THE SOMALIS: THEIR ORIGINS, MIGRATIONS, AND SETTLEMENT
A paucity of written historical evidence forces the student of early Somalia to depend on the findings of archeology, anthropology, historical linguistics, and related disciplines. Such evidence has provided insights that in some cases have refuted conventional explanations of the origins and evolution of the Somali people. For example, where historians once believed that the Somalis originated on the Red Sea's western coast, or perhaps in southern Arabia, it now seems clear that the ancestral homeland of the Somalis, together with affiliated Cushite peoples, was in the highlands of southern Ethiopia, specifically in the lake regions. Similarly, the once-common notion that the migration and settlement of early Mus,lims followers of the Prophet Muhammad on the Somali coast in the early centuries of Islam had a significant impact on the Somalis no longer enjoys much academic support. Scholars now recognize that the Arab factor--except for the Somalis' conversion to Islam--is marginal to understanding the Somali past. Furthermore, conventional wisdom once held that Somali migrations followed a north-to-south route; the reverse of this now appears to be nearer the truth.
Increasingly, evidence places the Somalis within a wide family of peoples called Eastern Cushites by modern linguists and described earlier in some instances as Hamites. From a broader cultural-linguistic perspective, the Cushite family belongs to a vast stock of languages and peoples considered Afro-Asiatic. Afro-Asiatic languages in turn include Cushitic (principally Somali, Oromo, and Afar), the Hausa language of Nigeria, and the Semitic languages of Arabic, Hebrew, and Amharic. Medieval Arabs referred to the Eastern Cushites as the Berberi.
In addition to the Somalis, the Cushites include the largely nomadic Afar (Danakil), who straddle the Great Rift Valley between Ethiopia and Djibouti; the Oromo, who have played such a large role in Ethiopian history and in the 1990s constituted roughly one-half of the Ethiopian population and were also numerous in northern Kenya; the Reendille (Rendilli) of Kenya; and the Aweera (Boni) along the Lamu coast in Kenya. The Somalis belong to a subbranch of the Cushites, the Omo-Tana group, whose languages are almost mutually intelligible. The original home of the Omo-Tana group appears to have been on the Omo and Tana rivers, in an area extending from Lake Turkana in present-day northern Kenya to the Indian Ocean coast.
The Somalis form a subgroup of the Omo-Tana called Sam. Having split from the main stream of Cushite peoples about the first half of the first millennium B.C., the proto-Sam appear to have spread to the grazing plains of northern Kenya, where protoSam communities seem to have followed the Tana River and to have reached the Indian Ocean coast well before the first century A.D. On the coast, the proto-Sam splintered further; one group (the Boni) remained on the Lamu Archipelago, and the other moved northward to populate southern Somalia. There the group's members eventually developed a mixed economy based on farming and animal husbandry, a mode of life still common in southern Somalia. Members of the proto-Sam who came to occupy the Somali Peninsula were known as the so-called Samaale, or Somaal, a clear reference to the mythical father figure of the main Somali clan-families, whose name gave rise to the term Somali.
The Samaale again moved farther north in search of water and pasturelands. They swept into the vast Ogaden (Ogaadeen) plains, reaching the southern shore of the Red Sea by the first century A.D. German scholar Bernd Heine, who wrote in the 1970s on early Somali history, observed that the Samaale had occupied the entire Horn of Africa by approximately 100 A.D.
The most significant enclave was the renowned medieval emporium of Saylac on the Gulf of Aden. In the sixteenth century, Saylac became the principal outlet for trade in coffee, gold, ostrich feathers, civet, and Ethiopian slaves bound for the Middle East, China, and India. Over time Saylac emerged as the center of Muslim culture and learning, famed for its schools and mosques. Eventually it became the capital of the medieval state of Adal, which in the sixteenth century fought off Christian Ethiopian domination of the highlands. Between 1560 and 1660, Ethiopian expeditions repeatedly harried Saylac, which sank into decay. Berbera replaced Saylac as the northern hub of Islamic influence in the Horn of Africa. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Saylac and Berbera had become dependencies of the sharifs of Mocha and in the seventeenth century passed to the Ottoman Turks, who exercised authority over them through locally recruited Somali governors.
