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Total population
15-17 million
Regions with significant populations
Horn of Africa, Middle East
 Somalia9.1 million[1]
 Ethiopia4.6 million[2]
 Yemen858,000[citation needed]
 Djibouti350,000[citation needed]
 United Kingdom43,515[4]
 United States35,760[6]
 United Arab Emirates25,000[9]
 Saudi Arabia20,000[9]
Allah-green.svg Islam
Related ethnic groups

Somalis (Somali: [Soomaaliyeed] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), Arabic: الصوماليون‎) are an ethnic group located in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula.[14] The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Ethnic Somalis number around 15-17 million and are principally concentrated in Somalia (more than 9 million[1]), Ethiopia (4.6 million[2]), Yemen (a little under 1 million), northeastern Kenya (900,000[3]), Djibouti (350,000), and an unknown but large number live in parts of the Middle East, North America and Europe.


File:King Ahmed Gurey Mog.jpg
Ahmed Gurey defeated several Ethiopian emperors and embarked on a conquest which brought three-quarters of Ethiopia under the power of the Muslim Sultanate of Adal.[15][16]
History of Somalia
Laas Geel Culture
Kingdom of Punt
Malaoites  · Oponeans
Kingdom of Ifat
Adal Sultanate
Ajuuraan Empire
Gobroon Dynasty
Gerad Dynasty
Sultanate of Hobyo
Dervish State
Italian Somaliland
British Somaliland
Aden Adde Administration
Shermarke Administration
Communist rule
Recent History
Somali maritime history

In antiquity, the ancestors of the Somali people were an important link in the Horn of Africa connecting the region's commerce with the rest of the ancient world. Somali sailors and merchants were the main suppliers of frankincense, myrrh and spices, items which were considered valuable luxuries by the Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans and Babylonians.[17][18]

According to most scholars, the ancient Land of Punt and its inhabitants formed part of the ethnogenesis of the Somali people.[19][20][21][22] The ancient Puntites were a nation of people that had close relations with Pharaonic Egypt during the times of Pharaoh Sahure and Queen Hatshepsut. The pyramidal structures, temples and ancient houses of dressed stone littered around Somalia are said to date from this period.[23]

In the classical era, several ancient city-states such as Opone, Mosyllon and Malao that competed with the Sabaeans, Parthians and Axumites for the wealthy Indo-Greco-Roman trade also flourished in Somalia.[24]

The Citadel of Gondershe, Somalia was an important city in the medieval Ajuuraan Empire.

The birth of Islam on the opposite side of Somalia's Red Sea coast meant that Somali merchants, sailors and expatriates living in the Arabian Peninsula gradually came under the influence of the new religion through their converted Arab Muslim trading partners. With the migration of fleeing Muslim families from the Islamic world to Somalia in the early centuries of Islam and the peaceful conversion of the Somali population by Somali Muslim scholars in the following centuries, the ancient city-states eventually transformed into Islamic Mogadishu, Berbera, Zeila, Barawa and Merca, which were part of the Berberi civilization. The city of Mogadishu came to be known as the City of Islam,[25] and controlled the East African gold trade for several centuries.[26]

Mohamoud Ali Shire, a prominent Somali anti-imperialist leader and the 20th Sultan of the Warsangali Sultanate.

In the Middle Ages, several powerful Somali empires dominated the regional trade including the Ajuuraan State, which excelled in hydraulic engineering and fortress building,[27] the Sultanate of Adal, whose general Ahmed Gurey was the first commander to use cannon warfare on the continent during Adal's conquest of the Ethiopian Empire,[28] and the Gobroon Dynasty, whose military dominance forced governors of the Omani empire north of the city of Lamu to pay tribute to the Somali Sultan Ahmed Yusuf.[29]

