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Unraveling Somalia

Unraveling Somalia: Race, Class, and the Legacy of Slavery

Catherine Besteman
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Unraveling Somalia
    Book Description:

    In 1991 the Somali state collapsed. Once heralded as the only true nation-state in Africa, the Somalia of the 1990s suffered brutal internecine warfare. At the same time a politically created famine caused the deaths of a half a million people and the flight of a million refugees.During the civil war, scholarly and popular analyses explained Somalia's disintegration as the result of ancestral hatreds played out in warfare between various clans and subclans. InUnraveling Somalia, Catherine Besteman challenges this view and argues that the actual pattern of violence-inflicted disproportionately on rural southerners-contradicts the prevailing model of ethnic homogeneity and clan opposition. She contends that the dissolution of the Somali nation-state can be understood only by recognizing that over the past century and a half there emerged in Somalia a social order based on principles other than simple clan organization-a social order deeply stratified on the basis of race, status, class, region, and language.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9016-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part I. Introduction

    • Chapter 1 Somalia from the Margins: An Alternative Approach
      (pp. 3-25)

      A letter arrives, telling me that every child under the age of five was now dead in the Jubba valley village in southern Somalia where I had lived several years previously. The collapse of the Somali state in 1991 ended these young lives in starvation and warfare, opening yet another violent chapter in the short history of the Jubba valley. In just the past 150 years, the people of this valley—most of whom were considered racial minorities within the Somali nation-state—had endured a series of violent encounters that shaped their relationship to the state and to regional Somali...

    • Chapter 2 Fieldwork, Surprises, and Historical Anthropology
      (pp. 26-44)

      When I arrived in Somalia in 1987 to begin my year of fieldwork, I had no intention of studying politics, kinship, race, class, or conflict directly. I had been hired by the Land Tenure Center of the University of Wisconsin to study the effects of a ten-year-old land reform law on Somalia's farmers in the Jubba valley. I was to evaluate the success of the statute, which outlawed previous landholding practices (customary tenure) and enacted a “modern” system of land registration, in increasing security of land rights and raising agricultural productivity. Beyond meeting these requirements for the Land Tenure Center,...

  5. Part II. The Historical Creation of the Gosha

    • Chapter 3 Slavery and the Jubba Valley Frontier
      (pp. 47-69)

      There has been debate in the literature about both the nature of slaveholding in African societies and the changes in social relations brought about by the ending of slavery in Africa. The transition from slaveholding to postslavery in Africa has been conceptualized by “traditionalists” as having been relatively smooth, where ex-slaves remained where they were and gradually assimilated (although never completely) to the host society.¹ Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff (1977) describe “belonging” as the antithesis to slavery in Africa, where ex-slaves and their descendants pursued fuller incorporation into the host society through a variety of economic, political, and affective...

    • Chapter 4 The Settlement of the Upper Gosha, 1895–1988
      (pp. 70-110)

      The Jubba valley at the turn of the century was a dynamic place, where newly free ex-slaves were felling trees, building families, and constructing communities. The new settlers were also grappling with more than the material demands of day-to-day life; they were struggling to forge a place for themselves in the fluctuating regional sphere of social relations that comprised southern Somali society. The experiences of slavery, escape, manumission, resettlement, movement up the valley, shifting Somali clan affiliations, and conflict with Somali pastoralists and European colonial authorities all informed and contributed to Gosha peoples’ construction of their identity and history. Contemporary...

  6. Part III. The Gosha Space in Somali Society

    • Chapter 5 Hard Hair: Somali Constructions of Gosha Inferiority
      (pp. 113-131)

      From the two previous chapters, we have a sense of how ex-slaves filtered into the Jubba valley, carving out communities, transforming space, forging alliances, and constructing a place of belonging. Through Islam, clan memberships, and trade, ex-slaves were claiming Somali society as their own. Ex-slaves arriving in the middle valley around and after the turn of the century had adopted Somali clan affiliations as an aspect of personal identity, to negotiate social relations, and to build kinship networks. By the 1970s, in addition to considering themselves members of Somali clans and citizens of the Somali nation-state, midvalley Gosha villagers spoke...

    • Chapter 6 Between Domination and Collusion: The Ambiguity of Gosha Life
      (pp. 132-158)

      Over the past hundred and fifty years, through enslavement, escape, conversion, and manumission, through colonial categories of racial definition, through ethnographic labeling, and through the state’s encompassing technologies of power, Gosha villagers have become Somali and non-Somali at the same time, incorporated into the Somali nation-state while being created as distinct others. The dimensions of being incorporated while denigrated, and of being created while dominated, resulted in profound ambiguities for Gosha villagers in the 1980s. Gosha farmers accepted the Somali social order—clan and kinship—as legitimate and sought a place within it, yet this order defined them as inferior....

    • Chapter 7 Negotiating Hegemony and Producing Culture
      (pp. 159-178)

      A decade ago the social historian Hermann Rebel chastised anthropologists and historians alike for celebrating the resistances of those we study while overlooking the often brutal facts of their daily lives: “One of the strongest tendencies in recent work by both anthropologists and historians has been to downplay the degradation and terror experienced by victims of exploitation and persecution. The new tone is one that stresses such extant aspects as the discovery and wielding of power even from weakness, the development of ‘cultures’ of resistance, the achievement of some sense of social identity and belonging as a benefit derived from...

  7. Part IV. Violence and the State

    • Chapter 8 The Political Economy of Subordination
      (pp. 181-223)

      The hegemony of clan and its accompanying genealogical exclusivity, the ideology of superiority, and the weight of history—these are some of the themes I have called upon in the preceding chapters to describe the status of Gosha villagers in the Somali nation-state of the 1980s. In the regional sphere of social relations and power dynamics, Gosha villagers were striving to assert membership in Somali society, to demonstrate personal dignity in the face of symbolic subordination, to build village-based coalitions as a critical source of mutual support, and to maintain some degree of economic and political autonomy from the state....

    • Chapter 9 Conclusion
      (pp. 224-235)

      A new historical nightmare invaded the valley following Siyad Barre’s flight from Mogadishu in 1991 in the form of highly armed militias, “liberators,” and bandits who represented the violent culmination of two decades of national claims to valley land.¹ Unarmed Jubba villagers starved, died, and fled by the hundreds of thousands as warring factions repeatedly swept across the valley, claiming food stores, material goods, and land as their right. Somalia's river valleys became war zones, as resident farmers, registered titleholders, and a new group of self-proclaimed “liberators” all claimed the right to control farmland and its accompanying development benefits that...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 236-238)

    At the 1993 International Congress of Somali Studies, a Somali man named Omar Eno presented a paper as part of a panel on “The Invention of Somalia.” His powerful words shocked the audience, who responded with a mixture of embarrassment, silence, uncomfortable laughter, awe, and pain. Never before had a self-identified Somali “Bantu/jareer” attended an international congress of Somalist scholars to speak about the plight of Somali jareer. In English, Eno told his audience:

    I appeal to every civilized person to join me in the struggle to end the long existed and still on-going racism and discrimination which have caused...

  9. Glossary
    (pp. 239-240)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 241-258)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-284)