The large-scale conversion of the Somalis had to await the arrival in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries of Muslim patriarchs, in particular, the renowned Shaykh Daarood Jabarti and Shaykh Isahaaq, or Isaaq. Daarood married Doombira Dir, the daughter of a local patriarch. Their issue gave rise to the confederacy that forms the largest clan-family (see Glossary) in Somalia, the Daarood. For his part, Shaykh Isaaq founded the numerous Isaaq clan-family in northern Somalia. Along with the clan (see Glossary) system of lineages (see Glossary), the Arabian shaykhs probably introduced into Somalia the patriarchal ethos and patrilineal genealogy typical of Indo-Europeans, and gradually replaced the indigenous Somali social organization, which, like that of many other African societies, may have been matrilineal (see The Segmentary Social Order , ch. 2).
Islam's penetration of the Somali coast, along with the immigration of Arabian elements, inspired a second great population movement reversing the flow of migration from northward to southward. This massive movement, which ultimately took the Somalis to the banks of the Tana River and to the fertile plains of Harear, in Ethiopia, commenced in the thirteenth century and continued to the nineteenth century. At that point, European interlopers appeared on the East African scene, ending Somali migration onto the East African plateau.
Mogadishu and Its Banaadir Hinterlands
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the southern city of Mogadishu became Somalia's most important city. Mogadishu, Merca, and Baraawe, had been major Somali coastal towns in medieval times. Their origins are unknown, but by the fourteenth century travelers were mentioning the three towns more and more as important centers of urban ease and learning. Mogadishu, the largest and most prosperous, dates back at least to the ninth century, when Persian and Arabian immigrants intermingled with Somali elements to produce a distinctive hybrid culture. The meaning of Mogadishu's name is uncertain. Some render it as a Somali version of the Arabic "maqad shah," or "imperial seat of the shah," thus hinting at a Persian role in the city's founding. Others consider it a Somali mispronunciation of the Swahili "mwyu wa" (last northern city), raising the possibility of its being the northernmost of the chain of Swahili city-states on the East African coast. Whatever its origin, Mogadishu was at the zenith of its prosperity when the well-known Arab traveler Ibn Batuta appeared on the Somali coast in 1331. Ibn Batuta describes "Maqdashu" as "an exceedingly large city" with merchants who exported to Egypt and elsewhere the excellent cloth made in the city.
Through commerce, proselytization, and political influence, Mogadishu and other coastal commercial towns influenced the Banaadir hinterlands (the rural areas outlying Mogadishu) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Evidence of that influence was the increasing Islamization of the interior by sufis (Muslim mystics) who emigrated upcountry, where they settled among the nomads, married local women, and brought Islam to temper the random violence of the inhabitants.
By the end of the sixteenth century, the locus of intercommunication shifted upland to the well-watered region between the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers. Evidence of the shift of initiative from the coast to the interior may be found in the rise between 1550 and 1650 of the Ujuuraan (also seen as Ajuuraan) state, which prospered on the lower reaches of the interriverine region under the clan of the Gareen. The considerable power of the Ujuuraan state was not diminished until the Portuguese penetration of the East African coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among Somali towns and cities, only Mogadishu successfully resisted the repeated depredations of the Portuguese.
. In 1854-55 when Lieutenant Richard Burton of the British India navy frequented the northern Somali coast, he found a Somali governor, Haaji Shermaarke Ali Saalih of the Habar Yoonis clan of the Isaaq clan-family, exercising real power over Saylac and adjacent regions. By the time of Burton's arrival, once-mighty Saylac had only a tenuous influence over its environs. The city itself had degenerated into a rubble of mud and wattle huts, its water storage no longer working, its once formidable walls decayed beyond recognition, and its citizenry insulted and oppressed at will by tribesmen who periodically infested the city.
g for the return of Italian rule.
A group having political, economic, or social functions. Formation of the group is based on actual or putative descent through persons of one sex from a common ancestor of the same sex, and therefore called unilineal descent groups (clans or lineages, q.v.), or through persons of both sexes from a common ancestor of either sex (cognatic descent groups--q.v.).
An Oromo term used to refer to a system that groups persons (invariably males) of the same generation (rather than age) into sets. The sets are ordered hierarchically and assigned a range of social, military, political, and ritual rights and responsibilities. Generation-set systems are found in varying forms among the Oromo and other groups, e.g., the Konso and Sidama.
