Introduction / History Several million Somalis live scattered across eight countries in the northeastern portion of Africa, commonly called the "Horn of Africa," and in the Middle East. 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.
In the early years of the Islamic era, the east African coast became a place of refuge for many of Mohammed's followers who were fleeing persecution. It was under the influence of these Arabians that the Somali were converted to Islam around 1550 A.D.
Today, a number of Somalis live on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. The country is separated from Djibouti and Somalia by the Gulf of Aden on the southwest. Yemen is surprisingly fertile, with much of its land suitable for farming. Rainfall is adequate and there is very little need for irrigation.
What are their lives like? Although Somalis can be found in a variety of occupations, the vast majority are merchants. A growing number of Somali refugees have also fled to Yemen in an attempt to escape Somalia's civil war and famine.
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.
Many of the Somali who live in Aden are bilingual, speaking both Somali and Arabic, the official language of Yemen. The Somali language was without written form until 1972.
Most of the Somali in Yemen can be classified into three main groups: rural farmers, city dwellers, and nomadic shepherds. The principal crops grown by the farmers include potatoes, sorghum, dates, wheat, barley, and corn. About one-third of the country is grassland, where herds of sheep, goats, and cattle are raised. Camels are also raised and are used as a means of transportation in the rural areas.
The nomadic shepherds 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. Tea is also a favorite drink.
The more settled farmers live in permanent, round huts that are six to nine feet high. They have a more varied diet, which includes grains, eggs, poultry, bananas, dates, mangoes, and coffee.
Typically, Somalis wear brightly colored cloths draped over their bodies like togas. The men may also wear kilts. Those living in Aden sometimes wear Western style clothing.
What are their beliefs? Although Somalis are mostly Shafiite Muslims, numerous beliefs and traditions have been intermingled with their Islamic practices. 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.
What are their needs? There are still only a few believers among the Somali. Christian humanitarian aid workers are needed to show them the love of Jesus in practical ways.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to raise up long term missionaries to live and work among the Somalis of Yemen.
* 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 the Somali.
* 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 Somalis.