarship, current Somalists – Somalis and non-Somalis - provide
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
their argument based on well-elaborated hypothesis regarding the So-
mali phenomenon of Arab origin. “There is no way to reconcile this
erroneous view with the evidence of historical linguistics or cultural
history…”22 Schlee disputes, with the postulation that Somalis need not
look far across the sea for their origin, but within the vicinity of the
East Africa region where other peoples of similar origin, cultures and
languages dominate. He observes significant cultural characteristics
and linguistic similarities among societies settled in various parts of the
Eastern Africa region before asserting confidently that “The general
attitude behind all these phenomena, namely the pleasure taken in
naming social events, in counting and calculating, seems to me to be so
deeply rooted in Lowland Eastern Cushites that personally I do not feel
the need to look to South-west Asian high cultures or elsewhere for its
The cultural relationship of the Eastern African Cushitic settlers,
particularly Somalia and certain tribes such as the Rendille of Kenya
and the Galla – Orma, found both in Kenya and Ethiopia gives one the
assumption of a similitude whose attributes extend further back in his-
tory than something incidental. Nor could those customs and traditions
be regarded as an acquisition through minimal acculturation. But not-
withstanding the close relationship covering multiple aspects of the
social life, the Somalis still have a deep predilection to come from an
Arab pedigree, an identity which in ancient times was used as a quali-
fication for the gain of access to the top seat of rulership.
One of the most critical literatures on Somalia’s Arab origin and
homogeneity as a nation came from contributors mostly consisting of
contemporary Somali professors and other distinguished scholars, in
The Invention of Somalia, the edited volume of Ali Jimale Ahmed. Somali
professor of history, Mohamed Mukhtar comments that the Somalis’
claim for Arab origin “remains enigmatic,” arguing, “one would won-
der, in the first instance, how the offspring of just two individual Arabs
could become not only the dominant people of the northern part of the
peninsula, but also the majority of the whole Somali nation today.”24
However, Mukhtar blames the concerned scholarship and Somali au-
thorities in his retribution that, “Efforts have been made to discourage
scholars from studying other Somali themes. Valuable sources for the
study of Somalia’s past were ignored, among them, Arabic, Italian,
French and German sources.”25
In his volume, Search for a New Somali Identity, Dualeh wrote in
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
the opening pages that the Somali clans all come from different Arab
immigrants who escaped from persecution in Arabia; their port of en-
try was Mait and that Isaq was the last to arrive – a reason why he
(Isaq) established himself in Mait town on the coast of Somaliland.
Dualeh writes:
It is widely believed that the Dir was the first to arrive at the Somali
coast, followed by the Hawiye and the Darod. The last to arrive was
the Issaq clan, whose habitat today is the original point of entry for all
the other Somali clans, the present Somaliland. The other Somali
clans that preceded them have filled the hinterland, and therefore the
Isaq was forced to live at the coastal areas.26
In his argument, the ex-army man turned diplomat points out that
the Somali people belong to either one of the five groups of Dir, Isaq,
Darod, Hawiye and Digil-Mirifle, all amalgamating into a one Somali
tribe which otherwise consist of:
“…A confederation of genealogically un-related clans. There are also a
number of minority clans. There are no blood-links or other affinity
between these five clans or for that matter between the smaller clans…
The commonality is the language and the religion… The genealogical
descent shows that the five main clans have no blood-links whatso-
Dualeh contributes the philosophy that Sheikh Isaq, the assumed
forefather of the Isaq clan of families as one who “…belonged to the
Hashemite tribe…he got married to a Sudanese girl. She gave him four
sons.” He so certainly writes that when Sheikh Isaq arrived in Somalia,
he came with his Sudanese wife and their four children. And after that,
“In Mait he got married to a girl from the Dir clan…she gave him four
sons.”28 These sons are then eight in total, but there is no mention of the
whereabouts of the Sudanese wife’s four children.
Dualeh’s presentation of the narrative about Isaq relates all the
praise of a legendary hero and his magical multiplication of a nation of
nobles, but one acutely not short of controversy. Of more than four
Isaq informants, including a woman, none was aware of their suppos-
edly four siblings from the Sudanese mother. Nor did Dualeh explicate
the names of Isaq’s Sudanese/African firstborn children or whom their
present-day descent lineages constitute, and whether they have re-
turned to Sudan ever since Isaq’s death. A clarification of the Sudanese
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
woman’s children would have enriched the discussion as an inceptive
point for further study. Other oral traditions mention an Abyssinian
first wife, but unfortunately Dualeh does not contribute any one of his
In another observation, Dualeh presents Isaq and his presupposed
compatriot Arab predecessors as arriving in numerous contingents of
separate clans. He remarks above, “The other Somali clans…have
[filled] the hinterland, and therefore the Issaq was forced to live at the
coastal areas.” Here Dualeh seems negligent of specificity in dealing
with the subject. At one point he sounds to present individual immi-
grants before reproducing the same as nations of clans with each clus-
ter clan moving into the Somali peninsula as a separate group of its
own. Subsequently, his argument of the other clans filling the hinter-
land, thus earmarking high population density and/or population pres-
sure inside Somalia, is better explained by Hersi who wrote about a
quarter of a century ago Dualeh’s book that, “Two hundred years ago
the Somali population could not have been a quarter of its present
magnitude.”29 Nevertheless, the indication we get from all these tradi-
tions exposes the extent to which the Somali genealogical myth had
interplayed with the average social psychology. The intent was per-
haps to pave way for the achievement of interest in the social pursuit
for nobility and the attainment of power.
The debate on this subject heats up as two schools of thought en-
counter. The ‘orientalist’ school promoted the Arab genealogy of the
Somali people, with the insinuation that all the Somali people, as an
outcome of the ‘abtirsi’ which traces its roots back to the prophet of
Islam, belong to a common ancestor. For that matter, they make a ho-
mogeneous nation who belongs to one genealogy. In this regard, and
apart from I. M. Lewis, Dr. Thomas Eriksen also considers Somalia
“…one of the few sub-Saharan states that are truly ethnically homoge-
neous…”30 And Saadia Touval describes the Somalis as “…a rare case
of a homogeneous ethnic group, inhabiting a large territory and united
by culture, religion and tradition.”31 Yet in the widely read Somali Na-
tionalism, Touval writes intensely about the composite groups of the
Somali nation, without exempting the outcast communities and the
artificially self-made cohort of noble clans.
On the other hand, the revisionist scholars do not only dispute the
Arab genealogy but also stay firmly opposed to Somalia’s ethnocul-
tural homogeneity. Outstanding Somali sociologist, Abdi Kusow, pre-
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
sented some of the most recent radical theories regarding the subtlety
of the Somali lineage system. Succinctly, he defines some of the rea-
sons that led to the purportedly long-enduring homogeneity narrative
as, “…an assimilative process [which] is in many ways made possible
by the fact that the sponsors of the lineage-based narratives directly or
indirectly controlled most of the post-colonial Somali political struc-
tures.”32 On that narrative, Kusow concludes: It assumes that the So-
mali society is homogeneous on an abstract idealized level, but in its
everyday reality, consists of different groups with different social val-
ues and modes of production.33
In dehomogenizing the efficaciously traditionalized paradigm of
Somali homogeneity, Kusow presents a self-axiomatic case of the out-
cast communities such as: Tumaal, Yibir, and the Madhiban, who rep-
resent a section of the oppressed populace under the homogeneity
banner. He argues, “…despite the mythical equality, though, this nar-
rative has been successful in effectively marginalizing and stigmatizing
a significant portion of the Somali society as having an unholy ori-
gin.”34 In a similar sentiment, however, literary critic, and CUNY pro-
fessor of comparative literature, Ali Jimale Ahmed, approaches the de-
bate with a postulate of concern and notes, “These perceptions have
contributed to the creation of a Somali that is in Africa, but not of Af-
rica”35 [Italics original]. From another perspective, Somali Bantu rights
advocate and scholar, Omar Eno, clarifies the distinction authorita-
tively in a grand expression. He reiterates that “Somalia is a diverse
nation holding together peoples from different cultures, traditions, lan-
guages, values and destinies. Somalia should celebrate the cultural
differences that exist, which could ultimately be strength.”36
In the paragraphs above, I have tried to present some of the per-
vading faculties of thought regarding Somali genealogy and homoge-
neity and the basis of their contentions. In this norm, the scope of clas-
sification within the Jileec group of Somalia varies. So far, our discus-
sion was focused on the northern part of Somalia, as it is the place
many scholars believed as the birthplace of the Somali nation. In the
following section, the discourse will turn its course to the southern
counterpart and the general predication of the comparative schools of
thought, this time quoting written documents and oral traditions
where necessary.
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
The Digil-Mirifle/Sab group and the link across the borders
In Somalia, the groups mainly constituting the Digil-Mirifle,38 sub-
branches of the Hawiye clan, and groups of the coastal area pursue
different cultures and modes of living, but find themselves aggluti-
nated erroneously into the nomadic culture of pastoralism. But the
variant cultures, distinguished by settlement, ecology, and language
are distinctly separate and stand as entities. This does not mean that
they are out of the Jileec section of the society, but that there are dis-
tinct socio-cultural identities within the Jileec group itself.