In the late 19th century, after the Berlin conference had ended, European empires sailed with their armies to the Horn of Africa. The imperial clouds wavering over Somalia alarmed the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and began one of the longest colonial resistance wars ever. The Dervish State successfully repulsed the British empire four times and forced it to retreat to the coastal region.[30] As a result of its successes against the British, the Dervish State received support from the Ottoman and German empires. The Turks also named Hassan Emir of the Somali nation,[31] and the Germans promised to officially recognize any territories the Dervishes were to acquire.[32] After a quarter of a century of holding the British at bay, the Dervishes were finally defeated in 1920, when Britain for the first time in Africa used airplanes to bomb the Dervish capital of Taleex. As a result of this bombardment, former Dervish territories were turned into a protectorate of Britain. Italy similarly faced the same opposition from Somali Sultans and armies and did not acquire full control of parts of modern Somalia until the Fascist era in late 1927. This occupation lasted till 1941 and was replaced by a British military administration. The Union of the two regions in 1960 formed the Somali Democratic Republic that would actively pursue a Greater Somalia policy of uniting all of the Somali inhabited regions of the Horn of Africa.


Samaale, the oldest common ancestor of several Somali clans, is generally regarded as the source of the ethnonym Somali. The name "Somali" is, in turn, held to be derived from the words soo and maal, which together mean "go and milk"—a reference to the ubiquitous pastoralism of the Somali people.[33] Another plausible etymology proposes that the term Somali is derived from the Arabic for "wealthy" (dhawamaal), again referring to Somali riches in livestock.[34]

An Ancient Chinese document from the 9th century referred to the northern Somali coast—which was then called "Berbera" by Arab geographers in reference to the region's Berber (Cushitic) inhabitants[35]—as Po-pa-li.[36][37] The first clear written reference of the sobriquet Somali, however, dates back to the 15th century. During the wars between the Sultanate of Ifat based at Zeila and the Solomonic Dynasty, the Abyssinian emperor had one of his court officials compose a hymn celebrating a military victory over the Sultan of Ifat's eponymous troops.[38]


A poster showing the Ogaden (also known as Somali Galbeed or "Western Somalia") and the rest of Greater Somalia united as one country.

Somali people in the Horn of Africa are divided among different countries (Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and northeastern Kenya) that were artificially and some might say arbitrarily partitioned by the former imperial powers. Pan-Somalism is an ideology that advocates the unification of all ethnic Somalis once part of Somali empires such as the Ajuuraan Empire, the Adal Sultanate, the Gobroon Dynasty and the Dervish State under one flag and one nation. The Siad Barre regime actively promoted Pan-Somalism, which eventually led to the Ogaden War between Somalia on one side, and Ethiopia, Cuba and the Soviet Union on the other.

Notable Pan-Somalists


Genetic genealogy, although a new tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped pinpoint the possible background of the modern Somalis.


A Somali man in a traditional taqiyah.

According to Y chromosome studies by Sanchez et al. (2005) and Cruciani et al. (2004), the Somalis are paternally closely related to certain Ethiopian groups, particularly Cushitic speakers:[39][40]

"The data suggest that the male Somali population is a branch of the East African population − closely related to the Oromos in Ethiopia and North Kenya − with predominant E3b1 [E1b1b1] cluster lineages that were introduced into the Somali population 4000−5000 years ago, and that the Somali male population has approximately 15% Y chromosomes from Eurasia and approximately 5% from sub-Saharan Africa."[39]

Besides comprising the majority of the Y DNA in Somalis, the E1b1b1a (formerly E3b1a) genetic haplogroup also makes up a significant proportion of the paternal DNA of Ethiopians, Sudanese, Egyptians, Berbers, North African Arabs, as well as many Mediterranean and Balkan Europeans.[40][41] The M78 subclade of E1b1b is found in about 77% of Somali males,[39] which, according to Cruciani et al. (2007), may represent the traces of an ancient migration into the Horn of Africa from Egypt/Libya.[42] After haplogroup E1b1b, the second most frequently occurring Y DNA haplogroup among Somalis is the Eurasian haplogroup T (M70),[43] which is found in slightly more than 10% of Somali males. Haplogroup T, like haplogroup E1b1b, is also typically found among populations of Northeast Africa, North Africa, the Near East and the Mediterranean.[44][45]


According to mtDNA studies by Holden (2005) and Richards et al. (2006), a significant proportion of the maternal lineages of Somalis consists of the M1 haplogroup,[46][47] which is common among Ethiopians and North Africans, particularly Egyptians and Algerians.[48][49] M1 is believed to have originated in Asia,[50] where its parent M clade represents the majority of mtDNA lineages[51] (particularly in India).[52] This haplogroup is also thought to possibly correlate with the Afro-Asiatic language family:[47]

