Introduction / History
Over sixteen million Somali live scattered across eight countries in the northeastern portion of Africa, commonly called the "Horn of Africa," and in the Middle East. Over five million live in Ethiopia.
The Somali share a common language, adhere to a single faith, and share a cultural heritage that is an integral part of their nomadic lifestyle. Their name 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.
The Somali first appeared in the Horn of Africa around 1200 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 coast of present-day Somalia. By 1650, they had moved into Ethiopia.
What are their lives like?
Somali society is based on the nuclear family, consisting of a husband, wife, and children. A typical family owns a herd of sheep or goats, which the women and girls care for, and a few burden camels. Some may also own a herd of breeding and milking camels. The more camels a man has, the greater his prestige. The men and boys enjoy taking care of the prized camels.
The Somali consider themselves warriors. Sometimes the men 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 many 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 grass mats. The wife has her own hut, and the huts of related families are arranged in a circle with cattle pens in the middle. Making the home is the woman's responsibility. The huts are easily collapsible so that they can be loaded on pack animals and moved along with the herds. There is usually less than four inches of rainfall a year, so many times a Somali's life is dictated by his ability to find water. The nomad's diet used to consist only of milk and milk products. Now it includes maize meal, rice, meat, and wild fruits. The more settled Somali farmers live in permanent, round huts that are six to nine feet high. They have a more varied diet, which includes maize, sorghum, cowpeas, beans, rice, eggs, poultry, bananas, dates, mangoes, and tea.
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.
Somali's enjoy telling stories and learning history through their poetry. Many times they will chant folk tales on walks in the evening.
Most Somali wear brightly colored cloths draped over their bodies like togas. Some men also wear a kilt-like skirt.
What are their beliefs?
Although the Somali are nearly all Shafiite Muslims, numerous beliefs and traditions have been intermingled with their Islamic practices. They achieve "ecstasy" by chanting or taking narcotics. In the cities, boys steal food and then sell it to support their drug habit. The standard Islamic prayers are usually observed; however, Somali women have never worn the required veils. Somali frequently turn to the wadaad, a religious expert, for blessings, charms, and advice in worldly matters.
They believe in a supreme male "sky god." They perform rainmaking rituals, abstain from eating pork or fish, and make animal sacrifices. They also have a ritual bonfire at the solar new year. They believe in spirit possession and in spirits that live in trees, water sources, and on hilltops.
What are their needs?
Very few 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.
Access to modern health services is very limited in Ethiopia. Droughts, famines, and wars have created numerous problems. Malnutrition alone has accounted for the death of thousands of Somali since the 1970's.
* Pray that the Somali's would come to know Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life.
* Pray for Somali Christians, who are greatly despised by their people.
* Ask God to touch the hearts of Christians in northern Ethiopia so that they would be willing to share God's love with the Somali's in the southern provinces.
* 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 the missions agencies that are 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.
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to them through dreams and visions.
* 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.