Located in several regions along the riverine areas where the two
rivers Juba and Shabelle stream their course, the Digil-Mirifle clan of
families is symbolized by the distinctive texture of their Af-Maay39 lan-
guage. This medium, though different from the written Somali Maxaa-
tiri chosen as the standard Somali script, enjoys a lingua franca status
across various regions in southern Somalia - from Middle Shabelle to
Lower Juba. Different communities do speak varieties of Af-Maay
(Maay language). These varieties, though intelligible with one another,
are quite distinct and unintelligible with the Maxaa-tiri Somali lan-
Unlike their northern brothers, whose loyalty is vested vehemently
in the dia-paying (blood-compensation) group or the kinship by line-
age, the Reewing (Raxaween) culture puts ‘Arlaada’ the country/the
land, at the heart of its integrity. Selected elders lead the political hier-
archy. They are respected for their wisdom and experience, inconsider-
ate of their wealth. This is unlike what characterizes the northern no-
madic pastoral structure, where wealth influences the hierarchical
framework of the society. In the execution of their social duties, the
leaders are supported by “akyaar” - a council of elders. “The social
organization of the Sab,” compares Touval, “is much more hierarchical
and formal than that of the Samaale.”40 Likewise, because they are set-
tled, the Reewing, and for this purpose the entire cluster of the wider
Digil-Mirifle confederacy are, yet in Touval’s words, “less- warlike,
less individualistic, more cooperative and more biddable than their
Samaale brethren.”41 These cultural characteristics are clear distinctions
between the inhabitants of the north and the south of the country, par-
ticularly the Sab and the Darood or the Sab and the Isaq.
The Reewing family of clans count their “abtirsi”42 (patriarchal
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
lineage) back to their ancestor Sab, the supposed brother of Samaale,
ancestor of the stocks of clans comprised of what is mainly counted as
the major clans: Hawiye, Darod, Dir and Isaaq. As the late Helander
informs us from the Hubeer, the Reewing sub-group he studied, the
acquisition of membership is not necessarily only through ascription by
birth but equally also by culture.43 Helander bids reconfirmation to
Mukhtar’s definition about the gradual decline in the disappearance of
‘abtirsi’ or ‘abtirsiinyo’ as one goes further south of the country.44
These cultural traits are some of the unmentioned differences within
the Somali Jileec communities, but the major dimension of extreme ge-
nealogical polarity concerns the so-called eponymous ancestor, the fa-
ther of Sab and Samaale as well as the disagreement regarding the
original dispersal point of the Somali people.
The revisionist scholarship contends that contrary to the adherence
to Arabness and blood relationship with the prophet Mohammed
(PBUH), the Somali people have nevertheless originated not far from
the region. Mukhtar provides several reasons why it would not be
suitable for Arab migrants, who had escaped persecution in their coun-
tries, to have settled in a closely reachable territory where they could be
pursued by their enemies. 45 His assumption is based on a premise that
the area was unattractive to the Arabs due to four possible reasons,
among them: -
i)“The region’s proximity” to Arabia where these immigrants could be
reached by their persecutors. Earlier incidents have been witnessed
where missions were sent for the extradition of fugitives who had run
away from persecution in Arabia.
ii) Lack of “urban centers” in the area: because the Islamic culture fos-
tered in urban life, the predominant culture of nomadic pastoralism,
symbolized by extensive wandering for the search of water and grazing
land for livestock, could offer little attraction to a more civilized Ara-
bian in pursuit of comfortable living.
iii) Absence of “natural harbors” and precarious maritime journeys on
violent seas would make a migration to this part of Africa less attrac-
iv) “The lack of viable economic resources” was another disadvantage
to choosing this area as a settlement.
These aside, cultural and traditional similarities among the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Galla/Boran, Rendille, Baiso and the Somali are so evident that one may
draw a perception of contact which lasted over centuries. The similari-
ties are astonishingly close and seem unobtainable in that complex na-
ture through borrowing or brief relationship. Arguing against the So-
mali genesis from Arabian migration, Schlee discredits the theory as
one not more than “a massive ideological construct.”46 This ideological
construct is not only an image vastly accepted by the Somali people,
but as we have seen earlier in this chapter, a belief to which the ‘au-
thority’ on the subject have capitulated.
Disputing the north-south migration as the original movement of
an Afro-Arabised Somali people, Kusow supports the opinion that the
16th or 17th century migration was preceded by a previous exodus
which took the Somalis from the south to the north of the Horn. He
thinks that the scholars who researched on Somalia had obviously
based their hypothesis on the second migration which was actually
reciprocity of the former south-north movement. Kusow clarifies:
Western anthropologists, particularly Cerulli and I. M. Lewis, pos-
tulated well-organized and rather elaborate north-south migration
routes and trends based on an otherwise highly mythical but ideologi-
cally enduring northern Somali oral tradition.47
An examination of the chain of names leading to the ancestral fa-
ther provides enormous discrepancy of numerous non-Arab names.
How such names intruded into use by Arabs who were alien to the
speech community, (if not by mythical Somali oral tradition) is also
suspect and highly mysterious. Linguist Abdalla Mansur raises suspi-
cion over how an Arab could use such name as “Kablalah”48 and others
that are so alien even in the southern part of the country.
As researchers shifted their speculation from Arabia and focus
more on Southern and southeastern Ethiopia, the Cushitic factor of
Somali origin developed more weight and credence. Murdock,49 among
other writers, holds the view that the Somalis could be related to other
Cushitic groups like the Oromo, with the hypothesis that the original
dispersal point was from southern Ethiopia up the northern Horn
where Somalis settled for a time. Later on, Herbert Lewis50 and Flem-
ing51 wrote in support of the same theme, which so far stands firm, al-
beit the difficulty in convincing a majority of Somalis about the new
shift in their ancestral father from Arab to African. In fact the shift has
increased the frustration since Africanity is an identity the Somalis look
down upon. This disgust is revealed by their protest against the “status
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
under the law of the Colony of Natives of Africa” which classified them
as Africans, and against which they preferred that, “They should be
recognized as Asiatics.”52
Mukhtar’s reasons (mentioned above) aside, historical linguistics
elucidates that the southern-spoken Af-Maay of the Digil Mirifle ethnic
community could have been the proto language spoken by a proto-
Reewing proto-Somali people prior to the early south-north migration.
In corroboration, Mohamed Nuuh Ali’s lexicostatistical investigation
illustrates the distribution of the language as it impacts on communi-
ties along the riverine south through central and upwards in the north-
ern regions.53 Ali’s linguistic assessment produced heavier density of
speech population of Af-Maay in the south, assuming gradual decrease
across and over the regions towards the north. The result purveys an
indication of the southern and southeastern Ethiopia territory in the
vicinity of the Digil-Mirifle habitat as a possible original dispersal
point. The probability is that those immigrants were the proto-Reewing
-Somali ancestors, who, in Ehret’s view, afterwards developed to a
proto-Somali offspring.54
In my opinion, the fact that there are about three times more Af-
Maay dialects in use today than the Somali Maxaa-tiri vehicle of com-
munication further demerits the disputation of the latter as ‘Somali
proper’ or original dialect. It also supports the Maay-Maay distribution
hypothesis and its decline as we go along the north where not as many
‘Af Maxaa’ or ‘Maxaa-tiri’ Somali proper dialects are in practice among
the nomadic communities in those areas. The decline in the dialect fre-
quency, therefore, nurtures the presumption of the linguistic effect the
geographical distance has impacted on the growth of multi-dialects as
we move towards the north. After every caution is considered, I can
safely argue about more Maay-Maay dialects than there exists of its
“Maxaa-tiri” version of the Somali languages.
Another contention between north and south surrounds the inter-
pretation of the name ‘Somali’ itself. Whereas the north bases the no-
menclature on the imperative compound verb ‘Soo-maal” interpreted
as “go-milk”, the Maay language presupposes the same but with an
added connotation:
a) ‘So-maal’ = go milk (any animal) a term usable by both languages
Maay and Maxaa, but which the northerners prefer for the camel.
b) ‘Sa’-maal’ = go milk (the animal referred being ‘sa’ a cow) specific in-
terpretation to only Af-Maay.
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
The second sentence is suggestive of the agro-pastoral mode of the
Reewing as well as some Hawiye sub-groups who herd cattle rather
than camel. Touval gives a more variant interpretation and puts it as
‘Zu-mal’, which denotes a wealth-owner, and also as ‘Soumahe’, which
is the Amharic equivalent to ‘heathen’.55 Being more analytical in his
observation, Hersi acknowledges that, “out of five popular explana-
tions, three are based on Arabic etymologies, the other two being natu-
rally enough, from Amharic and Somali sources.”56
Hersi’s explanation enriches his consent with earlier explications
given by Lewis,57 Drake-Brockman58 and Johnston.59 But to overshadow
history and limit the scope of knowledge, Somalia’s curriculum and
instructional texts, particularly in the Social Studies, were tailor-made
to suit the ideology of Arabness and homogeneity. The impact of the
mythical belief did not only compromise Somalia’s identity but it also
confused its Africanity. Of all the above-mentioned explanations, only
‘soo-maal’, ‘go milk’ was often highlighted in the school textbooks with
the multi-ethnic communities in the country sausaged into one genea-
logical lineage of two ancestors that originated from Arabia.