"We analysed mtDNA variation in ~250 persons from Libya, Somalia, and Congo/Zambia, as representatives of the three regions of interest. Our initial results indicate a sharp cline in M1 frequencies that generally does not extend into sub-Saharan Africa. While our North and especially East African samples contained frequencies of M1 over 20%, our sub-Saharan samples consisted almost entirely of the L1 or L2 haplogroups only. In addition, there existed a significant amount of homogeneity within the M1 haplogroup. This sharp cline indicates a history of little admixture between these regions. This could imply a more recent ancestry for M1 in Africa, as older lineages are more diverse and widespread by nature, and may be an indication of a back-migration into Africa from the Middle East."[47]

A Somali schoolgirl.

Another mtDNA study indicates that:

"Somali, as a representative East African population, seem to have experienced a detectable amount of Caucasoid maternal influence... the proportion m of Caucasoid lineages in the Somali is m = 0.46 [46%]... Our results agree with the hypothesis of a maternal influence of Caucasoid lineages in East Africa, although its contribution seems to be higher than previously reported in mtDNA studies."[53]

Overall, these genetic studies conclude that Somalis and their fellow Ethiopian and Eritrean Northeast African populations represent a unique and distinct biological group on the continent:[54][55]

"The most distinct separation is between African and non-African populations. The northeastern-African -- that is, the Ethiopian and Somali -- populations are located centrally between sub-Saharan African and non-African populations... The fact that the Ethiopians and Somalis have a subset of the sub-Saharan African haplotype diversity -- and that the non-African populations have a subset of the diversity present in Ethiopians and Somalis -- makes simple-admixture models less likely; rather, these observations support the hypothesis proposed by other nuclear-genetic studies (Tishkoff et al. 1996a, 1998a, 1998b; Kidd et al. 1998) -- that populations in northeastern Africa may have diverged from those in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa early in the history of modern African populations and that a subset of this northeastern-African population migrated out of Africa and populated the rest of the globe. These conclusions are supported by recent mtDNA analysis (Quintana-Murci et al. 1999)."[55]

HLA antigens

The analysis of HLA antigens has also helped clarify the possible background of the Somali people, as the distribution of haplotype frequencies vary among population groups.[56] According to Mohamoud et al. (2006):[57]

"HLA antigens of the Somali population are not categorised as well as those of other international ethnic groups. We analysed the HLA antigens of 76 unrelated Somalis who lived in the west of England. HLA -A, -B, -C and DRB1 typing was performed by polymerase chain reaction using sequence-specific oligonucleotide probes (PCR-SSOP) at a low-intermediate resolution level. Phenotype frequency, gene frequency and haplotype frequency were used to study the relationship between Somalis and other relevant populations. The antigens with highest frequencies were HLA -A1, A2, and A30; B7, B51 and B39; Cw7, Cw16, Cw17, Cw15 and Cw18; DR 13, DR17, DR8 and DR1. HLA haplotypes with high significance and characteristics of the Somali population are B7-Cw7, B39-Cw12, B51-Cw16, B57-Cw18. The result of HLA class I and class II antigen frequencies show that the Somali population appear more similar to Arab or Caucasoid than to African populations. The results are consistent with hypothesis, supported by cultural and historical evidence, of common origin of the Somali population."[57]


With very few exceptions, Somalis are entirely Muslims, the majority belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shafi`i school of Islamic jurisprudence,[58] although a few are also adherents of the Shia Muslim denomination.[59]

The whitewashed coral stone city of Merca is an ancient Islamic center in Somalia.

Qu'ranic schools (also known as duqsi) remain the basic system of traditional religious instruction in Somalia. They provide Islamic education for children, thereby filling a clear religious and social role in the country. Known as the most stable local, non-formal system of education providing basic religious and moral instruction, their strength rests on community support and their use of locally-made and widely available teaching materials. The Qu'ranic system, which teaches the greatest number of students relative to other educational sub-sectors, is oftentimes the only system accessible to Somalis in nomadic as compared to urban areas. A study from 1993 found, among other things, that "unlike in primary schools where gender disparity is enormous, around 40 per cent of Qur'anic school pupils are girls; but the teaching staff have minimum or no qualification necessary to ensure intellectual development of children." To address these concerns, the Somali government on its own part subsequently established the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs, under which Qur'anic education is now regulated.[60]

In the Somali diaspora, multiple Islamic fundraising events are held every year in cities like Birmingham, London, Toronto and Minneapolis, where Somali scholars and professionals give lectures and answer questions from the audience. The purpose of these events is usually to raise money for new schools or universities in Somalia, to help Somalis that have suffered as a consequence of floods and/or droughts, or to gather funds for the creation of new mosques like the Abuubakar-As-Saddique Mosque, which is currently undergoing construction in the Twin cities.

In addition, the Somali community has produced numerous important Muslim figures over the centuries, many of whom have significantly shaped the course of Islamic learning and practice in the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and well beyond.

Important Islamic figures

Clan and family structure

This 2002 CIA map shows the distribution of the various Somali clans.

The clan groupings of the Somali people are important social units, and clan membership plays a central part in Somali culture and politics. Clans are patrilineal and are often divided into sub-clans, sometimes with many sub-divisions.

Somali society is traditionally ethnically endogamous. So to extend ties of alliance, marriage is often to another ethnic Somali from a different clan. Thus, for example, a recent study observed that in 89 marriages contracted by men of the Dhulbahante clan, 55 (62%) were with women of Dhulbahante sub-clans other than those of their husbands; 30 (33.7%) were with women of surrounding clans of other clan families (Isaaq, 28; Hawiye, 3); and 3 (4.3%) were with women of other clans of the Darod clan family (Majerteen 2, Ogaden 1).[61]

Major Somali clans include:

Geographic distribution

Beach in Djibouti City.

Somalis constitute the largest ethnic group in Somalia, at approximately 85% of the nation's inhabitants.[14] They are traditionally nomads, but since the late 20th century, many have moved to urban areas. While most Somalis can be found in Somalia proper, large numbers also live in Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, the Middle East, South Asia and Europe due to their seafaring tradition.

Civil strife in the early 1990s greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora, as many of the best educated Somalis left for the Middle East, Europe and North America.[62] In Canada, the cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton all harbor Somali populations. Statistics Canada's 2006 census ranks people of Somali descent as the 69th largest ethnic group in Canada.[5]

The Somali-owned Buckeye Market and Halal Meats store on Morse Road in Columbus, Ohio.

While the distribution of Somalis per country in Europe is hard to measure because the Somali community on the continent has grown so quickly in recent years, the official 2001 UK census reported 43,515 Somalis living in the United Kingdom.[4] Somalis in Britain are largely concentrated in the cities of London, Sheffield, Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Leicester, with London alone accounting for roughly 78% of Britain's Somali population.[4] There are also significant Somali communities in Norway: 25,496 (2010);[8] the Netherlands: 19,549 (2008);[7] and Denmark: 16,550 (2008).[11]

In the United States, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Columbus, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, Nashville, Lewiston, Portland, Maine and Cedar Rapids have the largest Somali populations.

Sign on Somali Road in the London Borough of Camden.

An estimated 20,000 Somalis emigrated to the US State of Minnesota some ten years ago. The Twin Cities now have the highest population of Somalis in North America.[63] The city of Minneapolis hosts hundreds of Somali-owned and operated businesses. Colorful stalls inside several shopping malls offer everything from halal meat, to stylish leather shoes, to the latest fashion for men and women, as well as gold jewelry, money transfer or hawala offices, banners advertising the latest Somali films, and video stores fully stocked with nostalgic love songs not found in the mainstream supermarkets, groceries, and boutiques.[64] The number of Somalis has especially surged in the Cedar-Riverside area (in particular, Riverside Plaza) of Minneapolis.

Somalis now comprise one of the largest immigrant communities in the United Arab Emirates. Somali-owned businesses line the streets of Deira, the Dubai city centre,[65] with only Iranians exporting more products from the city at large.[66] Internet cafés, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and import-export businesses are all testimony to the Somalis' entrepreneurial spirit. Star African Air is also one of three Somali-owned airlines which are based in Dubai.[65]

Notable individuals of the diaspora

Born in Mogadishu, supermodel Iman was the first Somali woman to appear on the cover of Vogue in 1979 and to sign a cosmetics contract.


