Friday, May 27, 2011



Segmentary lineage politics

The all-pervasive and highly segmented social formation is an important feature of the Somali culture. In this system of formed segmented and often opposed social units, clan is the most important political unit. Large political units or associations are notoriously unstable, since they depend upon the political context and are usually formed in opposition to others. Despite the highly segmented nature and fluid social situation of the traditional Somali polity, important levels of political grouping could be discerned. Clans belonging to three large families of clans inhabit the Gode zone - Darod, Hawiya and Dir. In anthropological terms, these large groups are described as clan-families. The Somali population in the Horn of Africa is divided into the six large clan families of Darod, Hawiya, Isaq, Dir, Digil and Rahanwein. Since members of these large groups are usually widely distributed across the boundaries of the neighbouring countries in the Horn, an exact association at this level is often symbolic.

Within the clan-family, the most important political unit is the clan. Traditionally, this marks the upper level of political action. In the wake of the downfall of Siad Barre's centralised regime and the following disintegration of the Somali society, the clan emerged as the most stable political unit. The clan and some of the large sub-clans have a nominal head commonly known as suldaan or ugaas.

In our case, the Ogadeni (Darod), Hawiya (an association of Hawiya and Rer Bare) and Dir clans, whose clansmen dominate the affairs of the different districts in the Gode zone, act as independent political entities. Each clan subdivides to constituent lineages whose co-operation or opposition is based on actual or perceived collective interest. Nevertheless, co-operation and solidarity of clansmen could be mobilised when its corporate interest is threatened by an antagonistic group.

Pervasive but often diffuse loyalty to kin groups is strengthened by contractual treaties defining payment and receipt of compensation for homicide and minor damages. These customary ties form the basis for the most stable political unit within the clan, the dia-paying lineages. The strongly bound kinship ties binding kinsmen belonging to closely related dia-paying lineage, is supplemented by a common contractual treaty sanctioning members to pay and receive collectively blood compensation (dia) and minor damages.

The Hawiya and the associated Rer Bare in Kallafo district

The Hawiya and associated Rer Bare in Kallafo wereda are probably the prototype peasant community in the Shabelle Valley on the Ethiopian side of the border. Their social composition is distinct from that of recently settled Somali farming clans which still retain the pervasive kinship-organised political culture. These farming communities in Kallafo district are composed of an association made of two diverse social groups who show distinct physical characteristics. One section of this association, the Rer Bare, have Bantu features similar to those of the minority farming communities in southern Somalia, while the other section are actually sedentarised, and mainly Hawiya groups.

The mixed Hawiya and Rer Bare agricultural groups are segmented like the Somali social clans. Each farming associated mixed segment functions as an independent unit in relation to similar cultivating units and also in opposition to the predominantly powerful pastoral Somali clans. Nevertheless, the unifying forces that claim common ancestors and ties to a fixed territory have not produced any significant intermingling between the mixed Hawiya and Rer Bare groups. The institution of marriage maintains this social distinction, for Somalis do not allow intermarriage with their Bantu allies who have more pronounced African features.

The Hawiya and associated Rer Bare farming groups distinguish themselves into two social categories, known in Somali as bah iyo boqor. This literally translates to "subjects" and "kings". This clear distinction which falls along ethnic lines defines the differentiated hierarchical status of the Somalis (mainly Hawiya) and the Rer Bare division. The latter are classified as “subjects” or “commoners”, while the Somali are acknowledged as “aristocrats” or the “ruling group”. Thus, it is no wonder that many of the ancestors of the Rer Bare belong to the Hawiya “aristocrats”. Another idiom, hair texture, is also commonly used to differentiate between the two associated settled groups. The “noble” Somalis are known as those with the soft hair (jileyc), while their Rer Bare associates are described as those with thick hair (jareer).

The mainly Hawiya and Rer Bare associates are said to be the descendants of two ancestors, namely Badbedan and Kunle. Each of these two associated groups is further sub-divided into three important sections that are further segmented into small lineages. Except two sub-divisions of the Badbedan, Ali Mad and Dagine, who are largely composed of Rer Bare, these mixed settled communities usually consist of a mixture of mainly Hawiya and Rer Bare. Because of internal discord in the past, the Ali Mad and Dagine seem to have formed independent and exclusive Rer Bare groups (see Figure 1). The Bajimal contains a large number of Dir, while Rer Gedow, Rer Ise, and Gasar contain a large number of Hawiya groups, most importantly the Ajuran.

It is important to bear in mind that ethnic labelling in the socially mixed farming communities of Gode zone, and particularly in Kallafo district, is very sensitive. It is also very flexible. The primarily pastoral groups in the zone tend to despise these settled agricultural groups, who themselves despise nomads. Although the Rer Bare generally acknowledge the “aristocratic” status of the Hawiya, they also tend to assert their independence as a separate entity and demand equality with their Somali associates.

Figure 1: The Genealogical Chart of the Hawiya and Associated Rer Bare

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