Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Somalis in the UK
Where do they come from?s
Somalia is located on the northeastern seaboard of Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean. The Somali people first settled in Africa around AD1200. Since that time however, they have dispersed throughout the eight countries that make up the Horn of East Africa. The name Somali actually comes from a colloquial phrase that describes their generous nature. Though northern and southern Somalia were untied after they gained their independence from Britain, the majority of the country was ravaged by civil war in 1991, and intermittent clan warfare continued through 1993. The subsequent famine brought the nation to the brink of anarchy. In 1994, UN troops interceded, reestablishing a tentative stability.
Conversely, the Somalians are said to be one of the most unified African people groups in they share a common language, heritage, and faith. Society is extremely patriarchal and is based around the nuclear family. The people consider themselves warriors. Men leave their families to train in effective combat, and in their absence, the women rule their home with a naturally submissive but firm hand.
How do the various clans differ?
There are four distinct clan groupings. The Somaal are predominantly nomadic shepherds, and easily adapt to new and different regions. The Sab are peasant farmers, solid and stable in their permanency. They are a people of deep roots and traditions. The Digil, which include the Dabarre, are commercial farmers. They are the wealthiest of all the tribes. Among the clans, prestige is shown by hospitality. They love to hold feasts and are highly relational, relishing the quality time they spend with family and friends. The chief and his council make decisions concerning business and law.
What do they believe?
Arab tradesman introduced the nation to Islam in the middle of the sixteenth century. Spiritual freedom is limited, however, since the state religion is Islam. The Somali are a mix of Shiafite Islam (80%) and Sufi (a mystic and superstitious branch of Islam). Although the people follow stricter Islamic laws, the women do not wear the traditional coverings. They are overtly influenced by mysticism, often turning to the Wadaad (medicine man or religious leader) for charms and advice. Unfortunately, the sway of folk medicine has brought with it a dependence upon narcotics and the production and use of Khat (an euphoric drug found both in Somalia and the UK) has become rather common. There is a dark cloud over the people. Though there are missionaries who have a heart to reach out to these tribes, there are less than 3000 known Somali believers. They have access to the Bible in their language, but illiteracy is extremely high.
What are their lives like in London?
Because of famine and clan warfare, many Somalians have migrated to the UK. They have retained much of their cultural heritage despite the westernized norms found in cosmopolitan cities like London. The majority of this people group has settled in the London boroughs of Haringey and Hackney. Their society is still based on the nuclear family, and the man is the ruling head of his household. The Somali are a very independent people, and hold fast to their traditions. The women can often be seen wearing the brightly colored cloths that drape over their entire bodies, which, though not black, fits in with the orthodox Muslim standard for modesty. The children have adapted well into the Western culture, while still remaining true to the traditions they were raised under. In some ways, the older generation of women has chosen not to assimilate into this new world, and many are afraid of their western neighbors. On the other hand, ample numbers of men have taken the opportunity to expand their horizons in business and trade. For the most part, however, the Somali remain isolated within their own group, which makes it very difficult to build relationships and share the love of Jesus with them. Pray for people of peace to bridge the gap.