Specialized Occupational Groups

Somalia Table of Contents

Certain occupational groups such as hunters, leatherdressers , and smiths are known as sab (ignoble) among the Samaal and as bon (low caste) among the Sab. They resemble Somalis, but their ethnic origin is uncertain. Some authorities suggest--and group members believe--that they may be derived from the land's original population. They speak Somali, but also use local dialects.

In the late 1950s, when the Somali population was estimated at 2 million, the number of sab was estimated at more than 12,000, or less than 1 percent of the population. Of these, about three-quarters were of the midgaan (an appellation considered pejorative and ultimately legally forbidden) group whose men worked as barbers, circumcisers, and hunters. Less than a quarter of the total consisted of the Tumaal, who engaged chiefly in metalwork. The smallest group was the Yibir (Yahhar in the south), magicians called upon to make amulets for the newborn, bless Somali weddings, and act as soothsayers. In return for these services they would be given gifts.

Occupational groups had lineages, but these were not usually the foundation of diya-paying groups before Somalia's independence. Except perhaps for the Yibir, who moved from one group of Somalis to another, families of occupational specialists were attached to Somali lineages, which acted as their patrons and claimed compensation on their behalf. By the end of the colonial period, change had begun to take place in the political, legal, and social status of these groups.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress