The Somali of the Horn of Africa speak the Somali language and live primarily in Somalia. Somalis also live in southern Djibouti, eastern Ethiopia, and northeastern Kenya. Animal husbandry (primarily camel herding) is traditionally the major subsistence activity, and the only one in large parts of northern and central Somalia. In the south, nomadic pastoralism is often mixed with rain-fed agriculture. The Somali system of patrilineal descent embraces the whole country in a genealogical grid and claims ultimate descent from the Qurayshitic lineage of the prophet Mohammed. Smaller patrilineal units play an important role in social and political life and feuding and armed conflicts over grazing and water rights are not uncommon.
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Africa --Eastern Africa
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Documents referred to in this section are included in this eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.
The Somali file consists of 32 documents, 10 of which are translations from the original Italian, two from French, and one from German. They cover a time span from the 1600s to about the mid 1980s. The majority of these works concentrate on the nomadic Somali of the Djibouti region of southeastern Ethiopia in what is known (in 1996) as the Somali Democratic Republic, composed of the former protectorate of British Somaliland, the former Italian UN Trusteeship for Somali, and the French territory of the Afars and the Issas. Most of the significant literature on the Somali people has been written by British and Italian authors. The French interest in this region is relatively minor. Among modern writers, I. M. Lewis, a British social anthropologist who did most of his fieldwork in the 1950s, has made important contributions in the theoretical analysis of Somali institutions. His comprehensive works, comprising nine separate documents in this file (see Lewis 1955, 1958, 1959, 1955-1956, 1959, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1962, nos. 1-3, 7, 12, 14, 18, 29, 31), provide an excellent overview of Somali culture and society. In addition to Lewis, Enrico Cerulli's ethnographic works on the Somali comprise another major portion of this file (twelve documents). These are Cerulli 1919-1921, 1923-1925, 1957, 1957, 1959, 1959, 1959, 1959, 1959, 1964, 1964, 1964, nos. 4, 10, and 19-28. Cerulli, one of the foremost Italian experts on the Somali, did most of his fieldwork in the area in the first half of the twentieth century. A summary of some of the the ethnographic topics discussed in his works relate to general ethnography, social and political organization, tribal composition, religion, law, recreational pursuits, astronomy, astrology, and weather lore. In 1995-1996 two additional documents were added to the Somali file. The first of these, Helander 1988, no. 32, is a detailed study of the Hubeer clan of the Ooflaawe region of southern Somalia. The second work, Cassanelli 1982, no. 33, is a historical study dealing with the reconstructive and interpretive analysis of Somali history during the three centuries preceding 1900 -- the pre-colonial period.
For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.
This culture summary is from the article, "Somalis," by Bernhard Helander in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9. 1995. John Middleton and Amal Rassam, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were prepared by John Beierle, August 1996.
AKILS -- elected heads of lineages - - category 613
AQIYAAR -- the decision-making body of a clan -- categories 692, 614
AW (AAW) -- the leader of the young men's groups or BARBAAR -- categories 571, 554
BARBAAR -- a group of young men with a leader called AW ("father") -- categories 571, 554
BEELS -- subdistricts -- category 634
BILIS -- nobles -- category 565
BOON -- commoners -- category 565 (sometimes with 563)
BURJI -- knowledge of individual character and capacity -- category 828
CAQLI -- beliefs about intelligence, reason, knowledge -- category 828
clan-family -- category 619
Dia-paying group -- category 613 (with 675 & 628 for some specific references)
GEED -- medical trees -- categories 278, 824
GILIB -- a subdivision of the RER (probably equivalent to the Dia-paying group -- category 613
GOB -- men whose authority is limited to a subsection of a clan (i.e., a lineage) -- categories 614, 613, 554, 692
legislative council -- category 646
NABADDOON -- clan leaders -- categories 614, 554
patron/client relationships -- between low caste groups and Somali -- categories 564, 571
QUADI (CADI) -- category 692
RER -- groups of families claiming descent from common ancestors -- category 613
SAB -- bondsmen -- category 564
SAMADOON -- lineage leaders -- categories 613, 554
SHARAF -- honor -- category 577
SHEIKH -- categories 622, 792
sultans (UGAAS) -- heads of clans -- categories 643, 614
TARIIQUA religious orders -- category 795
TARIIQUA communities -- category 794
TOL -- the tribe (all gentes claiming descent from some common ancestor); patrilineal clanship -- category 614
tutelage -- categories 429, 602
UGAAS -- see sultans
VAUNT -- category 186
WADAAD -- holy man -- category 792