Somali Culture

Other Considerations

  • The word “Somali” is used to refer to something of, from or related to the country of Somalia, as well as the majority group and language. Do not use the word “Somalian” to describe the country or people, as this is an inaccurate demonym invented by the West.
  • Somalis are not ‘Arab’ or ‘Middle Eastern’. They follow similar Islamic practices and customs to other majority Muslim countries. However, they are not located in the Middle East and are ethnically Somali, not Arab.
  • Be aware that the northern region of Somaliland is self-declared as an independent breakaway republic. Its bid for independence is not recognised by the international community. There may be some sensitivities regarding this topic.
  • Somalis may talk about one another’s physical appearances in a quite honest and frank way. For example, they may openly discuss how their group has different hereditary features from other African tribes, or make mention when someone is skinny or overweight.
  • It is common for men to chew ‘khat’ in Somalia. This is a leafy green plant that is a mild stimulant. However, khat is illegal for personal use in many Western countries. It is also considered socially inappropriate for women to chew khat in Somalia.
  • Homosexual activity is illegal in Somalia and same-sex relationships are highly stigmatized. In territories controlled by the jihadist terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab, homosexuality may be punishable by death. While it is common for Somali men to walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship, it would be unwise for Western men to attempt the same.
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a customary practice throughout Somalia. While Somali migrant women and girls are less likely to undergo the surgery in Australia (where it is illegal), they may be flown back to Somalia by their families to have it performed.1
  • Some Somalis may speak English, Italian, Arabic or Swahili in addition to the Somali language.
  • One of the first (or only) cultural references foreigners may know about Somalis is that they have a problem with “pirates”. However, media reporting of this topic is often exaggerated and has distracted from the original issue of illegal international fishing in Somali waters. Be aware that negative stereotypes of Somalis as criminals can have far-reaching impacts.
  • It is polite to ask about a person’s lineage indirectly through questions about their home region. Directly asking about someone’s affiliations or family background can seem abrupt.



1 Girls Not Brides, 2019

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