Somali clans in Minnesota

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Question: Do Somali people still practice the clan system in Minnesota?

Yes, they do. All you have to do is go to the Starbucks coffee shop on Riverside. Every Somali tribe probably sends about five men to represent them at that coffeehouse. These men leave their kids and wives to sit there and argue over who started the 20-something year civil war back home. I am waiting one of these days to walk in there and find the men signing a resolution that will solve all of our problems. That is not a lot to expect right? I mean they’ve being arguing since at least 2004. That is when I noticed the large number of men anyway; maybe they were there even before 2004.

Sadly we didn’t leave the tribe business behind. But I think people in Minnesota or in the western countries practice the clan system differently than if they were in Somalia. To me personally, the clan system means nothing at all. Everybody is the same no matter what tribe, race, or country they’re from. I either like you or don’t like you and for me not to like you, you must be doing something really bad.

Somalis divide themselves into many clans and clan confederations. Clan and tribe mean the same thing to me and I will be referring to them often. The Somali word for clan or tribe is Qabil.

The largest clan confederations are the Darod, the Hawiye, the Isaaq and the Dir. There are hundreds of sub-clans that all spur out of these major clans. Rumor has it at the beginning clan confederations started as a result of political groupings, with several minor clans bonding to form a larger clan for many reasons that have long since been forgotten. However, over time we began to associate ourselves with the notion of having a common ancestry. For example, I can trace my ancestry line all the way back to the 16th century. My father taught me this and I will teach my kids and the line only gets longer. Today clans are much like the noble lineages of Europe. Everybody is proud and shows off the clan they are from. To me, they also are a nuisance and a way of collecting your money.

Back to the question of whether people still continue to practice the clan system in the West. In Minnesota my elder cousins are all in clan committees. The clans are very organized and operate almost like life insurance. People are divided into small groups. They hold meetings at an elder clan member’s home who is trusted and has the best interest of the clan at heart. This person is responsible for informing clan members what is happening and collecting money for the benefit of the clan. Sometimes there will be a major thing happening where there is a death in a family and funeral expenses are needed. Other reasons for collecting money can be the famine where the collection of money is ongoing for a longer period. Other times money is collected on a regular basis to support schools, hospitals and orphan care in the region where the clan is from.

This is all great, but for me we should all focus, and work toward building peace, and actually getting the whole country back on its feet instead of this bits and parts.

But really, clan is nice: it is like a community organization that you belong to. When things are tough they are there for you. If you have an issue with someone, they will be there for you to resolve it and help you get through some rough times. They are mediators, they are mentors, and are honest judgment passers.

Still, I can’t help but feel the problems caused by clan association outweigh the benefits. For all the good that clans do to bring together the people within them, it’s too easy to become divided along those lines. And it’s too easy for our loyalties to our own clan to be taken advantage of. Everybody wants the president to be from their clan/subclan, and every thug and warlord with dreams of power and authority tries to use his own clan to gain followers and fight the clan to which his opponents belong. Back before the war, the clans used to get along, but now that everyone wants to use violence to solve all their problems, they get their clans involved, and what used to be just a simple dispute now becomes a clan war.

Maybe we can have where every clan (Qabil) can have a president in terms. Every president will be in office in certain period of time until it comes back to the first clan again. See — problem solved through this simple column. Men, you should listen to a woman once in a while.