Interesting Facts About Somali People, Language and Culture


Somalia is an Islamic country that lies at the horn of Africa bordering Indian Ocean to the East, Kenya to the West and Ethiopia and Red Sea to the North. The longest history of the country dates back to 5000 years ago in form of paintings, Laas Gall Complex. In antiquity, Somali and its people played an important part of international trade through the horn of Africa. Somalis have however been misunderstood mainly because they are extensively spread over the neighboring countries and the entire Horn of Africa. Here are all the facts about Somali People, Language and Culture.

Somali People

Somali people (Soomaaliyeed) are mainly Muslims of Cushitic Afro-Asiatic Family. They are mainly of Arabic group and occupy the Horn of Africa countries. It is estimated there are between 15-17 million Somalis living in the Horn of Africa. About 8.7 million live in Somalia, 4.5 million in Ethiopia, 1 million in Kenya and million in Djibouti. A significant number also lives in the Middle East and abroad. [Read: Interesting Facts About Swahili People, Language and Culture]

The Somali people share a lot in common such as language and faith. Somalis re reported to have started appearing in the region at around 1200 AD and started moving southwards due to expansion. They were greatly influenced by the Arabic traders moving along the coast of the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

Somalis are categorized into ethnic groups which in turn play important parts in politics and culture. However, the differences are not easily realizable or explicit as it is in neighboring Kenya or even Rwanda. The main clans in Somalia constitute 62% of the total population while other smaller groupings form the remaining 38%.

The clan structure that has always determined the political orientation of the country categorizes the groups into two. The main clans include Darod, Dir, Hawiye, Isaaq and Rahanweyn. The minor tribes include Gabooyo, Muse, Yibir, Reeroqw-Xassan and Madhiban.

Somali Culture

The Somali culture is a rich amalgamation of traditions that have developed over time independently. The culture has also been influenced by civilization in Egypt, India, the Arabian Peninsula and even Asia. The main components of culture strongly reflect their way of life. The Somalis are warriors and mainly involved in nomadic lifestyle. They keep camels, donkeys, cows and goats while moving from one area to another looking for pastures. Because of this mobile lifestyle, Somalis do not have permanent structures/ houses. They put up temporary houses as they shift from one area to another.

Some Somali clans have a history of pottery, wood carvings and architecture. This is evident in many festivals, martial arts, dressings and sports. Many Somalis in the emerging Somalia are seemingly modern and strongly influenced by the western lifestyles especially evident in neighboring Kenya. [Read: Oromo People, Language and Culture]

Music is an important part of the Somali culture. Many Somalis are pentatonic which makes their music to easily be mistaken with sounds from neighboring countries such as Eritrea, Arabia and Ethiopia. The local musicians have however realized their rich uniqueness and are now selling and creating awareness about the Somalis globally with bands and artists such as Waayaha Cusub and Mooige Mohammed. Music from these artists and bands talk mainly about the Somali people and their way of life.

Somali Language

Somalis speak the Somali which is one of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Somali language is extensive and spoken by all countries in the horn of Africa and globally distributed communities. Though the language is mainly considered as Somali, it has three divisions which have very minor differences. The first division is standard Somali which is spoken by Northern-Central Somalis. The second division is Northern Somali by Somalis of upper end of the country and those living in Ethiopia and North Eastern parts of Kenya. The last division is coastal Somali spoken by Somalis of Mogadishu, Adale and Benadir and other coastal regions of the country. The coastal Somali language consists of additional phonemes that are absent in standard Somali.

The Somali language is made of Somali Alphabets that became official in Somalia after formal introduction by former President Siad Barre. It utilizes most of English Latin Alphabets with exception of p, v and z. Other scripts used in Somali language include Wadaad’s scripts, Arabic scripts, Kaddare scripts, Borana and Osmanya scripts. It’s important to point the emerging influences of Swahili language mainly from Kenya and East African Coast. Somali people, language and culture have strongly been influenced by immediate neighborhoods and the future is still unfolding.