STATEMENT TO THE COMMITTEE ON THE
ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, AUGUST 2002
Brief Review of Somali Outcaste Groups
Summary of research by Professor Asha A.
Samad, City University of New York (CUNY) and Executive Director,
SAFRAD – Somali Association
stratification is a daily component of Somali society. In the smallest
nomad village, in towns, in cities, in refugee camps, as well as in
the overseas Somali communities, these stratifications are alive and
lines of descent are taught to children from an early age. The family
clan history is told and retold throughout life, including its
relations with other clans. Traditionally caste was directly related
to occupation, residence, political and civilian opportunities, and
status throughout life. This stratification is less important when the
nation-state and its institutions function well, and much more
important when it is weak, collapsing or non-existent, as in the past
few decades. However, caste is important to most Somalis even in
be a Midgan-Madibhan, or an outcaste person, in Somali society is to
suffer life-long indignities, to be deemed impure, unlucky, sinful,
polluting, and thus meriting the disdain, avoidance, and abuse of
others. Even small children shout insults at both child and adult
Midgans. Many Midgans have been denied food, medical treatment, and
protection just because of their outcaste status by many other
Somalis. The only other groups in Somali treated similarly are the
Jareer and Bantu descendants of slaves brought from East Africa over a
have been beaten brutally, wounded, raped, kidnapped, and forced into
slave and unpaid labor just because of their outcaste status. They
have no weapons, allies or lands that they control and can escape to.
Most Midgan are attached to “noble” dominant clans as their
clients, serfs, or virtual slaves. Should they complain or seek to
organize, they face severe reprisals from those “noble” clans
dominating them. This is another ongoing case of global caste in the
has been an integral part of Somali society for centuries. It
persisted throughout the twentieth century and continues today in the
society is divided into patrilineal segmented and ranked clan groups.
Those groups are based upon relation to a male progenitor and
traditional occupations. As in all caste societies, the elite clans
are classified as noble and “pure,” while those at the other end
of the ranking are considered outcaste and impure, or “polluted.”
Generally speaking, most of the noble clans’ occupations have been
herding and trade, while the outcaste clans have engaged in small
farming, usually on the land of the other clans, as well as in service
or scavenger occupations.
outcaste clans do not descend from the Arabic-origin ancestors of the
noble clans. Some scholars report that the outcaste groups may have
descended from the conquered indigenous groups occupying the region
prior to its conquest by the Somali tribes. Most Somali elders
indicate that the polluted status of these despised groups is due to
their ancestors breaking of food taboos without cause or an immediate
ritual cleansing. If the latter is the case, this would be another
instance of blaming the outcaste victims and their ancestors for their
debased, pariah status.
outcaste groups have been relegated to dirty, polluted areas and
occupations, and they are traditionally forbidden to socialize (as
equals) with others in Somali society. Anyone from a noble caste
breaking this taboo, much less marrying an outcaste person, faces the
danger of being outcaste from his or her own family and clan.
society is based on clan relations, reciprocity, and alliances,
especially in times of conflict, when there is a lack of a strong,
central government. Indeed, and particularly at such times, the main
forms of governance and protection come from one’s clan. Children,
the elderly, the ill, the weak, and the wounded can count only on
their clans for food, care and social support. Thus, even
liberal-minded Somalis must carefully weigh these considerations.
Somalia, the outcaste groups are collectively referred to as
“Midgan” or “Madihiban,” the former term being much more
disrespectful and insulting than the latter one. However, there are
actually many more Somali outcaste groups. Each is connected as
clients, former slaves, or servants to a noble clan group. They
include the Kuulbeer, Hildid, Khayr, Hubane, Aden, Aarsade, Howie,
Afarta Ganbar, Gaakaab, Madaraale, Magtal, Omar, Hussein and others
scattered all over the Somali regions, including Ethiopia, Kenya and
the broader Somali diaspora. The Midgan constitute the largest Somali
outcaste family, and its subclans include the Madhiban, Maxamed
Gargaarte, Muuse-Darye, Tumaal, Yibir, Howle, Mahaad-Bare, and,
according to SIMA, hidden others.
outcaste clan has its own dialect. When the noble tribes’ patrons
and rulers engage in conflict, their outcaste Midgans clients are
forced to fight for them. However they are neither protected nor
defended, nor given any share of the resources. Even the most heroic
and accomplished Midgan outcaste fighter cannot dream of socializing
as an equal or marrying into the noble clan that he is attached to.
convenient, the Midgan outcaste clients are counted numerically as
part of the noble clan they come under. When the Midgan outcaste
oppressed groups try to organize, (as all the noble clans do), they
are threatened, abused, and physically attacked. Due to the power and
arms of the noble clans, most Midgan outcaste Somali people have been
forced to keep silent. Any attempt to protest inequality or gain
redress meets brutal reprisals.
Midgan outcaste groups control no land of their own, they are also not
usually allowed to live in villages, to drink or get water from the
“pure” wells or to use the plates, cups or utensils of the noble
clans people. Their status can be compared to the Dalits, or “untouchables,”
of South Asia. Yet, they do not even have the constitutional
guarantees (reserved places) Indian Dalits have, at least in theory.
Only under the last government of Somali General President Mohamed
Siad Barre did Midgans have some rights in their own country. When he
was deposed, they suffered reprisals from his noble clan rivals who
accused them of supporting him.