The words ‘zu mal’ are Arabic and mean the ‘owner of wealth’. If
the nomenclature ‘Somalia’ is assumed to have been derived from ‘zu
mal’, it does not inform us in the historiography about the wealth of
this man and his offspring. The early scholars, historians as well as an-
thropological ethnographers, seem not to have analyzed beyond the
concoctions and imaginations of their informants, possibly as a tribe.
But when we leave Arabia and Arabic terminology, and come back to
Africa, especially the greater Horn of Africa, I can safely assume a rela-
tionship between the tribe name Somalia and the sub-tribe name Zamal.
My hypothesis leans on the fact that Zamal is one of four sub-tribes that
belong to the Bilen or Bogos tribe. If we consider this notion, Zamal be-
comes a relative of sub-tribes such as “Sukuneiti, Ad Hadembes and
Bet Gabru” who lived among the Tigre about a territory called Keren.
There is also some relationship with the Agau tribe or group of tribes,
neighbors of Abyssinia. The Agau were settled in the Lasta and Waag.
Other groups are found in Agaumeder on the bank of Abai River,
while the main language of Agaumeder is Awiya. (See A Handbook of
Abyssinia, 1917)
The information provided here about Zamal makes us stumble,
though accidentally, onto two linguistically important words. One is
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Waag’ which is close to the Somali word ‘Waaq’ meaning ‘sky’; also
some people explain it as to mean a type of bird. The other one is
Awiya’, and is more important as it is very close to the name of the clan
Hawiya’, scattered in parts of southern Somalia. From here, one can
‘albeit lightly’ perceive a relationship between Awiya the language
spoken in Agaumeder and the tribe or clan calling itself Hawiya which
is established in parts of central and southern Somalia today. I need to
note that in many historical events, when people migrate from their
home territory to another settlement, they take with them a symbol of
one or more of their cultural identities and keep for a long time to
come as souvenir; hence retaining Hawiya as a tribal name reminiscent
of the language the group used to speak. The second possibility could
be that the foreign geographers, explorers or other visitors had taken
the language name for the people too, since in many cases both con-
form to identity of a given people in a given place. (More in A Handbook
of Abyssinia, 1917)
In any case, another mystery surrounds the inception of the name
Somali. Its recent appearance in the history of the Horn could be an
explanation of the beginning of a conglomeration of diverse peoples.
Possibly they had had no blood affinity in the beginning, but joined
later under that name. The reason for such unity could be to face to-
gether what might have been a universal threat they were unable to
tackle as individual groups; the likelihood of this enemy being Abys-
sinia and the Christian culture.
My argument about the Somali-Qureishite pedigree is not intended
to undermine the significance of the immigrant community: Arabs,
Persians and other Asiatics who are mentioned in the Somali history.
The effect of their varied roles in the cultural and commercial domain is
remarkably vivid in multiple spheres affecting the wider Somali cul-
ture. But the re-evaluation of the traditions and the revisiting of the
historiography of the country where necessary need to be regarded as
tasks paramount for clearer understanding. In another sense, where a
certain theory or a social belief has been investigated to produce a di-
vergent result from what was the paradigm, then the amended version
must be studied comparatively at par with the existing theory, if at all
the old one is not discredited.
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Horn culture in context
A further discussion takes us to a study of some of the cultures and
traditions of the African peoples living in the closer periphery of Soma-
lia notably those in the very neighborhood, their socio-cultural similari-
ties and the possible relationship they might have harmonized with
Somalia. Numerous customs and traditions believed in Somalia as part
of the social culture, are also widely practiced by other communities in
the neighboring countries, so we look at a very few of these practices.
‘Tuf’ (blessed spit)
We begin with the tradition of ‘tuf’ or ‘tufta’ which is often prac-
ticed in Somalia in thanksgiving and communal gatherings, during
which a blessing is given by ‘spitting’ lightly onto someone sick or one
to be blessed. Sometimes the spit is breathed into a bowl of water
tahliil’ as a blessed/propitious drink for an ailing person suffering from
a kind of disease or spirit possession. Alternatively, one may use the
blessed medicine for shower in driving away sickness. This tradition
might have been part of a culture derived from a proto-Somali people.
Superstition apart, the proto-Rendille cultures of “hanjuf” the spit with
the blessings, or the belief of the ‘dahanti kulel’ the hot hand60 that hurts,
is primarily a presupposition of an earlier cultural contact between a
proto-Rendille and a proto-Somali people. One may contend with the
beliefs of paganism as entwined in this religious ritual, especially con-
sidering Islam as the faith of present day Somalia, but we are engaged
in a discussion about socio-cultural beliefs that existed in pre-Islamic
eras, specifically when paganism, sky-worshipping and idol-anointing
were cherished prevalently as a mode of communication with the om-
nipotent, metaphysical being.
The second significance of this cultural practice is in its linguistic
domain, which renders opulent etymological value to the relationship
of the spoken word between Rendille and Af-Maay. The reason for this
hypothesis is encouraged by the fact that the term ‘hanjuf’ is semanti-
cally as well as phonetically congruent in both languages. The equiva-
lent of ‘hanjuf’ in the northern Somali Maxaa-tiri dialect is (candhuuf),
while in a certain southern Somali dialect it is pronounced as (cantuuf).
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
‘Megel’ (real man/worthy- man)
Subsequently, the tradition of beneficence involving the gift to the
needy, whether in camel or in any other commodity, is invariably also
part and parcel of the cultural life of the Somalis’ closest cousins, the
Rendille. The act gives the benefactor an attribute as ‘deeqsi’ (generous),
and hence ‘a man’. In Rendille culture such a person is called ‘mejel
(man enough) for being a daring benefactor who parts with a camel as
a gift.61 Again, despite a slight variance in the phoneme situated in the
middle consonant ‘j’, the terminology is very intelligible with the Af-
Maay word ‘megel’ (man); it would very likely qualify for a version of
the multiple dialects which the Maay-Maay language is a medium in
many regions of the country.
‘Arbaca mugdi u dambeeyso’
Another paganic-like tradition, one which has endured over the
centuries, is the avoidance of the last Wednesday of the month, popu-
larly known in Somalia as ‘Arbaca-mugdi-u-dambeyso’ meaning the
last Wednesday falling in the dark period of the waning moon.
This day is often avoided in the initiation and undertaking of social
activities such as ceremonies, engagements, business ventures and
marriages. The ‘dark’ Wednesday is associated with misfortunes and
disadvantages; therefore it is depicted as a matter of great fear for its
presumably negative future consequences. It is not by coincidence,
however, that the same socio-cultural beliefs are shaped in the social
customs of the Boran, the Oromo and the Rendille living in the East
Africa region, particularly in parts of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Cerulli expressed in another tradition that the Somali New Year62 is
celebrated with a festival of ‘dab-shid’ the lighting of fire. Unaware of
Cerulli’s research at that time, but conducting an independent study
for Heegan newspaper, local English weekly, I commented severally
about ‘dab-shidka’ cultural event. One of them is reproduced here:
In the evening before the Aw-Dangole performances are over, eve-
rybody on either side of the bank [of the river] lights a small heap of
fire in front of the house, and everybody steps over it saying,
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
usher in the new year and its blessings. This is what is known as DAB-
SHIDKA (The fire-lighting), and it is observed in many parts of the
country too.63 (clarification in parentheses recent.)