A group whose members are descended through males from a common male ancestor (patrilineage) or through females from a common female ancestor (matrilineage--not reported in Ethiopia). Such descent can in principle be traced. Lineages vary in genealogical depth from the ancestor to living generations; the more extensive ones often are internally segmented.
A principle of land tenure among the Amhara and, with some variations, among the Tigray. Rist rights are land-use rights that any Amhara or Tigray, peasant or noble, can claim by virtue of descent through males and females from the original holder of such rights. Claims must be recognized by the cognatic descent group (q.v.). Once held, such rights cannot be withdrawn except in favor of one who presumably holds a better claim or, in extreme cases, by the emperor.
A segment of a lineage (q.v.) and organized on the same principles.
TRIBAL NATURE OF GULF SOCIETY
Gulf states have not granted citizenship freely for two reasons. First, they are reluctant to share wealth with recent arrivals; second, the tribal nature of gulf society does not admit new members easily. A tribe usually traces its lineage to a particular eponymous ancestor. The standard Arabic reference to tribe is bani fulan, or "the sons [bani] of so-and- so." The Bani al Murrah in Saudi Arabia, for example, trace their line back to a figure named Murrah, who lived some time before the Prophet.
Over a period of 1,500 years, the sons of Murrah, or any other ancient figure, have tended to become numerous, making further distinctions necessary. Accordingly, tribes are divided into clans and then into households (fukhud; sing., fakhd). Households include groups of single families. Together this extended group of families calls itself a tribe. Each tribe has certain characteristics, such as different speech, dress, and customs. But since the 1950s, speech has become less of a distinguishing factor because of the fluidity of gulf society.
The name of a tribe may also reflect some past event. For example, the name Utub--the tribe to which the Al Sabah of Kuwait and the Al Khalifa of Bahrain belong--comes from the Arabic word for wander (atab). In 1744 the tribe "wandered" out of the desert and into the gulf area and became the Utub.
Two of the most important tribal groups in Arabia are the Qahtan and the Adnan, whose roots stem from the belief that tribes in the north of the peninsula were descended from Adnan, one of Ismail's sons, and that tribes in the south were descended from Qahtan, one of Noah's sons. People in the gulf often attribute the structure of tribal alliances to this north-south distinction, and many still classify their tribes as Adnani or Qahtani.
Data as of 1991
Oromo Migrations and Their Impact
In the mid-sixteenth century, its political and military organization already weakened by the Muslim assault, the Christian kingdom began to be pressured on the south and southeast by movements of the Oromo (called Galla by the Amhara). These migrations also affected the Sidama, Muslim pastoralists in the lowlands, and Adal. At this time, the Oromo, settled in far southern Ethiopia, were an egalitarian pastoral people divided into a number of competing segments or groups but sharing a type of age-set system (see Glossary) of social organization called the gada system (see Glossary), which was ideally suited for warfare. Their predilection toward warfare, apparently combined with an expanding population of both people and cattle, led to a long-term predatory expansion at the expense of their neighbors after about 1550. Unlike the highland Christians or on occasion the lowland Muslims, the Oromo were not concerned with establishing an empire or imposing a religious system. In a series of massive but uncoordinated movements during the second half of the sixteenth century, they penetrated much of the southern and northern highlands as well as the lowlands to the east, affecting Christians and Muslims equally.
These migrations also profoundly affected the Oromo. Disunited in the extreme, they attacked and raided each other as readily as neighboring peoples in their quest for new land and pastures. As they moved farther from their homeland and encountered new physical and human environments, entire segments of the Oromo population adapted by changing their mode of economic life, their political and social organization, and their religious adherence. Many mixed with the Amhara (particularly in Shewa), became Christians, and eventually obtained a share in governing the kingdom. In some cases, royal family members came from the union of Amhara and Oromo elements. In other cases, Oromo, without losing their identity, became part of the nobility. But no matter how much they changed, Oromo groups generally retained their language and sense of local identity. So differentiated and dispersed had they become, however, that few foreign observers recognized the Oromo as a distinct people until the twentieth century.
