Thursday, May 04, 2006

Somali Culture and Customs


H. Warren Modricker

Before we relate some of our experiences regarding the customs and culture of the Somalis people whom we have lived amongst, it would be proper to state two important points. Customs and culture may differ a bit among different tribes from North to South, and from East to West: also, changes take place as time goes on.
Many of the old customs have been dropped as communications and contact with the other peoples of the world are taking place. We will mention some of the old customs first, then present customs.

When we left our home country as “faith missionaries” a very dear friend gave us a diamond ring and said, “You may have this ring and sell it to help you on your way.” We did not succeed in selling it but wrapped it up carefully and put it into our brief case. As we left the ship at Djibouti to go to shore on a small row boat rowed by Somalis the ring was removed and stolen.
Before we had stepped on the shore we discovered that thieving was a common part of the life of the people.

This we found to be true with our house “servants”. Sugar and tea had to be kept under lock and key lest it be stolen. Shortly after we arrived in Aden to work among the Somalis we were given a bottle of odor cologne. One day while we were outside the home the Somali girl who was helping to care for our first child found the bottle and daubed herself with it.
When we entered the house the whole house was fragrant with the beautiful smell. We asked the girl who was beautifully scented with the odor if she had touched the bottle but she denied strongly that she knew anything about it.

One of our first experiences was with our “cook”, a young man about twenty years of ago whose father was a cook for the Royal Air Force. He wanted to learn more English badly as likewise did many other Somalis want to. So we opened a night school in the town about three miles from our home. One night as we all set out to get a taxi to go to the school this young “cook” asked to be excused from night school. He said, “Saab, may I be excused tonight; my father is dying in the hospital, and I want to visit him.”
I doubted very much the truth of his reason for wanting to be excused, but he vigorously affirmed that his father was dying in the hospital. So I excused him from going to school but decided that I would phone the hospital where his father was “dying”. As soon as I reached the telephone I phoned the hospital but was told that there was no one by this father’s name there. Then I called another hospital and received the same answer, “No one here by that name.”
Finally I called the RAF Mess Hall. And asked for my man. A few minutes later my man answered the phone. When he knew who I was he said, “WHAT HAS OMAR DONE?” I asked him to come to see me the following day at 3 P.M. which he agreed to do. Then we proceeded to go to night school to teach our classes. When we returned home we waited for Omar to come to his room. About 10 P.M. he came to the house strutting along with his walking stick.
In those days many Somalis carried a “walking stick” which they usually put across their shoulder and held with their hands at either end. I called Omar to the door and asked him about his father.
He replied, “OH! Saab, he is suffering terribly. He was hit by a big club across the neck but there isn’t any mark there.” Then he continued, “The men like my father very much. They brought him oranges and …. So on.”
I invited Omar into the house to sit down and to tell more about his “dying father”. He came in and as he sat he continued to tell me lie after lie for nearly an hour. I wanted to see what a Somali looked like when telling a lie. He did not know that I had been talking with his father on the phone. At the class of the conversation he asked for 4 rupees (an advance on his pay) to give to the man who was substituting as cook at the RAF for his father.
This substitute had to get another man to substitute for himself while he went to substitute for Omar’s father. (You can see how the mind becomes confused as one lie led to another.) I promised Omar that I would give him my answer the next day in the afternoon. The next afternoon I called Omar in to sit down while I read to him scripture after scripture about “lying lips.”
Finally when our little Bible lesson on LYING was finished, and his father had not arrived as yet, I said to Omar, “Omar, last night I talked with your father on the phone and he is coming right now.” Omar said, “Is that all, Saab?” I replied, “Yes, but don’t go away; your father will be here soon.” Omar excused himself and went to his little servant’s quarter next to the cook house. Then he asked permission to go to town for a few minutes. He was given permission and when he returned he had a tall slender young man with him. Both went into Omar’s room.
A few minutes later Omar’s father came along. He looked like he was on the warpath. He came into the house and Omar joined him. Mrs Modricker, Omar, his father and I sat around the table. His father asked what was the matter. As I explained how Omar had deliberately lied to me, Omar interrupted and said, “I have a right to visit my father dying in the hospital.” I rapped the table with my knuckles and said, “OMAR, YOUR FATHER WAS SNOT DYING IN THE HOSPITAL!” at this his father leapt to his feet swinging at Omar with his stick, and both went round and round the table, the father trying to catch his son and to beat him with his stick.
Dorothy and I dodged the stick as it swung again at the son but without landing on him. Finally the son ran out the door to his cook house (his room) and fled into his room his father hot on his heels. Just as the father reached the entrance of the room the tall slender fellow blocked the doorway so that the father could not enter.
A son will never fight his father or strike him. Omar got his friend to defend him! The father pushed and tasseled without any effect.
In the end he shouted to me saying “Throw his baggage out. Arrest him! Arrest him!” Then he went on his way. We waited for several days before coming to a decision about firing Omar. (It is always best to cool down before making such a decision).
We finally wrote in full in Omar’s Servants’ Work Book, which was issued by the British Government to all house servants, and described in full the reason for Omar’s discharge. We were always sorry for having written in such detail Omar’s discharge. We were always sorry for having written in such detail the matter about his constant lying. We probably should have simply written: Character: Usual, normal. Write us for any further information.
By our writing in detail about his lying we probably ruined all chances for this young man to obtain future work.
However, we have an idea that he himself probably tore that page out of his book!
One thing we did not mention is that Omar had “accepted” Jesus and was bringing fellows to the house to hear about the gospel. And this also, after Omar had lied to me for an hour at the table the night before his father camel tested him by asking him to pray for his “dying” father.
We both got down on our knees and Omar prayed and begged God to heal his father who was “dying” in the hospital. He actually lied not only to me, but to GOD! This was our FIRST experience with Somali employees!

