The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900

The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900

The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900

The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900

Excerpt

The ethnic configuration of the Somali Peninsula presents the student of African societies with a unique case. In contrast to most of the rest of Africa, where independent states seek to forge a common national identity from a multiplicity of ethnic groups within their boundaries, Somalia is essentially a one-nationality state whose population shares an ethnic identity with Somalis in three adjoining states. Since attaining their independence in 1960, the 3,000,000 Somalis in the Republic have been almost unanimous in their desire to unite with their fellow Somalis who form substantial minorities within Ethiopia (about 1,000,000), Djibouti--formerly French Somaliland- (about 100,000), and Kenya (250,000). What gives Somalis this strong sense of common identity, despite more than eighty years of political partition, is their long-time occupation of nearly four hundred thousand square miles of contiguous territory; a common language (albeit with regional dialect differences); a shared Islamic heritage; a widespread belief that all Somalis are ultimately descended from a small number of common ancestors; and a way of life that is overwhelmingly pastoral.

The Somali consciousness of a common cultural identity is also clearly the product of shared historical experiences; one of the central questions for historians concerns the relative importance of the Somalis' early history in the shaping of that identity. Modern scholarship on Somalia has tended to concentrate on the formative experiences of the twentieth century: the imposition of colonial administration over a previously segmented clan society; the creation, however short-lived, of an Italian East African Empire by Mussolini's Fascists (1936-41) and subsequent British efforts to form a "Greater . . .

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