However, ‘Dab-Shidka’, the fire-lighting, is one of several ways to
mark the celebration and festivities observed in welcoming the New
Year. Other equally enduring traditional activities like ‘Istunka’ stick-
fighting are held in some parts of the country, Afgoie being the most
famous town for the stick-fighting. As Schlee manifested in writing,
the chants performed during this fire-lighting ritual, the Rendille, Bo-
ran/Oromo and Sekuye tribes remind one of the “…remnants of their
earlier Somaloid (proto-Rendille-Somali) language which have been
preserved in this conservative ritual context.”64
Dr. Hersi tends to deem ‘Istunka’ stick-fight as a custom adopted
from the people of ancient Egypt, who also have a similar event known
as ‘tahtib’.65 But considering the numerous cultural concordances So-
malia shares with the Cushitic neighbors, I would personally make the
basis of my argument that, though an in-depth study on comparative
cultural studies is beyond the scope of this work, the custom has
emerged not far from precincts within East Africa rather than the pos-
tulate of its importation from a country as far as Egypt on the North of
the continent. The support is that the Oromo do have and perform the
same as part of their celebration for the new year.66
In southern Somalia, Shanti-Aleemood, a sub-branch of the Digil-
Mirifle, settled in Wanla-Weyn (Daafeed) between Afgoie and Bur-
Hakaba, are also practicing observers very fond of the stick-fight. In
Bay, it is observed regularly. To mark the occasion, even unorganized
or little organized youths perform it in their own way by conducting a
simple replica of the fight in some districts. By doing so, Ismail Ibdi
Issa narrates that “the youth enjoy the welcoming of the New Year so
that they too get its propitious blessing.”67
In Afgoie, the southern Somalia town whose name is often coined
with ‘Istunka’, the inception of the stick-fight is attributed neither to
Egypt nor to the Cushitic race in Eastern Africa. The inhabitants rather
believe that the five male children of an earlier ruler called ‘Au-Adeer’,
who at the time held the hegemonic leadership in Afgoie, have started
this traditional performance. Again, considering the fact that Au-Adeer
was a Gobron who migrated from Upper Jubba, the area closest to the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Oromo settlements in Ethiopia, with Maay being the sociolinguistic
medium of the Gobron, one might be tempted to postulate an Ethio-
pian connection here with Istunka. I am not ultimately making a con-
clusion on the originator of the custom, but this is part of the tradition
as related to me by elders of almost a hundred years old at the time of
my interview with them in the late ’70s and early ‘80s as part of my
personal interest in the culture of ‘Istunka’:
Whenever Istunka is mentioned, its roots go back to the five brothers
born to one of Afgoie’s most famous of ancient Sultans, Au-Adeer,
called Shanta Au-Adeer (the five of Au-Adeer), who first were the
brains behind what stands at the present day as one of the most cele-
brated festivals held in the southern regions of the Somali Democratic
In Afgoie, the elders are great repository of the history and tradi-
tions as these are passed from one generation to the other. As far as
Istunka’ is concerned, most of them have been participating (in the
words of one of my interviewees) - “…ever since we opened our
Although Afgoie and other areas in Somalia may undertake the
New Year festivals of Istunka and Dabshidka as their neighboring
Oromo and other peoples elsewhere, it carries much more cultural sig-
nificance for the Afgoians. The occasion avails every able ‘laashin’ bard
with an opportunity to produce his poetic talent in the creation of
spontaneous ‘mar70 verse, to which the background chorus group can
dance and chant. The ‘Shirib’ or ‘Shurub71 as it is called, a chanting
procession, is an opportunity for the rival groups on either bank of the
river to visit their counterparts, to criticize and taunt their rivals poeti-
cally of the lewd or indecent acts committed by any of their kin over
the years and particularly since the last ‘Istunka’. As such, it is a very
significant celebration embedded with socio-cultural values. It marks
an unadulterated connection between the society and their culture, an
aspect which gives considerable importance to the reason why the
Shurub’, ‘Dab-shidka’, ‘Istunka’ and other related celebrations are cul-
turally interwoven values of the social identity.
Though I deal with Afgoie/Istunka theme elsewhere as an inde-
pendent study, I may throw here just an illustrative example of the so-
cial connection to the celebrations and subsequently why we consider
the oral traditions and oral literature so indispensable, by studying the
next verse:-
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
A ‘laashin’ bard from the west bank and his team crossed to the east
and produced this ‘mar’ verse:-
Ninki Sheey dad qaato Shuqulaa u yaal
Shukri ii Shariifoow Sheelaraa la geeyi.72
Whoever squanders public property, takes oneself to task,
For, lying in custody at Sheelaro remain Shukri and Shariffoow.73
This verse bears multiple significances. First, it corresponds to an
article by Virginia Luling, an anthropologist who studied Afgoie from
the perspective of the Gobron Sultanate. While conducting her research
in Afgoie, she wrote about the municipal administration where she
says: “…During my stay in Afgoie, however, this office was there in
abeyance since its last two incumbents had been imprisoned for em-
bezzling funds…”74 At the time of her visit, Luling was probably un-
aware of this verse, which now re-strengthens her story of the incum-
bents under custody for embezzlement of public funds, and how the
local traditional intellectual measured the event in his bardic verse.
A brief deductive analysis of the verse takes us beyond the incident as
an isolated event, and shows us:
a) The connection between the verse and the two incumbent of-
fice-bearers Luling mentioned in her article though she did not give
names, that actually these two were Shukri Sheikh Giireey and Shariff
Hassan, alias Shariffoow, two prominent social figures in the district of
Afgoie whose imprisonment was a town-talk at the time. Also many
more verses exist but will be cited elsewhere.
b) How in the oral literature, the traditional intellectual/poet pro-
duces his creativity related to social events as realities of the day, and
the disgust the community expresses on misappropriation of public
funds and abuse of office and authority.
c) The significance of the verse (and other social festivities of Is-
tunka/Dab-shidka) to the social history as a retrievable material ar-
chived in the human/social memory of the local people who are con-
scious of their cultural way of life.
d) That historical narratives archived safely in the human/social
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
memory can be accessed in times of necessity for the recounting and
narration passed from one generation to the other via memorization,
very useful approach to reconstructing social history of the people.
When I (author) first heard the verse, I was a young boy in my early
teens, but in my late forties now when I quote that same verse effec-
tively as part of a historical reconstruction linking the verse to relevant
evidence which a foreign scholar (Luling) had published in an aca-
demic journal.
The extrapolation given here is not to explore in detail about the
prominence of the Istunka and its Dab-Shidka festival, but to show a re-
flection of the people’s adherence to the customs as events worthy of
commemoration, hence their collection and memorization of the verses
reminiscent of Istunka as an occasion of particular social significance.
As I noted earlier in this study, the Arabo-Persian immigrants in
particular and Asia in general, has achieved a memorable historical
place in the Somali society in multiple continuum. Long time maritime
links were established as Hourani explicates that, “Persian relations
with the African coastal regions were largely via this maritime trade
networks.”75 As far as China, the land of the Berbers (Somalia) was
known to seafarers and geographers in pre-Islamic periods, with a no-
ticeable un-Islamic culture76 which Duyvendak elucidates, among other
writers, where references of toponyms such as ‘Bobabi’ (Somali) were
given.77 Although in the 12th century Al-Idris78 writes about the Somali
coast of Zeila as yet a city under Christian influence, a few centuries
later, Asian travelers witnessed how Islam was flourishing along the
Somali littoral, including Brava (Baraawa), Mogadishu (Muqdisho) and
Zeila (Seylac). Ibn Batuta79 comments on these towns as important
sources of commercial commodities like rhinoceros horns, ivory, hides,
tortoise shells and aromatic merchandise rarely available in other parts
of the world. These commodities, according to the historians, were
supplied to Asian countries and Egypt. To say the least, the Islamiza-
tion of Somalia is as a result of the arrival of Asian immigrants, what-
ever their other motives might have been.
Notwithstanding the commercial connections, the most visible leg-
acy from Asia is the generations of people who originated from there,
but took residence on the coastal towns of Somalia. With them, they
brought in a culture and civilization that marinated a harmonious in-
terplay with the cultures, traditions and general mode of living of the
host communities. But when all the credit due is adequately acknowl-
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
edged, we are left with no satisfactory evidence of traces of agnatic link
with Qureish as it is claimed in northern Somalia. All the justification
we have for this relationship doesn’t go beyond the fabrication of
chains of patrilineal names leading to a humdrum of Cushitic and Ara-
bite mixture.80 Because former scholars and others who listened to the
traditions have taken them at face value, without questioning the intri-
cacies within, a homogeneity myth of Arab origin has dominated the
Somali historiography.
Moreover, early explorers provide a clear account that they had not
encountered any meaningful evidence attributable to Arabness in cul-
ture, character or otherwise in the areas mentioned as the first arrival
points of Somalia’s Arab forefathers. Instead, it is cities like in the Ba-
naadir coast, where a genealogical relationship to Arabia could be
claimed. Here exists proven cultural, technological as well as architec-
tural evidence, but the case is quite vice versa in the northern part of
the country. This particular territory, where the cradle claim is most
purported, Hersi acknowledges, has provided little attraction to Arab
immigrants and thus much less mention in the records, a theory which
enhances more approval to Mukhtar’s four reasons referred above in
this chapter.
Further shedding more light on this particular coastal area alleg-
edly affected by population pressure from Arabia, and which is situ-
ated between the north of Mogadishu and east of Zeila, Hersi registers:
Medieval geographical and historical sources are all but silent about this
Coastal stretch. An immediate and also the most reasonable interpreta-
tion of this silence would regard it as meaning that there were no sig-
nificant Arab settlements or activities along that coast. 81
The identity dilemma
Certainly, the conundrum allied with the Somali identity is a multi-
layered puzzle of kaleidoscopic internal and external dimensions. The
entanglement finds Somalia in a very tight situation, an unavoidable
dilemma of choosing between an African identity which it has deni-
grated (see above note No. 52) and an Arab origin which has failed
proof in all the tested genealogical conceptions.
