The Somali constitute by far the majority of the Cushitic population: 280,000 divided into several groups, Degodia, Ogaden, Gurreh and Ajuran. The etymology of the name Somali has not been yet established. it could be the name of an ancient patriarch or the derivative from an Arabic expression meaning possessor of wealth, with camels representing the wealth. Whatever the origin of the name, the Somali are physically and linguistically a distinctive people.
The great majority of the Somali live in north- eastern Kenya, a semi-desertic bush land. Only individualism and aggressiveness has ensured their successful survival. Naturally the physical environment determines the economic pursuit; pastoralism and migration make up their way of life. Camel herding is their main preoccupation, this has made possible their expansion in such an arid region. Cattle are rare and horses even rarer. The animal is the symbol of status and wealth, and of course the main element of their alimentation. Some Somali practice the blood letting of their animals. Most of them add grain to their staple diet of meat and milk. Traditionally they are not agriculturist, the growing of crops was mainly the labour of the slaves and now it is the main occupation of their servants.
The Somali was not a hunter, but the easy acquisition of modern weapons has made him a threat to the wildlife. Pastoral nomadism does not allow for superfluous material possessions, mobility is of utmost importance. If quantity is restricted, quality is not, and it’s not rare to see some very finely worked objects. Wooden eating. drinking and storage utensils are attractively worked. Most of tile handicraft such as wood carving, weaving and pottery is done traditionally by a member of a depressed class or outcasts, collectively called “Sab”.
The Sab are Somali speaking, but not regarded as such by the pastoralists. Occupation of territory is synonymous of possession and possession of utilization. If a land is unused it doesn’t belong to anybody. The wells are of vital importance, and often the subject of arguments and fights. The Somali use temporary settlements consisting of huts in circular shape surrounding an empty space left for the cattle. Each ciimp site is protected by a 4 ‘Zariba’ a thorn bush and branch enclosure. The houses are made of prefabricated and portable structures. It is the role of the women to erect them, they also are the owners of the hut. The men are responsible for the Zariba and the protection of the family, they also take all political decisions. Leadership is mainly hereditary, but it happens that a military chief is elected by the elders at the head of the clan.
The Somali society is patriarchal in character and the apparent rank of the women is somewhat low. The women marry between the age of 12 and 16 years, and can be one of four wives allowed by the Islamic law. A husband’s responsibility for his wife is shared by his brother. Divorces are surprisingly high, and the parents take care of the children according to their sex. The Somali have a very strong ethno-centric feeling, but sometimes it takes only a quarrel and all identity is forgotten, finishing in a blood lust of life for life.