The Somali of Djibouti
The Somali first appeared in 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. Today, the Issa branch of the Somali represent the largest ethnic group in Djibouti and make up nearly one half of the country's total population. In 1884, the territory was occupied by France and given the name "French Somaliland." It was not until 1979 that independence was regained.
Bordered by Ethiopia and Somalia, Djibouti has been greatly affected by tensions between the two countries. Refugees from both Ethiopia and Somalia have fled to Djibouti since 1975.
What are their lives like?
Date palms are grown on some small plots of irrigated land, and there is a small fishing industry; but these do very little to help the struggling economy. Salt that has been extracted from the sea is Djibouti's only major resource. Almost all consumer goods must be imported. This impoverished nation is dependent on foreign aid for survival.
One-fourth of the Somali in Djibouti have continued living as nomadic shepherds, even though less than 10% of the land is suitable for grazing their cattle, sheep, and goats. Scorching heat, scarcity of water, and a shortage of grazing lands make life difficult for the nomads; however, poverty and an 80% unemployment rate plague those in the cities.
The Somali are usually characterized as being very individualistic; scornful of danger, hunger, or thirst; and constantly involved in blood feuds with other tribes and peoples. They speak the Somali language, although the official language of Djibouti is French.
Nomads generally live in branch-framed, portable huts. They are covered with woven mats or boiled bark that has been pulled into fine strands and plaited. These may be carried from place to place on camels. Quality housing is in short supply in the cities. Only about half of those in cities and 20% of the rural population have access to water. Malnutrition is severe, many have tuberculosis, and malaria is an epidemic.
The basic building block of Somali society is the family. Each man has the right to be married to four women. The divorce rate is high. The mother raises the children, although the father takes part in their religious training. Respect for one's elders and maintaining integrity are strongly emphasized.
What are their beliefs?
Religious experts, or wadaads, are often sought out for blessings, charms, or advice in worldly matters.
What are their needs?
The country's spiritual condition is just as dismal. Less than 2% of the 250,000 Somali in Djibouti are Christians. Only the Truth of the Gospel can set them free from the bondages of sin, sickness, and poverty.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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