The Somali language is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Its nearest relatives are the Afar and Saho languages.[67] Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages,[68] with academic studies of it dating from before 1900.

Old Somali stone tablet: After Somali had lost its ancient writing script,[69] Somali scholars over the following centuries developed a writing system known as Wadaad's writing to transcribe the language.

The exact number of speakers of Somali is unknown. One source estimates that there are 7.78 million speakers of Somali in Somalia itself and 12.65 million speakers globally.[70]

The Somali language is spoken by ethnic Somalis in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya, and by the Somali diaspora.

Somali dialects are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benaadir and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali. Benaadir (also known as Coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir coast, from Cadaley to south of Merca including Mogadishu, as well as in the immediate hinterland. The coastal dialects have additional phonemes which do not exist in Standard Somali. Maay is principally spoken by the Digil and Mirifle (Rahanweyn) clans in the southern areas of Somalia.

Since Somali had long lost its ancient script,[69] a number of writing systems have been used over the years for transcribing the language. Of these, the Somali alphabet is the most widely-used, and has been the official writing script in Somalia since the government of former President of Somalia Mohamed Siad Barre formally introduced it in October 1972.[71] The script was developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed specifically for the Somali language, and uses all letters of the English Latin alphabet except p, v and z. Besides Ahmed's Latin script, other orthographies that have been used for centuries for writing Somali include the long-established Arabic script and Wadaad's writing. Indigenous writing systems developed in the twentieth century include the Osmanya, Borama and Kaddare scripts, which were invented by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare, respectively.[72]


Culture of Somalia
Pottery  · Textile
Music  · Wood carving
Literature · Mythology
Writing systems · Poetry
Dance  · Dress
Games · Cuisine
Society · History
Islam · Festivals · Institutions
Science and Technology
Maritime · Medicine · Astronomy · Media
Cinema · Coinage
See also
Education · Politics
Symbols · Military
The billao, a horn-hilted traditional Somali shortsword.

The culture of Somalia is an amalgamation of traditions indigenously developed or accumulated over a timeline spanning several millennia of Somali civilization's interaction through cultural diffusion with neighbouring and far away civilizations such as Ethiopia, Yemen, India and Persia.

The textile-making communities in Somalia are a continuation of an ancient textile industry, as is the culture of wood carving, pottery and monumental architecture that dominates Somali interiors and landscapes. The cultural diffusion of Somali commercial enterprise can be detected in its exotic cuisine, which contains Southeast Asian influences. Due to the Somali people's passionate love for and facility with poetry, Somalia has often been referred to by scholars as a "Nation of Poets" and a "Nation of Bards" including, among others, the Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence.[73]

All of these traditions, including festivals, martial arts, dress, literature, sport and games such as Shax, have immensely contributed to the enrichment of Somali heritage.


Somalis have a rich musical heritage centered on traditional Somali folklore. Most Somali songs are pentatonic; that is, they only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or Arabia, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (lahan) and singers ('odka or "voice").[74]

Musicians and bands

Somali singer Aar Maanta performing with his band.
  • Magool (May 2, 1948 - March 19, 2004) – prominent Somali singer considered in Somalia as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.
  • Khadija Qalanjo – popular Somali singer in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • K'naan – award-winning Somali-Canadian hip hop artist.
  • Aar Maanta – UK-based Somali singer, composer, writer and music producer.
  • Ali Feiruz – Somali musician from Djibouti; part of the Radio Hargeisa generation of Somali artists.
  • Hasan Adan Samatar – popular male artist during the 1970s and 80s
  • Maryam Mursal (b. 1950) – famous musician from Somalia; composer and vocalist whose work has been produced by the record label Real World.
  • Mohammed Mooge – Somali artist from the Radio Hargeisa generation.
  • Abdi Sinimo – prominent Somali artist and inventor of the Balwo musical style.
  • Waaberi – Somalia's foremost musical group that toured throughout several countries in Africa and Asia, including Egypt, Sudan and China.
  • Abdullahi Qarshe – Somali musician, poet and playwright known for his innovative styles of music which included a wide variety of musical instruments such as the guitar, piano and oud.