Critical of the ideology of Arabness and the ensuing homogeneity
which offered little or nothing to respect equality among all the com-
munities, Omar Eno deplores the former constitution of Somalia as a
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
document that had “…no clear criteria for citizenship qualifications …”
He further emphasizes, “The constitution [to be enacted after the civil
war] must therefore clearly define who is a Somali.”82 (Elaboration in
parentheses mine)
In the shadow of Omar Eno’s strong criticism lies Somalia’s ap-
pointment to top positions of Somali--Kenyan and Somali--Ethiopian
citizens as Mariam Arif reconfirmed later:
…a Somali born in Djibouti, Kenya or Ethiopia had the right even to
become a president of the republic of Somalia… One of the former
Ministers of Defense was originally born in the Northern Frontier Dis-
tricts of Kenya and had served as a Kenyan Military Officer for many
years… There were members of the Supreme Revolutionary Council,
army and police generals and officers, Ministers, ambassadors and
other high-ranking government officials who were treated like any
other Somali citizen.83
In the pretext of predilection for Arabness, Somalia has deliber-
ately compromised the identities and cultures of diverse communities
in the country. They suffer due to their ethnic African origin and/or
with regard to invented forms of tribal hierarchy. This reality, as Ku-
sow84 would agree with me, agitates the debate that Somaliness itself is
determined primarily according to pre-set limitations governed by
geographical location, and effectively ironed out through clan categori-
zation. The psychosocial dictum concealed in the distribution of the
degree of Somaliness is well preserved as a medium for creating self-
ennoblement and superior clan and cultural identity. In a more elabo-
rate fashion, it means that those closer to the cradle where the mythical
Arabness had had its initial contact with Somalia (by clan and location)
are contextually genealogically more Somali than others whose geo-
graphical settlements and patrilineal adjacency are metaphorically dis-
tantly located. This system of dichotomy and stratification has been
cautiously ‘midwifed’ that it engineered an artificial deficiency for
every component of culture and clan in Somalia, while ‘pure nobility’ is
regarded only to the immediate descendants of Darod and Isaq, the
offspring of the two immigrants allegedly hailing from Southern Ara-
As a discussion on the topic may lead us way beyond the limits of
this study, an understanding of the phenomenon remains worthwhile.
As I already argued about the Jareer and Jileec division of the Somali
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
people, we are still in our exploration for the understanding of the clan
divisions paramount within the Non-Bantu Jileec communities of Soma-
lia. We have focused thus far on the Digil/Mirifle and the so-called de-
scendants of Sheikh Isaq and Sheikh Jabarti. These have successfully
‘ennobled’ themselves as the supreme descendants and Somali proper.
The ennoblement has become a divisive tool to demean the rest of their
brethren into a lower status than theirs, but somehow higher than the
others outside that genealogical bracket. We now turn to the Hawiye
clan of families and the phenomenon of linguistic supremacy in a soci-
ety claimed to share the same language.
The Hawiye
Categorically, the Hawiye make a part of the Jileec Somalis. The
widely believed traditions describe them as descendants of Hirab who
is a brother of Darod. In unraveling through the multiple lineage and
genealogical patterns, it is really hard to select one authentic version,
an episode that narrows the reliability of any of them.
The four sub-clans of Abgaal, Murusade, Hawadle and Habar-
Gidir mainly numerically dominate the Hawiya clan. In settlement, the
Habar-Gidir share boundaries with elements of the Darod in the central
region while their Hawiye brothers are towards the south. The Abgaal
allegedly constitute the largest number and are found in several areas
from somewhere in the proximity of the central towards regions in the
south, comprising pastoral and agro-pastoral cultures of living (see Ali
J. Ahmed 2008). The Hawadle are adjacent to the Habar-Gidir in the
central part and share sections of the Shabelle River with the Reer Sha-
belle, Makanne and Reer Isse Jareer communities. The Murusade sub-
clan’s settlement is subtle. Some of them live in parts in the central,
others in the neighborhood of Ethiopia, while more segments live in
various regions in the south. The Murusade are said to be related to the
Karanle Hawiye who settle in the proximity of Ethiopia, living with
units of the Sheekhaal, also of the Hawiye.
Except the Habar-Gidir who depend on nomadic pastoralism, the
other three sub-clans practice a mélange of pastoralism and farming,
although certain units among them may engage in these modes sepa-
rately according to their environment. Sometimes the mode of living
depends squarely on the community that accepted them earlier as
‘Sheegad’ clients, like the Murusade in parts of the south as well as the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Abgaal and Habar-Gidir who settled in locations away from their de-
marcated ethnic territories. The next chapter will give a brief discussion
about ‘Sheegad/Sheegato’ client phenomenon.
Linguistically, the Hawiye communicate in a unique dialect of the
Maxaa-tiri Somali language. They also communicate in other southern
dialects as conditioned by their geographic location as well as the
sociolinguistic community among whom they live. For instance,
linguistically, it is indistinguishable between a Jareer speaker and an
Abgaal counterpart who grew up both in Jowhar. Likewise, some
Murusade, Garre, or Gaaljecel in Afgoie and its environs all speak
Afgoie dialect of the Somali Maxaa-tiri version although they may also
speak fluently one or more Maay dialects as spoken by the sedentary
residents. Additionally, every community’s tongue is in its own distinct dia-
lect of the Somali language, an accent that typifies the particular clan of
the speaker, especially if one is brought up among one’s own sociolin-
guistic community. May be a few sentences can help to compare the
familiar Abgaal dialect to that of the north, and contrasting them simul-
taneously with Af-Maay:
Maay fathaase? Xaad rabtaa? Maxaad
What do you want?
ka neebsat-
isaga ba-
Halkan baan
isaga na-
We’re just resting
Meelaa iska roog.
Rabtaan iska
(Mahaaga iska
Halkan iska
Just stay here. (Be
where you are)
Igaarti kooyteey? Igaarti ma
Wiilashi ma
Have the boys
Ikorooy Iikaadi Isug Wait for me.
Source: by the author
Apart from the genealogical unification, it is relevant to note that
linguistic stereotyping constructively exists in Somalia. I may agree
though, with Allport,85 about stereotypes not being always negative,
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
but only when, in the opinion of Taylor and Simard, as explained by
Hewstone and Giles, “…that out-group stereotypes may lead to the
positive outcome of mutual social differentiation.”86 But, like in the
genealogical domain, the sociolinguistic registers, styles and variations
in accent are categorized as less pure as we move from the north to the
south. The variances of these modes of communication are therefore
thought of as adulterated versions of the ‘pure’ or ‘standard’ Somali
language as spoken by the self-ennobled clans. The basis for this stra-
tum does not take into account the paradigmatic reality of social status
and geographical area reflected in the speech-community’s language.
Often it is extended well beyond the communicative tool it is and to
mean the formation of superior ethnic identity. Linguistic stratification
and negative stereotyping, in the Somali social etiquette, run parallel
with clan stratification, opposing the linguist’s method of measuring or
assuming one’s language according to one’s class.
Sociolinguistics, in the Somali context, is an area not yet sufficiently
researched on, but nevertheless a useful tool utilized as a basis for eth-
nic stratification where the further one is from the south, one’s lan-
guage is deemed more ‘noble’, better and purer in form and lore.
Situations are usually witnessed where a speaker from the southern
regions is prejudiced: “Af-Soomaali ma yaqaan” doesn’t know Somali
language, although that speaker is a citizen of the country by birth and
breed (see also Luling, Somali Sultanate). This episode happens simply
because one doesn’t belong to the sociolinguistic group of the north-
erner person criticizing. For this reason, linguistically the Somali lan-
guage itself plays a more divisive role than its external display as a uni-
fying factor.
Contrary to the northerners’ belief of their dialect as the uncor-
rupted original accent of the language, the southern speakers think the
northerners speak ‘sullied’ Somali, hence their reference to their north-
ern brothers as ‘Soomaali khaldaan’ which is ‘mistaken or error-bound
Somali’ - a phrase denoting that the northerners are incomprehensive
in the dialect of their spoken Somali.
According to this observation, ethnic nobility does not give justifi-
cation only in the genealogical composition of the northerners but also
a superior rank for their dialect of the Somali language. That divide has
been effectively legitimated through language policy and language
planning (LPLP) during the standardization of the Somali orthography
and upon its inception in 1972. The dictatorial leader of the nation who
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
was from a sub-clan of the Darood clan, has used his powers to that
end and therefore above the common man’s disputation.
Some southern intellectuals like Jamal Mohamed Hagi87 admit that
the Somali social system operates from a self-ennobled nomadism. That
indoctrination simply but emphatically determines that whatever is
related culturally to nomadism is by any standard superior to all the
rest. Because there is little understanding of the language science, we
may find very few who would accept that all dialects of the same lan-
guage have equal importance to the speech communities concerned
rather than inferiorate them due to the psycholinguistic substance con-
ditioned by their society and environment.
The most peculiar stratification is that Hawiye, who are also con-
sidered as the descendents of the Arab-Qureishite forefather, are ad-
justed in a social place better than others but lower in degree than the
higher premise occupied by their northern Darood and Isaq brethren.
Because genealogically, geographically as well as linguistically they are
situated away from the cradle point where Somali nobility was born, it
has become adequate reason to deny them full noble status and equal
ethno-social place.
The outcast groups and the un-islamic phenomenon in Somalia
These are groups who are despised. Their social place is not con-
sidered even at the bottom of “homogeneous” Somalia, but in fact out-
side of it. As the ‘raagaay’ (old tradsitionists) said, the outcasts are akin
to the aforementioned Somali nobles. Their trouble began when their
ancestor allegedly ate to satisfaction meat from an animal not slaugh-
tered in the ‘halal’ accepted Islamic way. Though the traditions suggest
his hunger during the commission of the act, ever since that unknown
day, all the descendants of that forefather have been ostracized as un-
clean human beings. Due to that impurity the generations from the
lineage became subject for social exclusion. The ‘nobility’ decided these
are unapproachable for social relationships like marriage, but fit for
undertaking occupational tasks such as iron-smithing, circumcising
children and other menial activities which the ‘pure’ clans scorn do-
We need to envisage here that according to the traditions, the fore-
father of the outcast communities committed the act together with his
brother, the pedigree of the noble branch. They allegedly both fed on
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
the meat of the ‘decayed’ animal, but strangely enough, the act didn’t
affect the purity or status of the group that claim nobility. The reason
given for the retention of their purity is because he had not eaten to
satisfaction as his sibling had done.