LYING seems to be one of the greatest habits of our Somali people, and it will take much prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to deliver them from a “lying tongue”. BUT, God is ABLE. AMEN!

The Somalis have many fine outstanding qualities. They are a likeable people and very brave. When the Italians were about to bomb us at Aden in 1940, the government advised us to get all our families out of our section of the town (where the oil tanks were located) to the Scottish Mission ten miles away. This left me alone with our Somali cook, a young man about 18 years of age.
I advised him to go across the Gulf of Aden to Br. Som. but he firmly refused to. He said that as long as I would stay he would stay. He would risk his life and stay by me.
And this is what he did! --even when the bombs began to fall. He helped sound the air raid signal and send the warning up the line. The Sheikh of the mosque next door to us came to me and asked what he and his people could do to help me. I advised him to get his people into the mosque whenever the siren was heard.

Another Somali while in America in Connecticut was sitting by the radio while his friend was watching his two children sliding down the little hill onto the frozen pond. As the 2 little boys slid onto the ice the ice gave way and both went down into the ice water 15 feet below.
The father cried out, and the Somali leaped to his feet, ran down to the pond, ran out on the ice, threw his coat off and dove down and got one of the boys. But he lost the hole in the ice when he came up. He banged the ice with his elbows and head and finally cracked a hole in the ice, and laid the boy on the ice.
Then, knowing that he might not find the holes if he went down a second time, he DOVE DOWN and got the second boy and brought him up safely to the surface of the ice. One boy, (the first boy was revived, but the second one died). Yes, the Somalis are very BRAVE!

Their bravery and Courage is seen also in this modern world as they venture out to travel to foreign countries without a cent in their pocket, trusting to land a job and to find some Somali of their own tribe who will help them. And this brings us to the Somali custom of helping other members of their tribe.
It is an unwritten law among the Somalis that if one of their tribe shows up at the home of another member of their tribe, penniless, hungry, and with no place to sleep, the Somali who is better off is obliged to help the one who is destitute.
This is a good custom. Then when the destitute Somali finds work and is established, he in turn will help other needy ones of his tribe. However, this practice has been known to be abused by some.

Next door to us in Aden lived Somali people. Very often at the end of the month when pay day came around we would see Somali ladies carrying beautiful tapestries and colored pillows and mats into the home. The house was being prepared for a “Charity party” (Maqadarad).
Men would come at night and listen to a Somali singer while the women would remain outside and from time to time yodel. The men inside would be sitting around listening to the singer.
Each man would drop his contribution into a vessel, while the women served tea and yodeled. Often a hobble bubble would be brought to these parties for any of the men to take a smoke. Then, after the party was over the poor brother would be given the gift and sent on his way across the Gulf to his country. Somalis are famous for helping their own needy people.
However, this is based as far as we know on tribal relationship being restricted to the person of the same tribe. When the government institutes a “welfare system” this practice will probably continue.

One of the questions asked by the Somalis of westerners is, “Do you smoke?” This was very common years ago, but now since many Somalis have learned this bad habit, it is not heard very mush. However, it is rather understood by Somalis that all “Christians” drink liquor.
Islamic teaching seems to warn Muslims against drinking, and in some countries it is not permitted to sell or buy liquor. Some Somalis tell us that 40% of the Somalis nowadays drink, but this seems to be an exaggeration.
Many of them do chew “jaadt” each afternoon about 4 P.M Groups get together for their “jaadt” party. “Jaadt” is green leaves that tends to whip up the heart and makes the chewer feel that he can conquer the world, but after it wears off it leaves the eater very irritable. It has been said that it also causes sexual impotency if one becomes a regular and heavy chewer.

Islam like Judaism forbids the eating of pig in any form. Somalis are very strong on their stand against all forms of pig. While we were in the United Arab Emirates (1978-1980) laws were passed forbidding the sale of soap that had any form of lard from the fat of pigs.
Also tooth brushes or shaving brushes made from the bristles of pigs were forbidden. It is wise to refrain from serving bacon or ham to any Somali guest at your home.
More over, in order to avoid casing a tumbling block in the pathway of the Somali who works for you, it is best to refrain from eating port in any form while he is around.
Like Paul, said, “If meat causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat as long as the world lasts.”

