Introduction / History Several million Somali live scattered across eight countries in the northeastern portion of Africa, commonly called the "Horn of Africa," and in the Middle East. Nearly five million live in the Republic of Somalia. They are one of the most homogenous people groups in Africa, speaking a common language, adhering to a single faith, and sharing a cultural heritage.
Somalis 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 that had settled along the cost of present-day Somalia.
Somalia is located on the Horn of East Africa. It has a tropical climate that varies little throughout the year. With an average rainfall of less than 11 inches, droughts are a common occurrence. In the 1970s and 1980s, droughts in the northern region forced the Somali nomads to migrate farther south.
What are their lives like? The name, Somali, 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. Their society is based on the nuclear family, which consists of a husband, wife, and children. The man is the head of his household. A typical family owns a herd of sheep or goats and a few burden camels. Some may also own a herd of milking camels. The more camels a man has, the greater his prestige. In the wetter regions, cattle are also raised.
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 tens of thousands of 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 skins and grass mats. They are easily collapsible so that they can be loaded on pack animals and moved along with the herds. The farmers live in permanent, round huts that are six to nine feet high. Their diet includes milk, camel and goat meat, rice, and other grains. Tea is also a favorite drink.
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 a kilt like garment. In the cities and towns, some wear Western style clothing.
What are their beliefs? The Somali are largely Shafiite Muslims, with Sufism (a mystic branch of Islam) being an important religious experience for many. The standard Islamic prayers are usually observed; however, Somali women have never worn the required veils.
Villagers and urban settlers frequently turn to the wadaad (a religious expert) for blessings, charms and advice in worldly matters. They believe that many spirits live in the world, and that evil spirits bring sickness by possessing their victims. Some cults have formed in an attempt to appease the evil spirits.
What are their needs? Less than one-fifth of Somali children attend school, and over half of the adults are illiterate. This is not surprising since they did not have a written script until 1972. Although the Bible is available in their language, few of them can read it.
There are still only a few known believers among the Somali. Perhaps Christian teachers will be the key to reaching the Somalia with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to raise up Christian teachers who will work among the Somali and share Christ's love with them.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to go and break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant favor and wisdom to missions agencies focusing on the Somali.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among them.
* Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio and television to Somalis.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Somali.