These communities are called diverse names some of which are re-
lated to occupational tasks rather than tribe or clan. Examples of them
are: - Tumaal, Yibir, Yaxar, Midgaan, Madhibaan. These communities
all come under the confederation of Gaboye, which is a nomenclature
derived from the quiver which these groups keep their arrows as hunt-
ers and as warriors. (Read more about the Gaboye in Eno and Eno,
The outcasts are subject to a continuum of attachment to and de-
tachment from a clan as per the dictation of the ‘noble’ group they are
associated with. These so-called outcasts are normal human beings like
others: polite, respectful, born-Muslims, respectable, pretty, intelligent
and inseparable by look and complexion from the claimants of nobility,
but they suffer under perpetual social castigation administered against
them by none other than their own Somali brethren. As a result, they
can’t enjoy equal status in the society.89
Ioan M. Lewis, for whatever motive, has embraced Somali pastoral-
ists to a title of a volume “A Pastoral Democracy”, when in reality these
outcast groups have encountered unfair mistreatment under undemo-
cratic pastoral society. As has been enlightened by Lewis himself, they
(outcasts) are not allowed to sit and contribute their point as equals in
the nomadic council of meeting. The pastoral ‘nobles’ consisting of the
lineage members in the ‘shir’ meeting, as the tradition recognizes, reach
the decisions. In such segregation, one may query with concern why a
scholar of the caliber of Dr. Lewis failed to demarcate between dis-
crimination and democracy! Or possibly he needed not know see the
reality except from the eyes of his ‘noble’ informants.
The claim of ‘pastoral democracy’ contradicts the values of democ-
racy on the platform of an artificially molded social stratum in contra-
vention of the principles of Islam and of homogeneity. Exclusion gar-
nished with debasement of any magnitude do not foster accommoda-
tion to democracy when important elements of the social grain are
marginalized due to idealized divisions set on the basis of ethnic self-
ennoblement. Analyzing the situation, Marian A. Enow opines that the
dominant nomads, to the social disadvantage of the dominated, deter-
mine social places.90 Under these circumstances, the reality behind the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
concept of “all men are councilors and all men are politicians,”91 serves
as a continuum of oppression.
Generally, egalitarianism cannot exist in synchrony with pervasive
discrimination in the decision-making ranks but should encourage the
provision of unbiased access for equal distribution of wealth and other
opportunities for social mobility - vertically much so as horizontally.
But the antithesis, to democracy, is that the status of the outcast groups
uncovers a hidden system of prolonged unjust which smears indignity
to the philosophy of democracy and practice of egalitarianism. If any-
thing, Lewis had better reserved his comments on the pastoral injus-
tices that regulate and inform the culture of the Somali nomadic life
than celebrate it as democracy.
Equal status, opportunity and distribution of power and resources
are concepts entwined with the ethics and cultural values of any given
society, but in the Somali pastoral structure, elements of moral decay
such as discrimination and degradation are pursued pragmatically, and
by the day. Such realities have laid a demarcation line that places the
privileged in the egalitarian status and the underprivileged or unprivi-
leged off it in the periphery. In my view, the thesis, in form and char-
acter, absolutely disqualifies the ideals of either democracy or egalitari-
The inference from the revelation renders that the decisions
reached by members of the so-called nomads in the ‘shir’ council meet-
ing, are not in any way based on just regarding the proliferation of in-
terested-party interference. For, in the sad eyes of the discriminated
outcasts, the practice is tantamount to localized imperialism void of
any moderate consolation. The social institution itself constitutes noth-
ing short of a promoter of ethno-political preponderance, which de-
cides the limitations of the rights of the ‘other’ group within the com-
munity! The cultural behavior has developed disintegration among a
society so characterized by an outward homogeneity, thus prompting
another contending statement by Eno who writes:
Normally within a homogeneous ethnic group, an intense feeling of
group solidarity develops and an attitude of egalitarianism becomes
evident. However, there is no solidarity whatsoever to be seen in So-
malia. The ethnic dichotomy is in fact much deeper than in any other
heterogeneous society on earth.92
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
In her article, “Caste Discrimination”, Smita Narula describes the
cast system as “…a hidden apartheid of segregation, modern-day slav-
ery, and other extreme forms of discrimination, exploitation and vio-
lence.”93 By contrast, the Somali outcasts undergo similar oppression
and abuses as mentioned by Narula. They have been systematically
kept off-board the societal framework. The ethnocentric system of the
Somali society has denied these groups even the ownership of a tribal
land (See Mohamed-Abdi Mohamed 1997.) In essence, they cannot
settle as an independent social body of their own, unless they are at-
tached to other clans as dependents and subordinates.
Like the Osu of Nigeria, the Baraku of Japan and the Dalits of India
and Sri Lanka, the Somali outcasts suffer under extensive social op-
pression and are subject to permanent social prejudice. They are de-
meaned as pollutants within the social fabric. Moreover, Somalia’s
widely exaggerated uniqueness as a homogeneous nation of one soci-
ety sharing the same origin, one language, same religion and so on,
declined to accommodate and address the outcasts with an equal
status. They live as a very low social class and as subordinate humans.
“Midgaan-Madhiban have never had any secure rights or protection in
Somali society. Even in overseas Somali society, they still face hatred,
harassment and abuse,” reveals Asha Samad,94 who articulated her
concern in a paper about the undesirable social situation of the Somali
outcast communities.
I partly agree with Dipankar Gupta on the notion that “caste-based
stratification displays very different characteristics”95 in that it consti-
tutes, in the Somali perspective, multifaceted phenomena under the
manipulation of the perpetrating ‘noble’ groups. One of these charac-
teristics is that, although in the U.S.A. or in other racial societies, blacks
and whites etc. may contract into marriage, it is highly impossible in
Somalia for such a social institution to bring together an outcast and a
‘self-ennobled’ into a unit of one family, irrespective of sameness in
color, clan or creed. Still, within the context of the characteristics of
cast-based stratification, I disagree with Gupta on the misplaced opin-
ion in his study of 2000 which reads in part, “No caste would agree that
members of other castes are made up of substances better than
theirs,”96 which he emphasizes again in his later work ‘Caste, race, poli-
tics’ when he says, “No caste would like its people to marry outside the
community. No caste would like to merge its identity with any other
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
First of all, and for all practical purposes, the cast system is em-
ployed in multiple ways than one. Each method of practice in the insti-
tution has its orientation as a result of the cultural effects on the belief
and social behavior of the community concerned. But one aspect of
castism dominates everywhere, taken as a form of racism or otherwise:
that it is an inhuman social phenomenon based on the oppression of an
advantaged group against a disadvantaged breed whose social identity
is often under suppression and stigma. Under this reality, the matter of
concern should not be displayed in the simplistic symbiosis adopted on
personal opinion, as Gupta wants us to condone, but conversely holis-
tically in the context of the wider destructive impact it holds on the
wider societal dimension. We should not overlook the burden that the
cast institution is heavily worshipped by the oppressors, culturally and
socio-psychologically, as a sacred component of the social values.
Secondly, because the awareness inherent in the ill practice of cas-
tism lives with us through the tutelage of our social culture, no indi-
vidual would indulge in his/her desire for exogamy, marriage beyond
the societal confine, which the cast system has mapped the borders.
The oft-coveted principle of the ‘upper’ society designed the psycho-
logical framework under which it implemented the delimitations and
cynic social demarcations as a burden the ‘others’ cannot cross beyond.
Thirdly, because castism encompasses identity, superiority, alien-
ation, degradation and other symbolically abstract beliefs, it would in-
flict more loss of identity to the superficially constructed high cast ‘no-
bility’ than the socially excluded because, as Marian Enow believes,
“’Equality for all’ poses threat to the beliefs of supremacy and nobility
of the oppressors.”97
Finally, social mobility in the spheres of politics, economy or in any
other individual achievement (by a lucky few) in the metaphors of the
physical world cannot be adjudicated as a variable of meaningful infer-
ential compensation for counter-balancing the afflictions of moral dev-
astation accrued against the outcast communities. The consequence
extends well beyond any degree of privileges or achievement - call it
Sanskritization or whatever. These privileges amount to nothing more
than individual opportunities acquired by a few. When we consider the
generations of helpless ‘others’ born into an inherited, socially ascribed
stigmatization and oppression into a down-trodden class as social
scum, I don’t imagine whether the entire world can remedy the nature
of that psychological wound. But in retrospect, if social interaction is
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
harmonized with respect for human value, dignity and equal opportu-
nity, even the learned Gupta would not need to postulate about the
newly developed class of “upwardly mobile sanskritizing caste,” be-
cause the mobility should have rather been based on meritocracy than
on castocracy or ethnocracy.