In a more immediate sense, the Oromo migration resulted in a weakening of both Christian and Muslim power and drove a wedge between the two faiths along the eastern edge of the highlands. In the Christian kingdom, Oromo groups infiltrated large areas in the east and south, with large numbers settling in Shewa and adjacent parts of the central highlands. Others penetrated as far north as eastern Tigray. The effect of the Oromo migrations was to leave the Ethiopian state fragmented and much reduced in size, with an alien population in its midst. Thereafter, the Oromo played a major role in the internal dynamics of Ethiopia, both assimilating and being assimilated as they were slowly incorporated into the Christian kingdom. In the south, the Sidama fiercely resisted the Oromo, but, as in the central and northern highlands, they were compelled to yield at least some territory. In the east, the Oromo swept up to and even beyond Harer, dealing a devastating blow to what remained of Adal and contributing in a major way to its decline.
Versions of Inconsistent Traditions ENO PAPER
The oral traditions go that, in the beginning, an Arab immigrant arrived somewhere along the shores of what is located in the northern coastline of Somalia. He was washed away on the shores after experiencing 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, demographically outnumbering the host community. One Sheikh Ismail Jaberti, as he was called, became a symbol of a rare case as an immigrant hero who later became the factor behind the biogenesis as well as genealogical ‘transformation’ of an entire race of black Africans into what Ali Jimale ironically describes as “Arabs with a tan.”4
Douglas Colins 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 Darod, Issak or Ismail Jaberti (some traditions putting as Jaberti Ismail) as individuals who married from the local communities. Later, we find in the lineage construction that all the Somaloid stock, including Digil, Issak, Reewing (Mirifle), Darod, Hawiye and many others have descended from Samaale whose ascendancy is connected to Hiil, then Aqil and then further back 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, whose descendant sub-branches constitute the Marehan, Majerten, Ogaden, Dhulbahante and others. 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 Arabs had arrived. Commenting on one of such writers, specifically Lewis, Christine Choi Ahmed says that the “first and best-known scholar to examine Somali society… almost all his field work was done in the northern Somaliland.”7 Yet Lewis himself acknowledged the paucity of factual substance 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. Although generations of people kept the concept alive through the rehearsal of ‘abtirsi’ the count of the genealogy, few have thought of the nature and origin of names, which sound more Cushitic/African than Semitic/Arabian. Several 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. The occurrence of such divergences and inconsistencies invite the notion that every Somali group has concocted at will a supposed chain of names to represent phoney ancestors of unreal existence.
Some of these traditions narrate about the arrival of an Arab immigrant 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 had been surprised by the good health of his animals followed 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 Arab immigrant removed the cover from the mouth of the well and watered the flock. Though doubtful the tradition is, what is so certain about it is its contradiction with the Somali saying of “wax la yaqaan guurso, wax la yaqaan ha laguu dhalee”, which encourages marriage to someone 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 the girl and later acquired prophethood from God.
The dissimilarity of the two traditions lies in the fact that Moses was watering the two girls’ small ruminants from an existing well 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 are arguments that the oriental anthropologists and historians did not investigate substantively. The tradition also suggests that perhaps no other citizens either knew about this well or used it to water their flocks; or even possibly that Donbirro and her father were the only life existing in the area.
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 persecution as slaves, and some or all those who might have allegedly escaped 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 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 immigrants seeking a safe haven in Somalia.
The historical construction as seen here, needs more corroboration. Obviously, it is not by genuine coincidence that all these foreign Arab immigrants arrived in the Somali peninsula at various dates while at the same time all trace their ‘asal’ origin, across varient routes, to Qureishi tribe or ‘Reer Banu-Hashem’ the offspring of Banu-Hashem. Because we do not have any evidence of Hiil, the descendant of Aqil stepping foot in Somalia, can one be of any hypothesis of whether his descendants Sab and Samale had an earlier plan to settle in separate parts of Somalia i.e. south and north, and transgerminate with the local females a new breed in the name of Somali and later to become the genealogical representatives of Qureish in the northern Horn of Africa? Even if we accept the idea as that, how can we justify an Arab naming his children Sab and Samale, Cushitic names he was unaware they existed?
For the section of the traditions which suggest Jaberti Ismail as the Arab newcomer marrying Dir’s daughter Donbira, we encounter a controversy 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 Ishak and the Darod, as Ioan M. Lewis illustrates.10
More suspicion encompasses the origin of some of the names in the ‘abtirsi’ genealogy, like ‘Kombe’, which can be classified as ethnic Bantu rather than a Semitic Arab name. Whatever the case, it is rather hard to regard credibility to any of these traditions because of their inconsistency and the controversies that make none of them plausible.