Muslims in general seem to adhere to the practice of washing their hands after making calls of nature. In fact, this is one of the things that Muslims feel themselves better than non-Muslims, since they are careful to wash their hands after making a call of nature.
Among many Muslims and easterners a tin can with water is used to wash ones self after a movement. Arabs very often scrape themselves with stones. Most people who have not been oriented to the western flush toilets prefer to use the catern squat-system, but even then the squat system toilets have been plugged up with stones in some places.
Arabs and even Somalis have been know to stand on the flush toilet, squat, and relieve themselves! If you happen to have a Somali visiting your home who needs to make a call of nature, there is no offense in giving such a guest some instructions as to how the flush toilets are used. And of course, you will supply them with a hand towel and show them where to wash their hands.

You will think that the Somalis are very much like the Jews in this respect in that they consider the DOG an unclean animal! Although today some Somalis are beginning to see the value of dogs for the protection of their flocks or as watch dogs, most of the Somalis consider dogs unclean.
To be touched by a dog is horrible. And to touch a dog when you have your “holy Book” in your hands is sinful. On the other hand the camel is clean to the Somalis although it is included with the unclean animals in the O.T. This they cannot understand.
Somalis love camels’ milk and camels’ meat. And talking about camels’ milk, it has been known to have medicinal value.
When our Somali help in Aden became sick they asked to have permission to go across the Gulf to Somaliland to get Camels’ milk. They claimed that it would heal them. Of course, we smiled and doubted that camels’ milk could heal them. But when they returned well not one person, but many, we began to believe that it was true.
When Governor Fisher’s wife could not be healed with medicines from Britain, Somali camels’ milk (boiled) was tried. She became well!

On one of the anniversaries of the return of Haile Selassie to Ethiopian it was my privilege to be in Jigjigga where we had established a station for reaching the Somalis of the area with the Gospel. Some of us were invited to the big celebration of the return of the Emperor.
Hundreds of Ethiopians and Somalis were present along with the handful of foreigners.
Tables were laden with rice and meat piled up in great mounds. There were mountains of cooked meat and uncooked meat along side of the mountains of rice. It was quite noticeable that the Somalis did not partake of any of the raw meat but only of the cooked meat.

One thing than the Somalis are now beginning to learn to eat is fish. For many years fish was not eaten by most Somalis, but now that the fisheries have been established, Somalis are being educated to eat this wonderful dish. They are also exporting fish to foreign countries today!
But another thing that Somalis as a whole have been slow to eat is vegetables.
Some years ago when we asked our Somali boys why they didn’t eat vegetables their reply was, “We give them to our goats and we drink the milk.” However, today the modern Somali, or should we call them, the new Somali, is learning the value of vegetables and are eating them. Nevertheless, most of the Somalis have a diet of camels’ milk, goat meat or sheep meat, or camels’ meat, and rice or spaghetti. They also eat a porridge called “badar, galley, or, meseggo.
Tail fat of sheep is a favorite drink also for Somalis. In addition to the above the Somalis like to fry the fatty tail of sheep until it is well browned and eat it. They call this fat “baruur.”
In fact, it is interesting to know that “baruur” is used in a Somali proverb like the “apple” is used in the English language. We say, “One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” They say, “Baruur keliya baruur oo dhan qudhmisa.”

Being Muslim in religion the Somali women are usually well covered and look with disgust upon the scantily dressed westerner. They usually wear skirts that come down to the ankle, a gown that hangs from the shoulders to their knees. The style of dress is a bit different as one travels from the north to the southern part of Somalia, but in all cases the body is well covered.
However, the Somali women do not veil as a rule unless they marry Arabs. Today, in Nairobi, Somali women can be seen (a few) who are adopting a new darkish colored head covering that drops down over the shoulders. They consider that this is a indication of “holiness”. But most Somali women wear a cloth over their heads of various colors. The men today are adopting the western style of suit and trousers.
Although in the interior Somalis still wear the “skirt” with a sheet thrown over the shoulder, or a shirt with shirt tail worn outside. Some wear a little cap on the head or even a turban. However, many women who are business women or work for office have adopted the western style of dress, even slacks!

A word to the wise. It has been advisable for our missionary ladies to be very careful in their dress when living especially in the “bush” where white women have not been seen very much or at all. It is strongly recommended that our ladies wear long dresses something like a maxi down to the feet. Also, it is in line with the custom of the Somali women that our women wear a kerchief on their heads; otherwise, they may be thought to be prostitutes. That is because prostitutes leave their hair uncovered and usually adopt western dress to attract men into their brothels.
It seems that the women folk are called upon to make the greater surrender on the mission field in this regard than the men folk, but God blesses and uses those women in a wonderful way.

One of the expressions that is heard very often is, “If God wills”, or, “If God says it”. When we would tell our cook to bring an anna of charcoal when he comes in the morning, he would invariably reply, “If God wills.” In Somalis, “Haddii Ilaah yidhaahdo.” Or, “Haddii Ilaah idmo.” No matter what was involved, i.e. “I will see you tomorrow” or, “I will do it tomorrow”, etc. it was always concluded with, “If God wills.” This is really much like it says in the Book of James where it mentions the need of saying, “If God wills.”
But sometimes it seems as if the thought in the mind of the Somali or Muslim is, if God “makes” me to do it, and it seems to be used for an excuse for not intending to do the thing mentioned.

