Saturday, October 2, 2010

Living Somali

“Somalis are born talkers. Every elder is expected to be able to hold an audience for hours on end with a speech richly laced by judicious proverbs and quotations from famous poems and sayings.” Professor I. M. Lewis

Recently, a friend of mine, Ayan, wrote a note on Facebook entitled "Living Somali".
A short time after she read the note, which I'm sharing below, I read a very interesting article entitled Is media coverage of Somalis too negative? This article, and Ayan's note bring up an interesting truth: that Somalis and Somalia are equated with negativity (violence, terrorism, etc.). Think about it, when you read/hear/see the word Somalia (or Somali) what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it al-shabaab? Is it Somali 'pirates'? Well maybe the note Ayan wrote will bring further understanding of Somali culture. She wrote the following:

[Begining of Ayan's note] Living Somali isn’t simply about being alive and Somali, it’s about dealing with “pirates” and “al-shabaab” on a personal level. It’s about a language and a culture so encompassing we live in communities of ourselves because no one else can fathom what it is. It’s about a history of poets and warlords, a society of pastoralists so in tune with their animals that if they were four or four thousand they would know them each by face.

We read the news and we know what is. The ‘current events’, but then what we read and know is a land wasted and destroyed by a violent, capricious and utterly unconscionable people. Somalia, the picture that comes to mind is one of myriad gun-toting pre-teens, hard faced men proclaiming their divine sentences and beauty. If nothing else Somalis are a beautiful people. But there is so much more than that. Yes we are divided and sub-divided and divided again by our tree of clans; the main clans of Dir and Darood from which every Somali stems, right down to Abdul-waq and ‘Auliyen who were brothers. And yes these clans and sub-clans are constantly at each other for this or that, water for their animals or paying blood money for the death of a distant relative – the third wife of a second cousin twice removed-. But we must understand, the terms I’ve just used to describe a relation would not be used by a Somali. To him or her, the dead person is simply ‘our daughter’ or ‘our sister’ because despite the divisions we are united the way no other nation is. There is a saying

Where two Somalis fight it is best for the outsider to stay outside, to separate them would bring the wrath of both against you.
This more than anything says what it is to be Somali like I never could. We would support each other against Them, so to speak.

And as for economics, well suffice to say that what’s mine is yours. And let me clarify by saying that individuals do exist who aren’t so communist is their view but then again they’re the exception and not the rule. Somalis are friendly, I love being home with my grandmothers because we sit down and eat together, we talk, they teach us the history’s and sing the great poem of old from memory! I can’t pretend that we’re all so woefully misunderstood and we’re really calm, underneath it all. But the fact is we are passionate, proud and often unforgiving. We are strong and loving with a strong sense of responsibility. We are extravagant, extraordinary, and exquisite. We are Somali, unrepentant. [end of Ayan's note; thanks to Ayan for permission to share this :)]

Having lived with the Somali culture I have a new appreciation of their livelihood and customs. It is rather unfortunate that the news we read about regarding Somali culture is news predominantly about some kind of violence (bomb explosion, gun battle, etc.) or some kind of security situation (pirates seizing a ship, foreign aid workers kidnapped, etc.).
Sadly there is hardly any positive news about the wonderful things that are going on -- at least not on the international news sections of newspapers or television broadcasts.

Thankfully a more complete picture of Somali news can be found on the following websites: and

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