Most of the Somali progenitors have their traditions based on imitations of either ancient Arab stories or other Cushitic traditional heroes found on a tree or watering animals from a well. Abdalla Mansur’s11 details on the subject reveal not only the confusion surrounding the topic but they also devaluate the authenticity of Qureishite genealogy of those who deem a high regard for the affiliation of their identity to an Arabite eponym.
This specification being a basis for Somalia’s claim for Arab origin, which some scholars justify was exacted by population pressure from that region of Southern Asia in the proximity of Somalia, coupled with a recent Somali migration from the north Horn to the south of the country, have misled many seasoned scholars by placing northern Somaliland as the point of origin of the Somali race. As Professor Gunther 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 error.”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 Isaaq clan, which is comprised of the Idegalla, Habar-Jecel, Habar-Yoonis, Habar-Awal, and several other sub-groups that stand perceptually firm as the descendants of Sheikh Isxaaq (Issak). According to the traditions and their perceived extrapolation, Sheikh Issak was an Asiatic-Arab from Kerbala in Iraq and stayed in Hadramut in Yemen for some years. He is claimed to have been a close kin of the prophet of Islam, Mohammed bin Abdullah bin Abd-ul-Mutallib, with some of the traditions placing their relationship as cousins.14
Sheikh Issak, just like his other immigrant counterpart Sheikh Jaberti, 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 to uphold a noble pedigree that connects them biogenetically to Mohamed the Prophet as their consanguinal relative. However, Sheikh Issak’s arrival in Somalia falls in a 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 patriarch, 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 anthropologist I.M. Lewis, renowned as ‘authority’ on Somalia, set the date at some time around the 11th century.17
While former Ambassador Hussein Ali Dualeh on the other hand avoids a possible controversy from the complications related to historical dating, Ali S. Muhamad was able to track Sheikh Issak’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 Issak, 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 Issak clan whose ancestor set foot in the Somali peninsula a few centuries later.
Though both immigrants are dubbed with the title Sheikh 20 attested to their names, a title which is earned in more aspects than one, it is the latecomer, Sheikh Issak, that more teaching is attributed into his portfolio. But by analyzing the dates Hersi cited from Muhammad’s article in the Somaliland Journal, if that is anything to go by, Sheikh Issak came to Zaila in 548 AH, having left Baghdad in 498 AH.21 By employing simple differential calculation, we see that Sheikh Issak, though his age at the time of his departure from either Baghdad, Kerbala, Hijaz or any other transit point was not satisfactorily and reliably established, 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, teaching Islam to his in-laws at that age, tolerating painstakingly the effects of gerontology with 16 years of Islamic pedagogy as well as raising young children from his African wife/wives, before setting on another journey to yet another strange territory, the Arussi area.
To increase the confusion, Lewis gives elsewhere in his volume Saints and Somalis (p.14), that a certain Sheikh Ali Sh. Ibrahim who detailed the hagiography of Sh. Isaaq, 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 inconsistencies. The discrepancy is so wide that it suggests Sheikh Issaq’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 average rationale, regardless of how much benefit of doubt considered in its favour. For Sheikh Issak to have begotten children at old age may not be the only point under contention, but more questions remain unanswered for the traditions regarding his eponymy to relate constructively. 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 Issak? How many of them have also married from the local community and how many had come with their Arab wives? Have any of them returned to Arabia ever since, taking some of their offspring and/or wives with them? Which sub-clan/s represents the descendents of Sheikh Issak’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 historiography of the Issak nation of families.
Comparatively, the same investigation is applicable to Sheikh Jaberti as controversy also surrounds the identity of his wife Donbira, the so-called Somali girl married off to him. Some sources narrate that the early people to whom Donbira belonged were Galla 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 is considered, 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 irresolvable. What has caused the disappearance from the scene of the local African people? Why are the Somalis more related to the Boran/Oromo, Baiso and Rendille culturally, physically and linguistically than to the Arabs?
In another extreme but substantiated discordance with early colonial scholarship, current Somalists – Somalis and non-Somalis - provide their argument based on well-elaborated hypothesis regarding the Somali 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. Observing these significant cultural characteristics and linguistic similarities shared with societies settled in various parts of the Eastern Africa region, Schlee asserts 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 origin.”23
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 than coincidental. Nor could those customs and traditions be regarded as an acquisition through minimal acculturation, notwithstanding the Somalis’ deep predilection for Arab pedigree, which in ancient times was used as a qualification for the gain of access to the top seat of rulership.
