Clan identity and loyalty
Clan identity is patrilineal and it is for life; you belong to your father’s clan and this does not change when you marry, for either a man or a woman. Having said this, there are differences for men and women.
For a man the paramount clan relationship, sense of identity and loyalty is with brothers and male relatives on the father’s side, and with his own sons. All are from the same clan and lineage and this represents his political affiliation. (Lewis 1961) Together with his female relatives of the same clan, these are the people whom he must protect and be protected by in times of conflict, for example. ‘When dealing with the paternal family (reer adeer), he will always have to show that he is strong, virile, ready to do anything to defend his clan.’13
His links with his mother, who may or may not be from the same clan as his father and himself, will be emotionally strong, but in terms of clan solidarity and loyalty will be relatively weak. A man’s relationship with his mother’s relatives (reer abti) is different from that with his father’s relatives. Due to the exogamous marriage principle and cross-cousin marriage, he has a special relationship with his maternal uncle – his mother’s brother – with whom ‘he will be able to let himself go, express his feelings and his doubts, or ask for advice. As far as his in-laws are concerned he shows them respect and never reveals his problems’. (Ibid)
The strong relationship with his maternal uncle means that if his clan and his mother’s are in conflict, a man ‘will seek to protect his mother’s immediate relatives but, if it comes to a choice in battle, he is expected to forsake his mother’s relatives to protect his father’s’. (Faiza A. Warsame 2001) He is not seen as a possible bridge between the two. Likewise, if a man marries, in clan terms he will have a weak relationship with his wife’s relatives. In A Pastoral Democracy Lewis notes a Somali saying, ‘xayn iyo xiniin’, meaning the cloth (worn by a woman) and the testicles. He explains that this is a description used to distinguish a man’s relationship traced through women (e. g. a mother or wife) from that traced through men (father, brother, paternal uncles). What is expressed is that paternal relations are like the testicles, they are essential to a man, whereas links through women are like a cloth which can be thrown off without diminishing the whole. (Lewis 1961)
Figures 1 and 2 illustrate how contributors to this book interpret the relationships available to men and women. They were constructed by Somali women at a workshop in London in 1997. Figure 1 shows that for a man within the clan system the network of social relationships that he can draw on, and which determine responsibilities, is dominated by those traced through his father’s line. Figure 2 shows that the network of relationships and social responsibilities available to women through the clan system is different.
Figure 1 A man’s key relationships within his kinship network Shading represents the different possible clan or lineage relationships; width of circle border represents political affiliation and thickness of linking lines indicates strength of loyalty and identity.
A woman is like her brothers in that her primary clan identity comes from her father and is shared with paternal relatives; and like her brothers she has a special relationship with her maternal uncle. However, unlike a man whose maternal family relationships are weak (with the exception of his maternal uncle), a woman has strong relationships with her mother’s clan and her maternal relatives. There is a popular saying, ‘A woman has ten very close relations in society: her mother, mother-in-law, father, father-in-law, daughter, daughter – in-law, son, son-in-law, paternal uncle and maternal uncle.’ (Faiza A. Warsame 2001)
Depending on the situation, in terms of clan loyalty she can be identified with either her maternal or paternal clan. This affords her
Figure 2 A woman’s key relationships within her kinship network Shading represents the different possible clan or lineage relationships; width of circle border represents political affiliation and thickness of linking lines indicates strength of loyalty and identity.
protection, support and influence not available to men. At the same time, this ‘dual’ identity of a woman means women are perceived to present a risky ambivalence at times when clan loyalty may be put to the test. (See Chapter 9 for the reasons elders gave for excluding women from voting during the Somaliland inter-clan peace conferences.) Whilst a man can be relied on to be loyal to his clan, whose clan will a woman be loyal to – her father’s? Her mother’s? Or perhaps her husband’s – because it will be the clan of her children and she will have a strong tie with her sons’ clan. And any grandchildren by her daughters will belong to her sons-in-law’s clans, thereby opening yet another set of relationships.
Being at the centre of multiple and potentially conflicting loyalties is precisely what put women at the ‘centre of suffering’ during the
post-1991 inter-clan wars. By the same token, being mobile within this network, and traditionally valued as a bridge between clans, women were at the centre of promoting peace at the grassroots and an end to inter-clan warfare.