Entrance of a coral stone house in Mogadishu.

Somali art is the artistic culture of the Somali people, both historic and contemporary. These include artistic traditions in pottery, music, architecture, wood carving and other genres. Somali art is characterized by its aniconism, partly as a result of the vestigial influence of the pre-Islamic mythology of the Somalis coupled with their ubiquitous Muslim beliefs. However, there have been cases in the past of artistic depictions representing living creatures such as the golden birds on the Mogadishan canopies, the ancient rock paintings in northern Somalia, and the plant decorations on religious tombs in southern Somalia, but these are considered rare. Instead, intricate patterns and geometric designs, bold colors and monumental architecture were the norm.

Cinema and theatre

Growing out of the Somali people's rich storytelling tradition, the first few feature-length Somali films and cinematic festivals emerged in the early 1960s, immediately after independence. Following the creation of the Somali Film Agency (SFA) regulatory body in 1975, the local film scene began to expand rapidly. In the 1970s and early 1980s, popular musicals known as Riwaayado were the main driving force behind the Somali movie industry. Epic and period films as well as international co-productions followed suit, facilitated by the proliferation of video technology and national television networks. In the 1990s and 2000s, a new wave of more entertainment-oriented movies emerged. Referred to as Somaliwood, this upstart, youth-based cinematic movement has energized the Somali film industry and in the process introduced innovative storylines, marketing strategies and production techniques. The young directors Abdisalam Aato of Olol Films and Abdi Malik Isak are at the forefront of this quiet revolution.[75]



Somali man wearing a macawis sarong.

When not dressed in Westernized clothing such as jeans and t-shirts, Somali men typically wear the macawis, which is a sarong-like garment worn around the waist. On their heads, they often wrap a colorful turban or wear the koofiyad, an embroidered fez.

Due to Somalia's proximity to and close ties with the Arabian Peninsula, many Somali men also wear the jellabiya (jellabiyad in Somali), a long white garment common in the Arab world.


Somali woman in traditional garbasaar and shash.

During regular, day-to-day activities, women usually wear the guntiino, a long stretch of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist. In more formal settings such as weddings or religious celebrations like Eid, women wear the dirac, which is a long, light, diaphanous voile dress made of cotton or polyester that is worn over a full-length half-slip and a brassiere.

Married women tend to sport head-scarves referred to as shash, and also often cover their upper body with a shawl known as garbasaar. Unmarried or young women, however, do not always cover their heads. Traditional Arabian garb such as the jilbab is also commonly worn.


Canjeero, the Somali version of injera, is a staple of Somali cuisine.

Somali cuisine varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of diverse culinary influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal. There are therefore no pork dishes, alcohol is not served, nothing that died on its own is eaten, and no blood is incorporated. Qado or lunch is often elaborate. Varieties of bariis (rice), the most popular probably being basmati, usually serve as the main dish. Spices like cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage are used to aromatize these different rice dishes. Somalis eat dinner as late as 9 pm. During Ramadan, dinner is often served after Tarawih prayers – sometimes as late as 11 pm. Xalwo or halva is a popular confection eaten during special occasions such as Eid celebrations or wedding receptions. It is made from sugar, corn starch, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder and ghee. Peanuts are also sometimes added to enhance texture and flavor.[76] After meals, homes are traditionally perfumed using frankincense (lubaan) or incense (cuunsi), which is prepared inside an incense burner referred to as a dabqaad.


Award-winning author Nuruddin Farah.

Somali scholars have for centuries produced many notable examples of Islamic literature ranging from poetry to Hadith. With the adoption of the Latin alphabet in 1972 to transcribe the Somali language, numerous contemporary Somali authors have also released novels, some of which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. Of these modern writers, Nuruddin Farah is probably the most celebrated. Books such as From a Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements, works which have earned Farah, among other accolades, the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Farah Mohamed Jama Awl is another prominent Somali writer who is perhaps best known for his Dervish era novel, Ignorance is the enemy of love.

Authors and poets


Somalis for centuries have practiced a form of customary law, which they call Xeer. Xeer is a polycentric legal system where there is no monopolistic agent that determines what the law should be or how it should be interpreted.