One of the most critical literatures on the Arab origin and homogeneity of the Somali people, whose contributors mostly consist of contemporary Somali professors and other distinguished scholars, professor of history, Mohamed Mukhtar comments that the Somalis’ claim for Arab origin “remains enigmatic,” arguing, “One would wonder, 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 authorities 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 opening pages that all the Somali clans come from different Arab immigrants who escaped from persecution in Arabia; their port of entry was Mait and that Issak was the last to arrive – a reason why he (Issak) established himself in Mait town on the coast of Somaliland. Dualeh said:
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, Issaq, 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 whatsoever.”27
Dualeh contributes the philosophy that Sheikh Issak, the assumptuous forefather of the Issaq 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 Issak 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
Dualeh’s presentation of the narrative about Issak, like the others, 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 Issak informants, including a woman, none was aware of their supposedly four siblings from the Sudanese mother. Nor did Dualeh explicate the names of Issak’s Sudanese/African firstborn children or whom their present-day descent lineages constitute, and whether they have returned to Sudan ever since Issak’s death. A clarification of the Sudanese woman’s children would have enriched the discussion as an inceptive point for further study. Other oral literatures mention an Abyssinian first wife, but unfortunately Dualeh does not contribute any one of his sources.
In another observation, Dualeh presents Issak 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 (Issak) was [forced] to live at the coastal areas.” (Emphases mine.)
Here Dualeh seems to be negligent of specificity in dealing with the subject. At one point he sounds to present individual immigrants before reproducing the same as nations of clans with each cluster clan moving into the Somali peninsula as a separate group of its own. His argument of the other clans filling the hinterland, thus earmarking high population density and/or population pressure inside Somalia, is better explained by Hersi who wrote about a quarter of a century ago 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 traditions exposes the extent to which the Somali genealogical myth had interplayed with the average social psychology with intent 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 encounter. 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 and, for that matter, make a homogeneous nation who belong to one genealogy (Quraishite Arab), one culture (nomadic pastoralism), one language (Somali) and one religion (Islam).
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 homogeneous…”30. And in Saadia Touval’s words the Somalis are “…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 Nationalism, Touval writes intensely about the composite groups of the Somali nation, without exempting the outcaste 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 ethnocultural homogeneity. Outstanding Somali sociologist, Abdi Kusow, presented some of the most recent radical theories regarding the subtlety of the Somali lineage system. Succinctly, he defines some of the reasons 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 structures.”32 On that narrative, Kusow concludes: [It] assumes that the Somali society is homogeneous on an [abstract] idealized level, but in its everyday reality, consists of different groups with different social values and modes of production. 33 (Emphases added.)
In dehomogenizing the efficaciously traditionalized paradigm of Somali homogeneity, Kusow presents a self-axiomatic case of the outcaste communities such as: Tumaal, Yibir, Midgaan and the Madhiban, who represent a section of the oppressed populace under the homogeneity banner, elucidating, “despite the mythical equality, though, this narrative has been successful in effectively marginalizing and stigmatizing a significant portion of the Somali society as having an unholy origin.”34 In a similar sentiment, however, literary critic, Dr. Ali Jimale Ahmed, approaches the debate with a scholarly concern in his postulate that “These perceptions have contributed to the creation of a Somali that is in Africa, but not of Africa.”35 [Italics original.]
From another perspective, Somali Bantu rights advocator and scholar Omar Eno, clarifies the distinction authoritatively in a grand expression, reiterating that “Somalia is a diverse nation holding together peoples from different cultures, traditions, languages, values and destinies. Somalia should celebrate the cultural differences that exist, which could ultimately be a strength.”36
In the paragraphs above, I have tried to present some of the pervading faculties of thought regarding Somali genealogy and homogeneity and the basis of their contentions. In this norm, the scope of classification within the Jileec group of Somalia varies. So far, our discussion 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 Digil-Mirifle/Sab group
In Somalia, the groups mainly constituting the Digil-Mirifle,38 sub-branches of the Hawiye clan, and groups of the coastal area, though pursuing different cultures and modes of living, find themselves agglutinated erroneously as practicants of the nomadic culture of pastoralism. But the variant cultures, distinguished by settlement, ecology, and language are distinctly separate and stand as entities of their own as practised by their people.