Jeopardy Faced by Midgan-Madhiban Small Outcaste Clan Members
Midgan-Madhiban is the largest of several Somali minority outcaste
clans. Thus they are collectively designated as “Midgan- Madhiban.”
society is divided into patrilineal kinship-based clans and sub clans
. All Somalis can trace their ancestry to a clan or sub clan. The
three main large clans (Darood, Hawiye and Isaak), traditionally
control large areas of lands, many resources and exercise great
political power. Certain smaller clans have respectable status but
fewer resources and less political leverage due to their smaller
populations. Often those small, respected clans must affiliate with
and relate to nearby clans as clients and for protection in case of
1991, Hawiye forces, many of whom were loyal to General Mohamed Farah
Aideed, ousted Barre in a coup, which led to the wide-scale civil war.
At first the war was characterized as fighting between clans, but soon,
sub clans within the same clan began to fight one another. After the
Hawiye toppled Barre, they attacked his government, which was mostly
Darood. They also retaliated against Barre supporters, or anyone they
believed to be a Barre supporter. That included the Midgan-Madhiban,
all of whom they believed to be supporters of Barre, and, also because
of longstanding hatred for that despised group. Some Darood
clan-family militia also attacked many minority and outcaste clans.
of the powerful clans came to the protection of the Midgan-Madhiban.
Consequently, large numbers of them perished. The Midgan-Madhiban were
routinely raped, expelled from their homes, kidnapped and killed.
Large numbers of Midgan-Madhiban simply disappeared. There is evidence
of mass graves, suggesting that they were killed extra judicially. The
Midgan-Madhiban were not the only group persecuted in retaliation
against Barre, but they stand out for the powerlessness and inability
to fight back or gain any compensation for their losses.
person belonging to the Midgan-Madhiban clan cannot flee to safety in
other areas of the country. He/She would be in serious physical danger
if found in any part of Somalia in which his family is not a client of
the local powerful clan family. Geographically, the country has become
extremely segregated by clans and sub clan. The Midgan-Madhiban do not
control any territory and are therefore vulnerable in any area of
Somalia. In addition they have no recourse against violence because
they are politically, socially and militarily powerless.
last government of Somalia that of General Mohamed Siad Barre, had
appointed several Midgan-Madhiban clan members to visible defense
positions. Thus when General Barre’s government fell in 1991, the
Hawiye clan brought about General Barre’s defeat and targeted all
Midgan-Madhiban clan members for retaliation. This lead to even
greater and more murderous attacks on the Midgan-Madhiban families.
Their homes were attacked and looted, girls and women raped, men
tortured and often killed. Many have had to flee and live in hiding to
survive this brutality. Very few other Somalis or clans will protect
the Midgan-Madhiban either for fear of being targeted and attacked
themselves or because they too feel that the Midgan-Madhiban merit no
protection (as an outcaste or polluted group). As no clan is permitted
to marry the Midgan-Madhiban, they have no kinship ties with other
groups to offer them shelter or protection.
in the Somali Diaspora
Somalia was divided
into French, British, and Italian colonies at the end of the
nineteenth century. After World War II, the former Italian Somalia was
divided. Thus, adjacent areas of neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya were
actually part of Somalia until several decades ago when parts of the
former Italian Somalia were given to the then British government of
Kenya and the Imperial Ethiopian government of Haile Selossie. The
majority of the population of those regions is ethnic Somali. Large
Somali populations are also found in areas of Northern Tanzania and
Yemen. Half or more of the population of the adjacent Djibouti – the
former French Somaliland – is ethnic Somali. In all of these areas
of Somali population, as in Somalia, Puntland, and Somaliland,
Midgan-Madhiban and other outcaste groups are the lowest rank of the
over eleven years Somalia has experienced a breakdown in its central
government, as well as suffered from droughts, floods, and war.
Moreover, in the south sporadic conflict continues, despite several
peace conferences and the appointment of the Provincial National
Government (PNG) in the fall of 2000. Thousands of survivors of this
horrific situation have fled to the surrounding nations.
Midgan-Madhiban and other outcaste persons face on going
discrimination, abuse and attack in the refugee camps and communities
in those adjacent areas where many Somalis still languish. After over
a decade, they either await peace in Somalia or acceptance as refugees
in developed countries.
of more fortunate refugees, of all of clans, have been sponsored as
refugees by countries as diverse as Canada, the USA, England,
Netherlands, Australia, and Scandinavia. In desperation, many others
have managed to enter those receiving, developed nations illegally to
appeal for political asylum. Thus there is a sizable Somali diaspora
in several developing world areas today. Clan and caste continue
many “noble” clan Somalis seeking refugee or political asylum have
falsely claimed outcaste Midgan-Madhiban status. They do this as the
receiving developed nations understand the special jeopardy faced by
outcaste Midgans, and, therefore usually grant them political asylum.
Quite often, when such a false application is granted, the applicant
then takes pain to over emphasize, within the Somali community, his or
her actual noble status. Somali International Minority Association
(SIMA), and other researchers are often called upon to check
genealogies, associates and records to assure the validity of such
claims. Meanwhile, the Midgan-Madhiban in the diaspora still face
caste discrimination within the Somali community. Fortunately, they
also have new opportunities in their new countries.
Yibir, Tumal and other outcaste groups are still facing restrictions,
prejudice, discrimination, harassment, abuse and attacks. Not only is
this treatment a continuation of their historical exploitation, but it
is also because they are assumed by some of the large, aggressive,
heavily armed, “noble” clans to have been supporters of their
rival and hated ruler, the late Somali President Barre.
Midgan-Madhiban have never had any secure rights or protection in
Somali society. Even in overseas Somali society they still face hatred,
harassment, and abuse. Similar caste situations exist throughout the
Horn of Africa.
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