The Somali of Ethiopia
The Somali share a common language, adhere to a single faith, and share a cultural heritage that is an integral part of their nomadic lifestyle. Their name is derived from the words, "so maal," which literally mean, "Go milk a beast for yourself!" To the Somali, this is actually a rough expression of hospitality.
The Somali first appeared in the Horn of Africa around 1200 A.D., and began expanding westward and southward about 150 years later. They converted to Islam around 1550, under the influence of Arab traders that had settled along the cost of present-day Somalia. By 1650, they had moved into Ethiopia.
What are their lives like?
The Somali consider themselves warriors. The men often leave the women in charge of the herds, so that they might train to become more effective fighters. They are a very individualistic people, sharply divided by clans. Fights often occur between the clans, resulting in many deaths.
There are four major Somali clan groups. The two largest are the Somaal and the Sab. The Somaal are primarily nomadic shepherds. The Sab usually settle in communities and live as farmers or craftsmen.
The nomads live in portable huts made of wooden branches covered with grass mats. They are easily collapsible so that they can be loaded on pack animals and moved along with the herds. Their diet includes milk, meat, and wild fruits. The more settled Somali farmers live in permanent, round huts that are six to nine feet high. They have a more varied diet, which includes maize, beans, rice, eggs, poultry, bananas, dates, mangoes, and tea.
Having an abundant supply of food is a status symbol among the clans. Each family periodically holds banquets for their relatives and friends. A family's prestige is determined by the frequency of its feasts, the number of people invited, and the quality and quantity of food served.
Typically, the Somali wear brightly colored cloths draped over their bodies like togas. The men may also wear kilts.
What are their beliefs?
They believe in a supreme male "sky god." They perform rainmaking rituals, abstain from eating pork or fish, and make animal sacrifices. They also have a ritual bonfire at the solar new year. They believe in spirit possession, and in spirits that live in trees, water sources, and on hilltops.
What are their needs?
Access to modern health services is very limited in Ethiopia. Droughts, famines, and wars have created numerous problems. Malnutrition alone has accounted for the death of thousands of Somali since the 1970's.
The activities of missionaries among the Somali have met with little success. There are only 215 known believers among the 2.1 million Somali living in Ethiopia.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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