Almost all Somalis are Sunni Muslims and the religion is deeply rooted in society and behaviour. Pork, gambling, alcohol and receiving or paying any type of interest is forbidden, Somali women wear brightly coloured hijabs and only single sex couples shake hands.
Most Somalis have a strong sense of family and family ties and this acts as a safety net during difficult times. During Eid al Fitr (which marks the end of Ramadan), Somali families often get dressed up to go visit each other and wherever possible, donate to the poor.
Sticking Together is a Way of Life
Somali society is made up of clan families, which can range from 100,000 to over one million in size. Each of the large clan families is divided into lineage units that can range from 10,000 right up to 100,000 members. This simplifies things when Somalis want find out how they are related: giving you name and clan membership generally reveals all.
Arranged marriages are far from unusual in Somalia and in these cases, brides are often considerably younger than their groom. To strengthen family alliances, marriage to a cousin from a different lineage on the mother’s side of the family was traditionally preferred but this practice is losing steam. Virginity is valued and divorce is legal, and today, romantic marriages make up the majority of Somali marriages, but the influence of a partner’s clan is not to be underestimated.
Dating: Modus Operandi
In accordance with Islamic traditions, one-on-one dating in Somalia is generally reserved until the engagement party has taken place or after the marriage contract has been signed.
Nevertheless, Somalis often enjoy each other’s company, and gatherings are often mixed, especially where family or clan approval is probable. Musical gatherings have long been hotspots where young singles mingle, and Somali music is steeped in rich traditions and now, accompanied by stomping beats.
Unique Urban Sounds Bring Somalis Together
Blending the tender melodies of the nomads, the explosive hot drumbeats of black Africa, old-skool Sufi singing and a smattering of instrumental accompaniment, modern Somali urban sounds get everyone dancing.
Despite the infusion of international styles into Somalia, young and old love radio, recordings and especially live performances. The ancestral “Hees” or folklore music is performed at wedding and on special occasions. Both men and women sing and improvise original pieces (now that’s how to impress a potential date if you ask me!)
“Baar Cadeh” and “Saar” are religious dances and songs performed by someone who’s under a trance or is possessed by evil spirits or “Jin” as is known by the locals. The singer is generally a man who dances with a sword in his right hand in front of a circle of women clapping their hands. (Well I guess that’s one way to say “I’m enchanted by you”.)
Sufi influenced singing involves poetically describing love for Allah and the prophet, accompanied only by some rhythmic clapping and drums. The powerful drums, intricate rhythms and boombastic choruses of this fascinating ritualized music can be heard most Friday nights in cities and towns across Somalia.
Somali poet, composer, singer and musician, “Abdi Qays” put the fizz back into Sufi music in the 1970’s and kicked off a trend through recordings of his famous song “Awliyo Allaay Adeeg” (“Saints help us”), although many would consider such lyrics falling foul of Sunni Islam’s core teachings.