The diya-paying group
From birth all males will be members of a diya group. For men it is at this level that collective action takes place and the political and social implications of clan membership are most clearly defined. A man’s security, and that of his property, depends on his diya group membership. A single diya group may contain from a few hundred to several thousand members. (Lewis 1961)
Diya group members are linked through kinship. A son will belong to his father’s group, and their membership of the group unites them through a contractual alliance to collectively receive or pay blood compensation (diya) for homicide or injury committed by or to members of the diya-paying group. Put simply, if a member of your diya-paying group needs help you are obliged to provide it. In the case of intentional homicide, if one of your group is injured or killed it is as if the whole group has been wronged and thus the whole group is obliged to seek justice. Justice may be to forgive the killer, or to demand the execution of the killer, or to request diya payment. Traditionally, compensation for loss of a man’s life is normally measured in camels and is usually worth 100 camels (preferably young she-camels because they can reproduce).
Women are not members of diya-paying groups in the same way as men. They are not regarded as paying or receiving members when it comes to the group paying out compensation or sharing compensation received. In other words the amount to be paid or received is divided by the number of men in the group not the number of men plus the number of women. A family which has only girl children will thus have less to pay in diya contributions but will also receive less.
The diya group functions in the same way for women in terms of demanding compensation for death or injury either of or by a woman and the male diya group members share the responsibility for payment and share the benefit. An unmarried woman is the responsibility of her father’s diya group. A married woman will still be their responsibility but less so; with variations across the different clan families, responsibility will be apportioned between the father’s and the husband’s diya group. (Lewis 1961)
Compensation for the loss of a woman’s life is usually 50 camels, half that of a man.11
When the victim of a killing is a woman the general rules may be interpreted in favour of diya payment rather than execution of the killer, in the belief that ‘a man worth 100 (camels) cannot be executed for a woman worth 50’ (reported in Faiza A. Warsame 2001). In the same way, if the killer is a woman and her victim a man, the clan will seek diya, not a revenge killing.
Lewis notes that as long as the sex of the foetus was identifiable so that the correct compensation could be demanded, diya was claimable for a miscarriage caused by violence.12
With the war and the widespread financial dependency of men on women, it is now common for women to provide their husbands, brothers, uncles the resources they need to pay their diya group liabilities. Time will tell whether this new role for women will change the relative ‘worth’ of women or alter the diya system.
A family, and through it, the diya group members, expands its access to grazing and water areas by inter-marrying with families from different clans or sub-clans, as Sadia Ahmed explains in Chapter 2. Clans gain political and fighting strength from increased numbers and membership expands when a new child is born. In the case of a boy child who takes his father’s clan identity and will become a member of the same diya group, the gain to the clan is obvious. In the case of a girl child, who also takes her clan identity from her father, the value to the clan is ambivalent as she is expected to marry into and bear sons for another clan. Thus, although she may facilitate potentially important alliances for her father’s clan, her offspring may become their enemy.