Some Somalis of the unlearned type are very particular that the hands of the “infidel” do not touch their Koran. When we asked to see a fellow’s Koran he drew it away to his other side refusing us to touch it. They would never think of carrying their Koran into the toilet, or placing it on the floor, or placing something else on top of it.
I happened to put my Bible on top of my English translation of the Koran when I was confronted by a group of about twenty-five leaders of Bulo Burti regarding our teaching the boys the Bible in our boys’ school.
I had planned to watch out that this would not happen but it did, and immediately one of the more fanatical Somalis exclaimed, “Look, he put his Book on top of the Koran!” Moslems have a deep reverence for their Koran, and it behooves the missionary to carry his Bible in the most respectful way. Another thing we have observed is that Muslims never make any underscoring or writing in the “holy” book.

Somalis, like other Muslims, believe that everything written down by God before the world was created. Therefore nothing can happen except that which was “written down” beforehand, before the world was created. This is called by us, Fatalism.
Maybe a few examples of this warped view of predestination will help to make clear how the Muslim thinks. Personal responsibility seems to be lacking in Islamic predestination.
When a Somali university student in Addis Ababa received his examination paper back, and discovered he had flunked the exam he went up to his professor who was a Christian, threw his exam paper down on the desk of the professor with anger and said, “You flunked me because you don’t like me.” The Christian professor answered, “No. I grade everyone according to what he knows.” The student replied, “No. You don’t like me and for that reason you flunked me.”
Then the professor remembered some points about Islam that he had learnt, and said, “You believe that God wrote down everything before it would happen, don’t you?” The student answered, “Yes.” “Well,” said the professor, “You see, God wrote down that you would be flunked, so I couldn’t do anything else.” The student agreed and then said, “But, you can let me take the exam again.” Then the professor said, “No, no. I can’t do that either.” The student replied, “Yes, you can.” The professor replied, “No. I can’t. You see that was also written down that I would not let you take the exam over again.” The student answered, “Yes, that’s right. Thank you.” And he walked away satisfied.

One day Mrs. Modricker was standing on the upstairs verandah with our Somali cook who was very strong on Islamic predestination. He use to say that if a car was coming down the street in front of you that it could not hit you if God had decreed that it couldn’t. Our Somali girl who cared for our child was about to cross the main street with our little child in a pram. She did not see the car coming, and the cook shouted at her to watch out! Mrs. Modricker said to the cook, “Why are you shouting? It can’t hit her unless God has said it would?” That may be a crude illustration, but one can see the fallacy of such a warped view of predestination.

Most every country has its own way of shaking hands. However, today it is becoming very customary to shake hands as westerners do. Nevertheless the recognized Somali handshake for men is for each to take the other’s right hand, and grip it rather hard and then take the thumb of each other’s right hand, then the hand and then the thumb. This is done two or three times. Then to finalize the shake the right hand is placed over the person’s own heart. The women often use this type of handshake, and although the western hand shake is being adopted one must be prepared to use the unique Somali handshake.

The Muslim manner of prayer is adhered to by the Somalis who are Muslims. Their various positions of standing, kneeling, and facing Mecca can be obtained from books on Islam. Suffice it to say here that Muslims never close their eyes but simply look toward Mecca.
I would suggest that when praying before a strictly Muslim congregation whether it be at a public celebration or in a Muslim home or yard, etc., that the missionary lift his eyes to heaven and pray with his eyes open and with outstretched hands.
However, after they become Christians it would be in order for them to be taught to pray with their eyes closed. In fact, we always start them off praying with their eyes closed from the time they kneel to accept the Lord.
Regarding the closing of the eyes during prayer, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates “the shut eyes” while praying. It does say, “Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven and said….. “ Nevertheless, in order to keep one’s mind from thinking about the things he is looking at while praying it seems best to pray with closed eyes.
And a further word about prayer might be wise just now. Muslims pray with their caps or turbans on; they do not remove their headdress, but they do remove their shoes or sandals, and of course they wash their feet and hands up to their elbows, and their face prior to praying.
The Somali word for washing before prayer is “WEYSO”. The expression: “Wuu weyseysanayaa” means, “He’s washing himself prior to saying his prayers.” Incidentally, this can be elaborated on in dealing with Somalis showing them the O.T. teaching of the washing by the priests at the laver before entering the Holy Place.
Water baptism can be used as an example. But all this should lead up to the INTERNAL washing that God now provides and demands, through the blood of the Lamb of God, as one comes before God in prayer.

We have learned that it is considered offensive for anyone to take a “smell” of food or milk or anything that is to be eaten. Apparently, the Somali considers this as “breathing” on the food. For example, when a Somali comes to your home and you serve him tea, if you were not sure if the milk is sour or not, and you should take a smell of it to make sure that it is alright this would be offensive to the Somali.

One of our Somali believers was very hungry one day and came to the missionaries’ home. They proceeded to give him some of the food that had been left over. We don’t know whether he thought it had been left over from the plate of the missionaries, or whether it was the balance of the food left over in the kitchen.
When he was talk that it was food that was “left over” he was deeply offended and became very indignant and refused it. Maybe we should have omitted the word “left over food”, since that might have been decoded by him as food left over on the plates of the people.