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 language, which, in every sense of the word, enjoys a lingua franca status in southern Somalia - from Middle Shabelle to Lower Juba. Different communities and regions do speak varieties of Af-Maay (Maay language), which are intelligible among the interlocutors employing it as their vehicle of communication.
Unlike their northern brothers, whose loyalty is vested vehemently in the dia-paying (blood-compensation) group or the kinship by lineage, the Reewing (Raxaween) culture puts ‘Arlaada’ the country/the land, at the heart of its integrity. Selected elders lead the political hierarchy and are respected for their wisdom and experience, inconsiderate of their wealth as characterized by the northern nomadic pastoral structure. 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 settled, 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.
The Reewing family of clans count their “abtirsi”42 (patriarchal 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 acsription by birth but equally also by culture,43 lending 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 ideals being some of the distinctions between the Somali communities, the major dimension of extreme genealogical polarity concerns the so-called eponymous ancestor, the father of Sab and Samaale, coupled with 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 and his Qureishite tribe, 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 countries, to have settled in a closely reachable territory where they could be pursued by their enemies,45 as had happened earlier. His assumption tends 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, as had been witnessed in earlier events where missions were sent for the extradition of fugitives who had run away from persecution.
(ii) Lack of “urban centers” in the area: as Islamic culture fostered 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 Arabian in pursuit of comfortable living.
(iii) Absence of “natural harbours” and precarious maritime journeys on violent seas would make a migration to this part of Africa less attractive.
(iv) “The lack of viable economic resources” was another disadvantage towards the persuasion to settle in the area.
These aside, cultural and traditional similarities among the Galla/Boran, Rendille, Baiso and the Somali are so evident that one may draw a perception of contact/relationship which lasted over centuries; similarities unobtainable in that complex nature through borrowing. Arguing against the Somali genesis from Arabian migration, Schlee discredits the theory as one not more than “a massive ideological construct.”46 This ideological construct, which Schlee contested, is not only an image vastly accepted by a majority of the Somali people, but also as we have seen earlier in this chapter, a belief to which the ‘authority’ on the subject have capitulated.
Disproving 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, and that the scholars who researched on Somalia had obviously based their hypothesis on the second migration which was actually a reciprocity of the former south-north movement. Kusow clarifies: Western anthropologists, particularly Cerulli and I.M.Lewis, postulated well-organized and rather elaborate north-south migration routes and trends based on an otherwise highly mythical but ideologically enduring northern Somali oral tradition.47
WHERE THE DIR LIVE ACCORDING TO THE BRITANNIC ENCYLOPEDIA
...chiefly inhabiting the area on both sides of the middle Shabeelle and south-central Somalia; and the Isaaq, who live in the central and western parts of northern Somalia. In addition, there are the Dir, living in the northwestern corner of the country but also dispersed throughout southern Somalia, and the Tunni, occupying the stretch of coast between Marka and Kismaayo. Toward the Kenyan...
translation of the Arabic account on the campaigns of Imam Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Ghazi (popularly known as Gran) as written by the Yemeni jurist, Shihab al-din Ahmad b. Abd al-Qadir b. Salim b. Uthman (also known as Arab Faqih)... it is a welcome addition to the rich corpus of Arabic literary and historical sources relevant to the sixteenth-century Ethiopia and the Horn. It is particularly useful for English-speaking researchers and established scholars who cannot read either the Arabic text or the authoritative French translation prepared by Rene Basset...both Stenhouse and Pankhurst, and the publisher, deserve high commendation, respectively, for producing such a valuable work that represents a major contribution to the history of Ethiopia and the Horn, and for making it available to the wider English-speaking readership and scholarship.
This was, however, far from the end of the story. The Imam was killed in battle on February 21, 1543, whereupon his army almost immediately disintegrated.
I.M Lewis, "The Somali Conquest of Horn of Africa," The Journal of African History, Vol. 1, No. 2. Cambridge University Press, 1960, pàgina 223.
A Pastoral Democracy
IM Lewis - 1999 - books.google.com
... Page 30. List of Maps List of Figures Map 1. Distribution of Somali clan-families
and conti- guous peoples. 9 Map 2. Topographical zones of Northern Somaliland. ...
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