Posted on 01/20/2015 at 11:00 AM by Liz Determan

Submitted by Julie Berens, Speech/language pathologist


In recent years immigrants from Somali, in eastern Africa, have arrived in schools throughout Northwest AEA, particularly in Sioux City. The following is a brief summary of the Somali culture. 

Belonging to a clan or sub-clan is a central fact of Somali life.   Each clan is said to originate with a single male ancestor, which sets up the hierarchical descent.  For all Somalis, family is the source of identity and personal security.   They typically live in nuclear families and sometimes older parents reside their with one of their children.  Households are usually monogamous but in one fifth of all families they are polygamous.  In polygamous households wives usually have their own residences and are responsible for various economic activities.   Their culture is basically male centered although females play important economic roles. 

Somalis speak Somali but may also speak Arabic, and if educated also speak English and Italian.  Swahili may be used if families come from the coastal areas of Kenya.   Proverbs are an important part of their language.  These have been passed down thru generations and often are embellished by the individual speaker.  Before 1972 Somali had no written form and English and Italian were the language of the government and education.

In the 1970s basic education became mandatory.  Secondary education was beyond the reach of most Somalis.  With the uprising of Islamism, a revival of Islamic education has occurred in urban and rural areas of the country. 

In the area of religion most Somalis are Sunni Muslims with Islam as their principal faith.  Some Somalis have supported Islamic fundamentalism.  As fundamentalists they oppose secular government and advocate sharia law and strict Islamic dress for women.  According to tradition belief, social turmoil is God’s punishment for straying from the correct path.  Ways to come into God’s favor is to repent as a group and redirect society to the beliefs of Islam. 

Somali diet depends on their location but generally can be said to be high in protein and low caloric intake.  As Muslims, pork, lard and alcohol are forbidden.  In urban areas alcohol is consumed by some.  In the U.S. kosher foods meet their dietary requirements.   Festivals are connected with religions, social, or seasonal events.  Social occasions also include engagements, marriage, honoring saints, and circumcision of boys. 

Somalis value family, friendship, democracy, strength, and generosity.  They don’t however, verbally express gratitude.  They have a long history of going abroad to work or study thus are know for their ability to adjust to new situations. 

Source: The Somalis Their History and Culture by Diana Briton Putman and Mohamood Cabdi Noor in cooperation with the Bureau for Refugee Program’s of the U.S. Dept. of State. 


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