The Somali custom is for the men to be served by the wife, and then what ever is left over in the cookhouse goes to the wife. I was visiting the district commissioner and stayed overnight in his home. When the meals were served he and his sons joined me but his wife did not come to the table. But even this custom is changing now to our western style.

One of the things that a new-comer quickly learns is that the Somalis are master psychologists in reading your character. In fact, it seems that the first thing the Somali does when meeting a person is to give him a psychoanalysis; he reads the person’s character.
And in this connection the Somali is a master at INGRATIATING himself upon the other person.
He readily understands what will please his employer to hear and he agrees with what ever he knows will give him a better standing with his boss.
To use a poor illustration for example, if the employer is dissatisfied with a certain worker, national or westerner, and wishes to discredit that person, the Somali quickly sense this feeling and go along with his employer in agreeing that person is undesirable, whether the criticism be honest or not.
If an employer wants the Somali to agree with him that the other person and his work is unsatisfactory, the Somalis will agree in order to build his own position stronger with his employer. But we might say that this is not restricted to the Somali people; it is also found among westerners too though not in such a great extent.
The missionary must not let himself fall into this trap of deceptiveness.

We had learned the five pillars of Islam while we more in missionary training in our home country, but it was not until we arrived on the field that we really found out how those five pillars operated. When the time of Ramadan came around, we were faced with all our hired help abstaining from all food and drinks during the hours from sunrise to sunset regardless of how hot the season might be.
Our young cook would not swallow his saliva but spit all the time. In night school the students would go to the window and expectorate. We finally supplied the classrooms with kerosene cans filled with sand a sort of “Islamic sputum”.
Then too, because of the lack of sleep during the nights of Ramadan, and the lack of food during working hours it was not uncommon to see our hired helpers stretched out on the floor or on the ground sleeping. Some Muslim Governments are now legalising the reduction of working hours, but not any reduction of wages for Ramadan.
At sunset during Ramadan the “fast” is broken and people begin to eat and “come alive”.
Tea Shops open and in some the Koran is read all night aloud. The womenfolk busy themselves preparing the BIG MEAL that is eaten between 2 and 3 A.M. In order to make sure that those who have gone to rest do not miss their FEAST, a drummer travels thru the streets pounding empty kerosene can. This FEAST is called, Suhhur, or Shuhhur, and is the last meal or food that is touched until sunset 13 hours later, more or less.
This is a very difficult month for most people. And of course, it is a big strain on the nerves of everyone. Many become very irritable, and most missionary workers in strictly Muslim lands try to arrange their annual holiday during this period if possible.

Years ago it was not considered necessary to educate the girls, but today it has become an established institution and the girls are educated along with the boys. Classes are held with both sexes in them.
This practice seemed to be started while the Italian Trusteeship was preparing the Somalis for independence between 1950 to 1960. In one class that we visited in those old days (a class on mechanical drawing and architecture) there were three young ladies at drafts boards along side the male students.
The Somalis today have not objection against the women folk being mixed with the men. Dramas, plays etc., are carried on even as they are carried on in the western countries. Indeed, there have been weddings performed that resemble our western type of marriages in that both the Bridegroom and the Bride are TOGETHER for the ceremony.
Since the “Glorious evolution” the Government has given the women equal status as the men especially in regard to inheritance. This created a great commotion among the priesthood who claimed that the women were not equal with the men.
The result was that some priests and a few sheikhs were arrested and shot dead in public! And today mosques are being built for WOMEN to worship in. Hitherto men only attended mosques.
Thus, as time goes on the Somalis especially in the towns are departing from old customs and adopting new ones that appear to be more up to date and balanced. Many eat together now, attend classes together, and accompany their husbands in certain instances in political trips.

In the “Bush” old Somali customs seem to hang on. Men milk the camels, women milk the goats. Women erect and dismantle the little huts and pack them onto the camels. Men usually lead the camels while the women follow on in the rear. And the leads us to another very strong custom that is now beginning to disappear a little.

It has been the practice among Somalis to try to protect their women’s’ virginity by the following practice. I will relate how a Somali Christian described the act to us. When the girl is very young several “outcast” women are called to “operate” on the child. A slice of flesh is cut out of the labial or lips of the female organs and cast away.
Then about five long thorns are pushed through the flesh from one side to the other until the entire labial area is tightly closed. These thorns are inserted into the labials in a crisscrossed fashion leaving a little area free for urination. Then the knees of the child are tied with a rope and the “patient” is left in a little hut for about a month while the healing of the labial section takes place. A little hole is made in the hut for calls of nature.
After the month is over the rope is untied and the “patient” is free to go about.
Then when the girl becomes married, “outcast” women are called and they use razor blade to slice her open. Of course there is much pain. That night her husband has relationship with his wife for two reasons. One, in order to prevent the two sides from healing together, and secondly, to prove that he is a man.”
Some of the young ladies who came to the hospital in Al Ain, in the U.A.E. to deliver their babies by the help of the western nurses had been so mutilated that it was difficult to deliver their babies by the help of the western nurses had been so mutilated that it was difficult to deliver their babies.
Again, newly-weds were beginning to come to the hospital with the husbands requesting that the doctor would “cut open” their new brides. Somalis are resorting more and more to highly trained doctors today to perform this “operation.”
Moreover, the custom of “cutting and thorn-stitching” Somali girls is beginning to disappear especially in the cities. But we are told that it is not disappearing very fast outside the towns. About 40 years or so ago, a Somali who had been in U.S.A. for ten years or so returned to Aden. One night as I was walking with him thru the village I remarked, “Why do the Somalia out open their girls and stitch them?” He immediately became upset and said, “If you try to stop this the Somalis will kill you!”
He was fully in favor of the custom even the he had spent many years in U.S.A. But today, some 40 years later, we are seeing this custom slowly disappearing. Praise the Lord.