The concern, in holistic term, engulfs into the confines of the meta-
physical domains affecting the social conscience, consciousness, values,
and morale. The intuitive properties of the person, both in mind and
attitude, should dignify every human nature with a desire to be appre-
ciated. Put in another way, if a certain opportunistic group has bank-
rupted the aspirations and social esteem of a sector of the community,
in order to validate the maintenance of identity supremacy, the out-
come transforms the societal network into a hub of a clinically super-
vised disintegration, which Somalia is contemporary evidence.
In the Hindu system, Das and Choudhury believe that “caste per-
petuates social distance with the help of religious sanctions.” Similarly,
Somalia’s Islamic priests, doctrine, and concept of homogeneity and
self-sameness remain all silent about equality of all Muslims especially
when it concerns the purpose of caste equality.98 And as such, Somalis
are strong believers and adherents to a rigid caste system and social
However, when all is said, there is no concrete evidence whatso-
ever to substantiate the exact source of the alleged impurity of the out-
casts as per the allegations devised by the ‘noble’ clans. The pastoral
traditions that related the allegations of impurity of the Gaboye com-
munity as well as the orientalist scholars who purportedly reported
and celebrated the caste impurity in their academic writings remain
silent about core evidential issues as the place of the ‘fallacy’ and the
approximate date thereof are not mentioned. Relatively, the invention
of the ‘Nasab-dhiman’ (dented-nobility) outcast system by the ‘nasab
noble predecessors must be deeply rooted in the nomadic avarice for
surfeit in a culture characterized by lust for power and quest for supe-
rior identity, a complexity which Islam denounces its indulgence.
When examined comparatively to its Indian counterpart, the So-
mali outcast system appears eccentric in nature. In India, it is alleged
to have begun as an issue of two races: the light-skinned Aryans in-
vading the dark-skinned Dravidians with the imposition of an unfamil-
iar stratification which misconceived the dark-skinned as unequal, in-
ferior and uncivilized people. In the Somali situation, one observes that
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
the color, clan and creed of both the discriminating majority and the
socially distanced outcast minority are utterly inseparable and basically
one and the same people, Somali and Jileec by composition. They are in
fact indistinguishable in every sense by their features and racial back-
ground. This culture, which in the Somali social organization depletes
the human value of such a social sub-group, leads one to disagree with
Ghurye and Risley99 who view cast as an institution that celebrates its
birth as a result of racial divisiveness; because in the Somali situation,
there is no evidence of racial difference although the system has taken
an equal dimension in a different form and construct.
Actually, varieties of the traditions and the scholars suggest blood
affinity between the so-called ‘nasab’ nobles and the ‘nasab-dhiman’
outcasts, and how the status of this group was dropped (Burton 1987;
Cerulli 1919, 1927; Drake-Brockman 1912; Kirk 1904). How that con-
sanguinary relationship was terminated to debase one and not the
other, when both brothers had eaten together the meat from the dead
animal, is not a point the nobles would be pleased to take for further
discussion or under scrutiny. Nor does anyone among the scholars or
the traditions that initially purported or framed the caste institution ask
the type of the animal concerned: was it camel, cow, goat, or sheep? Or
was it a wild animal whose consumption for human nutrition Islam
had forbidden? The approximation in time of the event is not so clear
either. The traditions are contained in absolute silence about the an-
swers to such questions.
This uncorroborated episode of unproven evidence, which has
probably occurred in Somalia’s pre-Islamic days, cannot in any circum-
stance be a contemporary justification to undermine the rights of any
citizen, regardless of his ethno-cultural or religious background. In
general, unproven allegation is not reason enough to ennoble one of-
fender at the expense of the de-ennoblement of the other. “It is an arti-
ficially created system of deliberate inferioration of the non-nomadic
societies and cultures, aiming at the gain of legitimacy for self-
promotion,” argues Abukar Mungai,100 a Jareer surveyor in Mombasa.
The Asharaaf
Another perplexing case in the Somali lineage metaphor is the
group calling themselves Asharaf. Members of this group claim they
are more respectable, more praiseworthy and more honored than the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
rest. The significance in that belief is borne in the title ‘Shariff’ pre-
fixed to their real names. According to their traditions, they have de-
scended right from the prophet’s household, hence their double pur-
pose of the term Shariff which serves as a personal title distinctive only
for this stock, and its common noun version Asharaf (Ashraf) which
suits as the clan name, legitimating the title ‘Shariff’ for every male and
‘Shariffa’ for the female from the community. The Somali ‘claim’
Hashemite descent just like the Asharaf but none sticks to the use of
‘Shariff’ as a title before their names. But the Asharaf, who favor them-
selves as more Hashemite than the non-Asharaf Somalis, feel offended
if the title is misplaced elsewhere other than their extraction.
In linguistic terms, the Arabic word ‘Shariff’ comes into use as a
name of an individual’s choice. Secondly, it may be used as an adjec-
tive qualifying or describing a noun in the case of one, anyone, irre-
spective of clan or origin, who is regarded for one’s respect and honor
to others and by others. As the Arabic saying (transliterated in English)
goes, “Man Sharafa nafsahu, fahwa Shariff’ – whoever honors himself (ab-
stains from doing evil to others) is certainly honorable (by others).
The Arabite origin of this sub-group of the Somali social thread is
also suspect because they narrate diversified traditions. When I posed
a few questions to some elderly Ashraf informants in the course of my
discussion with them, they were unable to respond satisfactorily. The
three of them could not agree on the lineage of one progenitor. They
could not provide comparative definitions concerning the Asharaf
among the Banadiri, the Asharaf of the Reewing and the numerous
Asharafs scattered among the Somali subgroups. Surprisingly, the ‘Ab-
tirsi’ genealogy sometimes gives queer elements of non-Arab names,
which no informant could explain. Shariff Hussein Shariff Mohamed
(about 87 years old) was eventually inclined to agree that the nature of
the Asharaf relationship to the Arab is not any different from that of
the Somali tribe with the Qureish, “because they all belong to a Qurei-
shite pedigree.” 101 This suggestion encourages us to believe the exis-
tence of a finely woven genealogical myth also in the traditions of the
When I asked them why they give their tribe name first-hand as
Asharaf, and not Qureish or Banu-Hashem because the Qureishite do
not use “Asharaaf,” as a tribal identity, they were quick to react that the
Somalis know them by that tribe name, while one of them, Shariff Os-
man Shariff Samad Shariff Ali, answered that it was actually the Soma-
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
lis who first gave that tribe name to the Asharaaf. Then I asked how
Somalis, as outsiders, could confer a name on a whole tribe without
first knowing its ethnonym from the ethnic community. In response,
they said that they were not there when it happened but that I (author)
should not doubt their Qureishite/Hashemite origin.
In another question, I asked them to discuss about the distribution
and distinction between the Asharaaf in the Somali sub-clans living in
the north and south of the country, in parts of Ethiopia and their ag-
nates found also in parts of Kenya. Was it only one Shariff who came
and fathered all the Asharaaf in the diverse regions or were there many
Shariffs who arrived in Somalia at various dates and places as to as-
sume the Asharaaf affinity to the Somali tribes/clans of the distinct
modes of living? The responses were incongruent: Shariff Osman held
the opinion that all these groups of Asharaaf came from one immigrant
Shariff and acquired his offspring by polygamy with women from di-
verse Somali clans. In a variant view, Shariff Abdinassir Elmi Shariff
Mohamed (alias Quleel) thought many Asharaaf immigrants came and
settled among the Somali clans at various dates and points. He also
speculated that the Asharaaf among the Banadiri and Barawans came
later than those living among the Somali proper. Then I reminded the
early arrival date of some of the Barawaans and the later arrival date of
some of the Banadiri Asharaaf in reference to Banadiri traditions, and
what they could make of those histories; the Asharaf informants were
not anywhere near a suitable response.
When I mentioned the difference in the lineages of all these Shariffs
who suggest a connection to the prophet of Islam but who do not know
or are not recognized by their kinsmen in other regions in Arabia, one
informant responded that [possibly] the Asharaaf in Arabia must have
forgotten their migrated kinsmen. Shariff ‘Quleel’ however raised the
possibility of the Arab Qureishites ignoring or debasing the Somali
Asharaaf as a result of the latter’s marriage relationship with the Afri-
can women. I also sought their recognition of what Ioan M. Lewis
wrote about the Asharaf that, “…a group of sheiks assumed promi-
nence and formed the Asheraf tribe,” (Lewis, Peoples of the Horn of Af-
rica, p.36). They opinionated that even some of the tribes to whom they
joined have also in time come to be known as Asharaaf. Since they have
lived together for a long time, they said division and separation of the
community wasn’t necessary. Despite all the desire for closer consan-
guinary relationship with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “…the claim is
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
disallowed by the Sherif of Arabia, who look on the Somalis as an infe-
rior race” (A Handbook of Abyssinia).
After two days of discussions about the subject, my Asharaaf in-
formants seemed short of reconciling the distinction between their own
genealogies and that of their ethno-history regarding their migration.
