- Continuities and Changes:Marriage in Southern Somalia and the Diaspora
Dr. Virginia Luling died at age 73 on 7 January 2013. The last paper she was working on is presented here. The first draft was prepared for a Somali Studies International Association meeting in Norway in September 2012, which by then she was too ill to attend. Keen to collect feedback from peers, she sent the paper for circulation to the meeting. In the course of the four short and busy months before her death, when she knew that time was running out, she completed the final draft of her essay on southern Somali marriage practices, as it appears here with only minor editorial changes. Despite the wars and social upheavals which have devastated Somalia since 1990, in the words of Luling “people go on getting married,” even if the ways in which people celebrate marriage have changed. In this age of the internet and social media, general commentary on the topic of marriage among Somalis often gives an impression of uniform practices. What we see from Luling’s essay is that with the exception of the formalizing of a union in accordance with Islamic Shari’a law, variations in local traditions abound, and are endlessly fascinating. Given the small body of published material on marriage practices among Somalis, the current essay is a valuable and most welcome addition to the ethnographic record. [End Page 139]
Over the past 25 years, Somalia has experienced a series of destructive civil wars and the complete breakdown of state institutions. The clan replaced the state as the support system for the individual citizen: only the fighting strength of one’s kin group, or a family’s links to a warlord could afford some protection for the individual. The fracturing of society along clan lines coupled with two decades of chronic insecurity has resulted in major population displacements within Somalia and the emigration of tens of thousands of Somalis from all sections of society in search of sanctuary abroad. Somali diaspora communities exist today across the globe, with Britain, Scandinavia, and Canada being home to some of the largest concentrations in the West.
At the center of Luling’s essay, as with many of her writings, are the Geledi people and their neighbors in and around the town of Afgooye. From the period of her initial anthropological fieldwork in the late 1960s and throughout her life, Luling continued a professional and personal relationship with this particular region of Somalia, even as she advocated for the rights of Somali and Oromo minorities more widely throughout the Horn of Africa. This essay draws on her extensive research notes from interviews and field visits to Somalia spanning forty-five years, supplemented by data obtained through the close ties she maintained with the Somali diaspora in Europe and North America during more recent decades.
Luling’s involvement in academia did not follow a conventional path, but she maintained a steady output of scholarly writings throughout her professional life, contributing articles, papers, and book chapters, writing educational materials for young people, and more recently co-editing an acclaimed festschrift volume for her mentor and the “father of Somali studies,” the late I. M. Lewis.1 Her ethnographic pieces were learned and beautifully crafted, free from academic jargon and faithful to the perceptions and cultural language of her Somali sources. The publication in 2002 of her masterful Somali Sultanate: The Geledi City-State over 150 Years established Luling as the leading authority on Geledi society and the Somali clans of the Lower Shabelle river basin.
—Anita S. Adam
Through war and social upheaval, people go on getting married. However the way in which they conduct their marriages changes in response to changes in society as a whole. Hardly anything has been published on the subject of Somali marriage since I. M. Lewis’s classic study, “Marriage and the Family in Northern Somaliland,” which dates from the 1950s.2 This essay aims to help fill the gap. [End Page 140]
The first section of the paper looks at the way in which weddings were performed by the Geledi and Wa’dan...