One day a Somali friend came to us very sad and disturbed. When he was asked the reason why he was sad he said, “My uncle who is a business man was traveling from Mogadishu to Hargeisa. He had never left Mogadishu before to go to Hargeisa. When the truck on which he was traveling was half way to Hargeisa a lot of men came out of the bush and stopped the truck and commanded all the passengers to get of the truck.
Then they looked for a man who was of the same tribe of the man who had killed one of their own tribe. It so happened that my uncle was of the tribe of the murderer.
And although he had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder, he was shot dead by the members of the other tribe.” Some of the young people playing volley ball would sometimes get a scratch that would bleed a little. They would then point to the blood and ask for money. Fortunately they were not very serious about it.
Along this line it is wise for hospitals to use precautions and to get agreements from patients or relatives of patients, in order to protect the hospital form being “sued” in case the patient should die.

When we hired help for the house we discovered that many dishes were broken while being washed or dried.
We tried to teach these “new” workers how to hold the dishes, but invariably they would let another dish fall and be broken. Of course, they always replied that they didn’t break the dish but that the dish fell itself and broke itself. Dishes continued to be broken until we applied a small fee for the breakage of each dish.
Then it was noticeable that fewer dishes were broken. Of course, we tried to cover the “fine” by giving them something (not money) later. However, to touch the money or pay of a person is very dangerous and probably, on a big scale, not encouraged. Money withheld from a person can result in the death of the one who holds it back. One Sunday morning a big crowd was gathered around our neighbor’s house.
The man of the house who worked for the government had been holding back the pay of an old messenger boy of the government. Naturally it was taking time to get his pay processed since it concerned leaving pay etc.
When this old messenger “boy” was put off time after time, he finally came into the government office with a dagger and killed the government worker. One of the professing believers went into a rage in the mission office when money to which he was not really entitled was being withheld.
He became so enraged and furious that it was advisable to give him the money even though he had no right to it.

Drinking tea by unmarried girls in the northern area use to be barred. In the southern area this custom as far as we could learn was not observed, and it seems to be disappearing from the northern area now.

Eating eggs. Another custom that use to be observed by unmarried girls in the north was the non-eating of eggs. Somali girls have been known to vomit when told that they had just eaten eggs from which cakes or ice-cream were made!
No reason was ever learned for this custom.
Squatting while drinking water. Somali men use to insist that anyone who was in the process of drinking water should SQUAT while drinking. However this custom is never seen these days.

Haircuts. Somalis in the olden days use to think that if they had their hair cut like the westerners that this was a sign that they had become Christians. A real haircut for the Somalis, in the old days, was to have all the hair shaved off the head thus making their heads nice and shinny like a billiard ball! We had a young Somali man who became a believer helping us.
We invited him to a party one night and suggested that he get all dressed up. When he came to the party he had his head completely shaved. This to him was a part of “getting all dressed up”.

There are other customs that have passed away during these recent years. As the world has become smaller and smaller, and as Somalis have traveled to the west they have dropped many old customs and adopted new ones.
One of the unfortunate customs adopted is that of smoking and drinking. These two practices were hardly heard of among Somalis, but today it is reported that 40% of the Somali men drink, and many smoke.

Leaving one’s sandals at the doorway of a house that is being visited is a very common practice. If one of the sandals is taken off and left upside down it is considered a bad sign. Thus, one should make sure that ones sandals are both left upright and not upside down.

While we were in the United Arab Emirates we found that the Muslims in the Emirates considered it a broach of etiquette if a man would sit with his knees crossed. Therefore we made a special effort to make sure that our knees crossed. Therefore we made a special effort to make sure that our knees were not crossed while sitting with the Arabs.
We have not noticed a custom like this among the Somalis but it is possible that some of them may observe this custom.

The Somalis seem to consider it an offense to sit with the sole of the foot pointing toward anyone. Thus, it is wise to sit with the both feet on the ground or floor.

Very often gifts are brought to the missionary by the nationals. However, in our experience the person offering the gift would return a few days later asking for a special favor. Another point about gifts is that when a gift is given to the Somali (a gift that is wrapped up in paper etc.), the gift is not opened right then on the spot. The Somali will not open such gifts until the giver has left him.
One of our missionaries wrapped up a number of Somali new Testaments and presented them as gifts as she was about to leave on furlough.
This was one way by which she managed to get the Word of God to them. And it is not uncommon to give gifts when leaving and even when returning.