A guurti (court) is traditionally formed beneath an acacia tree, where judges arbitrate a dispute until both parties are satisfied. This process can sometimes lead to several days' worth of discussions.

The Xeer legal system is assumed to have developed exclusively in the Horn of Africa since approximately the 7th century. There is no evidence that it developed elsewhere or was greatly influenced by any foreign legal system. The fact that Somali legal terminology is practically devoid of loan words from foreign languages suggests that Xeer is truly indigenous.[77]

The Xeer legal system also requires a certain amount of specialization of different functions within the legal framework. Thus, one can find odayal (judges), xeer boggeyaal (jurists), guurtiyaal (detectives), garxajiyaal (attorneys), murkhaatiyal (witnesses) and waranle (police officers) to enforce the law.[78]

Xeer is defined by a few fundamental tenets that are immutable and which closely approximate the principle of jus cogens in international law:[79]

  • Assuring good inter-clan relations by treating women justly, negotiating with "peace emissaries" in good faith, and sparing the lives of socially-protected groups (e.g. children, women, the pious, poets and guests).
  • Family obligations such as the payment of dowry, and sanctions for eloping.
  • Rules pertaining to the management of resources such as the use of pasture land, water, and other natural resources.
  • Providing financial support to married female relatives and newly-weds.
  • Donating livestock and other assets to the poor.



Somali Architecture

Somali architecture is a rich and diverse tradition of engineering and designing involving multiple different construction types, such as stone cities, castles, citadels, fortresses, mosques, temples, aqueducts, lighthouses, towers and tombs. Spanning the ancient, medieval and early modern periods in Somalia, it also includes the fusion of Somalo-Islamic architecture with Western designs in contemporary times.

In ancient Somalia, pyramidical structures known in Somali as taalo were a popular burial style, with hundreds of these drystone monuments scattered around the country today. Houses were built of dressed stone similar to the ones in Ancient Egypt,[23] and there are examples of courtyards and large stone walls, such as the Wargaade Wall, enclosing settlements.

The peaceful introduction of Islam in the early medieval era of Somalia's history brought Islamic architectural influences from Arabia and Persia. This had the effect of stimulating a shift in construction from drystone and other related materials to coral stone, sundried bricks, and the widespread use of limestone in Somali architecture. Many of the new architectural designs such as mosques were built on the ruins of older structures, a practice that would continue over and over again throughout the following centuries.[80]

Somali studies

The scholarly term for research concerning Somalis and Somalia is known as Somali Studies. It consists of several disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, historiography and archaeology. The field draws from old Somali chronicles and oral literature, in addition to written accounts and traditions about Somalis and Somalia from European explorers and neighbouring regions in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Since 1980, prominent Somalist scholars from around the world have gathered annually, either in Somalia or a different country, to hold the International Congress of Somali Studies.

Somalist scholars

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 CIA World Factbook: Somalia, people and Map of the Somalia Ethnic groups (CIA according de Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection). The first gives 15% non-Somalis and the second 6%. Used 90% of current population of Somalia.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia, "Census 2007", first draft, Table 5.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kenya should thank God for its Somali 'troubles'
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 BBC News with figures from the 2001 Census
  5. 5.0 5.1 Statistics Canada - Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada Highlight Tables, 2006 Census
  6. The 2000 USA census
  7. 7.0 7.1 Statistics Netherlands
  8. 8.0 8.1 Population 1st January 2009 and 2010 and changes in 2009, by immigrant category and country background
  9. 9.0 9.1 Somalia's Missing Million: The Somali Diaspora and its Role in Development
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External links

ar:صوماليون bn:সোমালি জাতি bg:Сомалийци cs:Somálci de:Somali (Ethnie) es:Etnia somalí eo:Somaloj fr:Somalis he:סומלים ka:სომალელები la:Somali hu:Szomáliak mk:Сомалијци nl:Somaliërs ja:ソマリ族 pl:Somalijczycy pt:Somalis ru:Сомалийцы sk:Somálčania so:Dadka Soomaaliyeed sh:Somalci fi:Somalit tr:Somaliler uk:Сомалі (народ) zh-yue:索馬利人 zh:索馬里人