Some of the stories sounded as a copy of the Somali myths in search of
a more ‘reputable’ identity than the African one that haunts the aver-
age Somali nomad in the northern regions. The ethno historical data I
collected from the three historians are not corroborative any more than
the multiple Somali versions of their origin. Similar to the Somali tradi-
tions, the Asharaaf myths cannot be considered as valid stories of
truth-value, since Somalis are not only capable of forming and attach-
ing themselves to identities, but also with ease. Professor Abdalla Man-
sur reveals a situation in which a Somaliland community “created in
Kenya the ‘Isaaq Sharif Community,’ claiming that their ancestor was
the cousin of the prophet Mohammad, in order to obtain the best
treatment in that multiracial society…In 1948 this new genealogy was
published in a book printed in Cairo…” (Abdalla O. Mansur 1997:124-
The coastal dwellers
Next in the discussion come the coastal dwellers, the Banadiri
(Reer Xamar), the Bajuuni and the Barawaans. These are speculated as
the descendants of immigrants from Arabia and Persia although the
Amarani of Baraawa, according to I.M. Lewis,102 and other sources, are
alleged of being the descendants of Israelite escapees who might have
fled from their ancient settlement in the era of Islamic expansion.
The Barawaan
The Barawaans are sailors, traders, fishermen, and are famous arti-
sans in hand- made/embroidered hats and in shoemaking, popular in
Somalia as ‘koofi Barawaan’ and ‘kabo-Barawaan’ (Barawaan hats and
Barawaan shoes) respectively. They are active merchants and speak
Chimbalazi, a language which the Somalis simply call Af-Baraawa (the
language of Baraawa), but which scholars classify as a Swahili dialect.
They have arrived several centuries ago and became part of the social
fabric. They are scattered along the coastal areas in Somalia, Kenya and
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
even Tanzania.
Unlike the outcast groups who are not accepted by the Somalis into
marriage, there has been a relatively low intermarriage with the Soma-
lis who do not despise the Baraawans like they do to the other ‘kabo-tol
shoemakers of the outcast Somalis. Though sometimes seen as Dias-
pora, the Barawaans have (as Jileec) achieved a certain degree of up-
ward mobility regarding their officers in the army and navy of Mo-
hamed Siad Barre’s military regime, as well as other civilian posts in
the administrative and diplomatic functions. In any case, the
Barawaans are numerically a minority and subject to harassment due
to their non-Somali origin. Regardless of their origin, within the Jareer
and Jileec classification, the Barawans are Jileec and are thus technically
but temporarily (for the purpose of this study) deliberately lumped
with the rest of the Jileec population.
Upon first hearing, the ordinary person assumes Baraawa as a clan
or tribe but it is a toponym of the territory rather than a fiber of con-
sanguinary lineage composition of its multiethnic/multiracial popula-
tion. It is a settlement for people of diverse background consisting of
the indigenous local community and their counterpart from Persian
and Arabian Diaspora. Although certain elements within the commu-
nity claim descendency from Ashraf, it cannot be conclusively con-
firmed, particularly with regard to the fact that sections of those who
claim Barawanese citizenship had been associated with Israel rather
than with Qureish.
As a coastal city-state, Barawa shares a long history with the other
Swahili city-states that emerged along the East African coast. This his-
tory, in my opinion, is not exempt from paradoxes when we examine
this ancient city-state from two dichotomous standpoints paramount to
its social activities. For one, Baraawa stands as a cosmopolitan ancient
city-state that has produced great Ulama (religious scholars) like
Sheikh Uwees (Uways), Sheikh Nurein Sabir Al-Hatimy, and Moallim
Nuri and so on. These scholars, according to Mohamed Kassim, 103
were leaders who were ‘mufti’ well-educated and erudite in a variety
of disciplines in the field of Islam. Indeed, they contributed invaluably
to the spread of Islam in the country and overseas.
The second axis, by which Baraawa became famous, emerges in the
realm of slavery and as a slave trade hub. From this conception, we see
a city-state keeping in parallel rivalry two repellant social paradigms:
Islamic education and slavery institution. But for whatever reason, the
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
Somalist scholars are numb on the latter subject. Exposing some slave-
related evidence, Robecchi Brichetti104 has analyzed Baraawa around
late 1800 or early 1900 as having not less than 800 slaves among a
community Guillain105 estimated at about 5,000 people in 1847. The fig-
ures imply an average of one slave to every six people, in other words,
one slave to every family of six members.
Though the contribution to the proselytization process has been
praised with due appreciation, Somali scholars, particularly the learned
elite from the south, shy away at the threshold of discussions surfacing
the theme. But Sakawa Abu, a member of the Tunni community of
Baraawa believes, “Except very few genuine scholars, most of the so-
called Ulama were protecting their own interests, individually and so-
cially.”106 The statement of this Tunni elite and the revelation of slave
ownership by Brichetti surmise a postulation at discrepancy with what
is traditionally preferred about those religious scholars.
In general view, these clerics are portrayed as sagacious and eru-
dite and capable of establishing reputation across the border as promi-
nent crusaders of Islam, great proselytizers in the wider East Africa
region. What often is deliberately downplayed though is their failure to
achieve the same for the abolition of slavery. In their own abode and
among their own community, we have in record neither success nor
even a tangible attempt by these priests to come forward crusading for
the abatement (if not altogether the abolition) of the dehumanization of
disadvantaged people, including women and children under slave sub-
jugation in Baraawa and its environs. And as we shall see later in one
of the next chapters, they might have even been compromised by the
colonialists, from whom they received gifts and other materials, hence
betraying both the cause of Islam and the obligation to the community.
The thriving civilization of Baraawa, therefore, to say the least, did
not emerge only as a result of the immigrant community who arrived
with their different cultures and skills but also by the vast economy
and accumulation garnered at the cost of wagelessly exploited human
resources; men, women and children who were made ‘hanti’ human
property, either through the Ulama’s misinterpretation of the Qur’an to
suit special social interests or through their negligence in denouncing
the unholy practice. The resources and profits realized under heinous
circumstances founded on human exploitation nevertheless played a
remarkable role in thrusting Baraawa into fame as a coastal city-state,
while one cannot exonerate the town-elite, past or present, as direct or
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
indirect beneficiaries of that slave economy. As Sakawa Abu (alias
Abti) emphasizes, “From the so-called Asharaaf to the Amaraani, they
were all slave-herders.”
I may, at this point, opinionate that as long as the Ulama ignored
criticism of the booming slavery business and its religious implications,
the common slave masters remained as devoted followers. The Ulama,
as witnessed from the social life of their day, probably concentrated on
selected areas of Islam, which avoided elite collision with regard to
slave trade and slave exploitation. On the vice versa, then, if extremity
in Sufism has reputed the Ulama, its opposite in slavery certainly re-
mains a living disrepute to them.
The Banaadiri
The Banaadiri people are also called Reer-Xamar and are featured
as being of Arabian descent. They live mainly in the Lower Shabelle
coastal town of Marka and the capital Mogadishu. They are business
people and sartorial skills men, but some of them practice fishing too.
Certain versions of the oral traditions say that, after arriving in Moga-
dishu centuries ago, they opted to change their original tribe names
and affiliated themselves to the Negroid Zenji as “Sheegad”107 clients.
Certain sources of the traditions suggest that the main Banaadiri sub-
groups are Dhabarweyne, Bandhowow, Moorshe, and Iskaashato.
These subgroups consist of a mixture of indigenous and immigrant
communities. The names are not based on strict clan lineage but rather
consist of a combination of communities who formed an alliance under
the toponym Banadir for mutual social purpose and coexistence.108
Some of the Diaspora communities, according to a section of the tradi-
tions, are said to be of Russian origin, others of Persian while another
portion is associated with the Zenj stock representing the indigenous
Negroid Jareer people. Some of the traditions relate that certain groups
of the immigrant Banadiris have originated from Iraq.109
However, there is no reliable evidence to confirm the link or oth-
erwise between these immigrants and their suggested places of origin.
Nor can anyone confirm with certainty their status prior to their arrival
in the Coastal towns of Somalia and their exact motive for abandoning
their home areas. But unlike the Barawaans who acquired a surplus
identity as members of the larger Digil-Mirifle confederation, thus
counted among the Digil sub-groups, the Banaadiri/Reer Hamar stand
The debate over the origin of the Somali people
on their own in the socio-political domain and pledge loyalty to their
own ethnic party. Although they suffer minority status, also related to
their ethnic background as immigrants, they do not suffer from low
status qualities like the Bantu/Jareer or the outcasts. They are eligible
for intermarriage with the Somalis although this does not happen very
often as they keep that social institution endogamous.
According to the traditions, upon the arrival of the Reer Xamar the
local Zenj Negroid, in other words the Jareer autochthons had Moga-
dishu under their hegemony. They have settled the ‘gibil-cad’ light-
skinned Banaadiri of mixed origin across different periods. The So-
malist scholarship is controversial about the leadership of a Jareer
(Swahili-speaking) ruler in Mogadishu. In a way, Chittick’s speculation
of a Swahili-speaking ruler in Mogadishu or Shungwaya and the tradi-
tions by the Banaadiri historians support each other. However, more
about this subject is the concern of the next chapter.
The Banadiri and Barawaans are less aggressive people and peace-
ful by culture. The sedentary social groups with w