One of the things that amused us a great deal upon our arrival in Djibouti in 1933 was to see men walking along the street with a stick in their mouth. Then we observed that they would take this small stick measuring about 4 to 6 inches long, and rub their teeth with the end that had been softened a little in their mouths.
They were “brushing” their teeth.
This seems to be a constant practice throughout the day, and their teeth are usually clean and white. The name of this stick or branch is “Rumay-ga” or, “Cadah”. When we tried using the “Somali tooth brush” we began to lose fillings!

Generally speaking the Somalis are moral people and clean. Fornication is reduced by having the unmarried girls sewed up when young thus making it very difficult for relationship. However, men will carry on with prostitutes and think nothing of it. It does not seem to carry any shame to visit prostitutes.
When we were interpreting for the doctor in Al Ain (UAE) several Somali young men came for medical help. The doctor asked, “Do you masturbate yourself?” One of the Somalis immediately replied that according to their religion is was unlawful to masturbate oneself.
Then he laughed and replied, “We go and get a girl.” You can see the fallacy in their thinking. It was wrong to masturbate oneself; it was lawful and right to deflower a girl.
In this particular case it would have been an Indian girl who would be the victim.
Somalis are known to be very clean. We have known our Somali helpers to stand under the shower many times during the day and for long periods!

They are very careful about keeping their clothes washed and clean. In fact, Somalis value nice clothes, valuable clothes, and would prefer to die of hunger than to be lacking in nice clothes! In Aden it was not uncommon to hear the Somalis make remarks about the “dirty Ethiopians.”
Some of our missionaries have said that the cleanest teashops in Ethiopia were the Somali ones.
Nevertheless, when we made a trip deep into Ethiopia we stopped at a Somali teashop and it proved to be a very dirty shop, but this was the exception to the rule. One would pray that a people who go to great effort to keep a good clean outward appearance would become more concerned about keeping, or finding, the beauty of holiness for the inward man. Amen!

In every nation avarice can be observed. However, in the Somali northeast Horn this unlovely expression is seen at its height. As I walked through the pathways to the government offices morning after morning in Hargeisa, nearly everyone I met, man, woman, and child, were greeted by me. I greeted them with, “Ma Nababa ba?” Invariably the reply would be, “Lacag is sii.” (Give me money).
Wherever one would go, it was the same answer, “Give me money.” However, it must be remembered that Somalis in the N.E. Horn are very, very poor, and this may account for the universal cry by the Somalis, “Give me money”. The book entitled, The Tree of Poverty, written by a British woman, helps one to understand the calamity of the Somalis.

In 1978 to 1980 Dorothy and I had a new experience. We met hundreds of Somalis who had gone to the United Arab Emirates. Most of them had found good paying jobs and were making salaries that were staggering to the mind!
What was our surprise when Somalis came to us, offered us rides in taxis, took us to the market, bought food and vegetables for us, brought all kind of gifts to us (without expecting anything in return).
They even paid the round trip air fare for one of us when we went for our month’s holiday to see our daughter in Pakistan, a cost of nearly $500.00!
How we praise God that he permitted us to see this beautiful, generous expression exhibited by our dear Somali people! It would have been tragic if we had not returned to the Somalis during these last final years of our missionary service to the Somalis.
When the Somalis HAVE the wherewithal they are generous in sharing it, even more generous than a great many affluent people of the western world.

This unlovely “thorn” has invaded the hearts of all men, some more than others. It has been remarked by many foreigners that the Somalis have inherited this characteristic to a high degree.
We found that it was considered by most Somalis a disgrace for them to sweep the house, or to carry a grocery basket through the streets to the market, or to wash clothes, or to shine the shoes that are on the feet of a woman.
To do agricultural work is not their most loved occupation. However, to dirty their hands in automobile mechanics is relished by them!
The Hawiya tribe differ along this line. In Aden during the colonial days it was the Hawiya who were the sweepers, who came into the homes and swept them clean from one end to the other.
It was the Hawiya who emptied the toilet buckets etc. Thus, the other Somalis sort of disowned them as “Somalis”!
In Djibouti the Somalis located there would come and do the washing of clothes and in the agricultural belts of the north and south, Somalis have earned the value of farming. At this writing in 1980 the culture of the Somali is fast changing in regard to the eating of fish.
In fact, the Russians introduced tuna fish factories, and today tuna fish is shipped abroad as canned goods. Famines that have swept the N.E. Horn in recent years have forced the government to seek other means of livelihood for the nomadic people, and farms and fisheries have been increased.

Religiously there can be found among the Somalis those are very fanatical and who believe that Koran gives them permission to kill anyone who propagates any other religion other than “the true religion of God”, that is, Islam.
This was true in the case of Merlin Grove who was stabbed to death in his office while registering children for his mission’s school. It was true with Dr. Doug. Hill who was also stabbed to death as he stepped from his mobile clinic car in a remote part of the Ogaden are just a few years ago.
Converts, especially witnessing converts, find it very difficult to exist and to find employment among their people unless they recant or at least stop witnessing or refrain from taking any part in the activities of the Christian services.
This raises a problem for the missionaries who in turn feel their responsibility in keeping the convert from starving. And in turn, when others learn that the “mission” is feeding, hosing and clothing the convert, others feign themselves to become believers, and add to the “hand-out.”
Much prayer is required, and guidance, in regard to “hand-outs.”
Our principle from the beginning has been have anyone receiving “hand-outs” to do a little work for what they receive. But there is even a saturation point in finding something for the recipients to do. It is reported that every time a certain missionary returns to his station all “his converts” show up form “nowhere” and receive “their hand-out.”
After their “hand-out missionary” leaves town, the “converts” disappear and never show themselves up at the station for Bible teaching. It behooves us to lay a solid foundation and teach “hand-outers” to work for their “hand-out” and to attend Bible classes regularly.

In Islamic law the wife does not have very much to say when it comes to divorce. If the husband is not satisfied with ay of his 4 wives, all he needs to say is, “I divorce you” three times, and the wife is automatically divorced. The Muslim judge grants the divorce and she is let go.
The husband is allowed to have 4 wives at a time.

The Somalis are highly opinionated and this is seen in a very exaggerated form when it comes to their religious opinions. Thus the task of reaching them for Christ is greatly increased.
Even in discussing the language and vocabulary of Somali with a group or class of Somalis, each one will strongly stand up for what he feel is the correct word or translation for the English word.
Years ago when the British were trying to get the Somali language written in the former British Colony, a British language expert was called from Nigeria by the government. A group of Somalis gathered to discuss the kind of alphabet to be use for writing Somali.
The Englishman was for the Latin script but the Somalis were for another script, probably the Arabic. The result was that a hot argument took place, and it is said that the British officer was cut in the back of the head, police were called and a Somali was shot.
I do not recall that the Somali died, but the fact is that opinions ran high! Now, all this shows that the Somali thinks for himself, and this is a good characteristic especially if it becomes sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

It has been a difficult for lady missionaries to supervise Somali household “servants” especially in the past. And for this reason many lady missionaries preferred to hire Somali girls to do their housework and cooking. This difficulty, we believe, is beginning to disappear in recent years. The Somali is basically a man’s man.

During our experience in Aden, Arabia for about 20 years we found that it was a “disgrace” for most Somali men or boys to do certain tasks.
One of these was the sweeping of the floor of the home. Usually a Somali of the Hawiya tribe swept the homes and were the sweepers of the town. And it must be said that these Hawiya men were excellent workers and very honest.
Another task that fell to the Hawiya was the emptying of the commode bucket, and to clean the bucket. Other Somalis would not touch the buckets at all.
In fact, when a doctor in the government hospital in Hargeisa asked the Somali nurse standing by him at a bedside of a patient to take the bedpan he downright refused saying, “That is not my job.” The doctor insisted that the nurse (male) take it.
The result was that the male nurse called all the other nurses to go on strike. All walked out. Finally Governor’s Fisher’s wife was cabled to return from England to settle the problem. (She had opened the hospital).
Mrs. Fisher flew back to Hargeisa from England and in a couple of days had the dispute settled. She agreed that the nurse should not have been asked to assist with the bedpan.
Another thing that Somalis (men) who came to Aden disliked very much was to wash the clothes. The women had no objection but the men felt that this was not the man’s job.
One Somali Christian who went to England wrote to us and remarked that he was doing something that he would never do in his country. He was washing the laundry of the Christian man in whose home he was staying!

As Somalis travel around the world today and become acquainted with the way things are done in other countries they are beginning to changes and many of these above customs and habits are changing.
We recall how one of our Somali house youths refused to shine the shoes of a lady missionary because she wanted him to polish them while they were on her feet!
Later he came to us and said, “I can’t work for that missionary!” He was very angry and ready to explode. When asked why he couldn’t work for her he replied, “She wants me to empty her waste basket.” I replied, “You empty my waste basket; why can’t you empty hers?” He answered, “She throws her hair into the waste basket!”
Little things like this which the missionary would never think of very often disturb the Somali and even rouses his anger.

It must be remembered that all people are not the same. Somalis in another area may be entirely different from those in another section of the Somali N.E. Horn. For example, in Djibouti Somali men came around to the homes asking to do the laundry. It was a means of livelihood and they had no objection.

One of our Somali professing believers in Mogadishu told us how his friends did not understand why he helped his mother make the tea and assisted her in the cooking. This was considered a woman’s job and not a man’s job to help his mother in the kitchen.

This is an expression that is very powerful. It can be said two ways, “Raalli iga ahoow”, or, “Iga raalli ahoow”, and means “EXCUSE ME” or “Sorry!” When a Somali is offended he is usually restored to your friendship by your telling him that you are sorry, by this expression: “Raalli iga ahoow”.
Thus, it is good to remember this expression.

Somalis are a very intelligent people, and now that they are receiving education, they are progressing and climbing up the ladder of success.
One Somali who had just a junior high education was sent to USA. He finished his high school and university education and finally earned his PHD.
All this he did in eight years! He was asked to accept a chair of a professorship in Princetown University but chose rather to return to his country and help his people. And it is our conviction that as the Somali turn to Christ and make Him Lord of their lives, the world will hear from them.
Pray for these unique people.
The opinion contained in this article is solely that of the writer, and does not necessarily represent the editorial opinions of Somalis For Jesus!


Marc said...

Please link to Wikipedia ! Please help create Somali articles for Wikipedia !

la culona said...

Is it true that our Muslim brother indeed undergo sexual abstinence during Ramadam session?