Among the Samaal clans were the largest political units, most of which had heads known as soldaan (sultan) or bokor (concept derived from a belt binding people together). With few exceptions, a nomadic clan head's functions were honorary and ceremonial. The number and size of clans within a clan-family varied; the average clan in the twentieth century numbered about 100,000 people. Clans controlled a given territory, essentially defined by the circuit of nomadic migration but having unspecified boundaries, so that the territories of neighboring clans tended to overlap.
A Samaal clan kept count of the generations between living members of the group and the ancestor for whom it was named; the greater the number of generations (which often implied substantial internal segmentation into subclans or lineages) the greater the clan's prestige. Some ancient clans dwindled and found it necessary to attach themselves to other clans of the same or another clan-family. Similarly, lineages detached from the main body of their clan would ally with the clan in whose territory they were then living.
Clans living in contiguous territories sometimes joined in confederacies often marked by internal subgroupings. The Majeerteen clan, for example, was part of the Kombe-Harti confederacy, which was in turn part of the Kablalla. A confederacy consisted of related clans, but the decision to enter into a confederacy would be the consequence of history rather than genealogy. The purposes of the confederacy would be enumerated in a treaty or contract, often set down by a religious figure in an early Arabic script version of Somali.
Clans were segmented into primary lineages whose genealogical depth ranged from twelve to fourteen generations. These lineages were in turn segmented into secondary and sometimes tertiary lineages. The process of internal segmentation was continuous. The political (and sometimes the economic) relevance of a clan or lineage of a given genealogical depth varied with the context. Somali lacked specific terms for different levels of segmentation. According to anthropologist I.M. Lewis, an authority on pastoral Somalis, there are three "points of unity and division at which political solidarity most frequently emerges . . . those of clan, primary lineage group, and diya-paying group."
The diya-paying group was an alliance formed by related lineages within a clan by means of a contract, traditionally oral but filed in written form with district officials during the colonial era, at least in British Somaliland. The contract explicitly stated the rights and duties of members of the group with respect to the burdens of payment and the distribution of receipts of blood compensation, that is, distribution of the camels or money received, when the parties were members of the same or different diya-paying groups. In the case of a homicide, the lineages of the group shared in giving or receiving a specified portion of the compensation. A smaller but still substantial portion (the jiffo) was given or received by the relatively close kin of the killer or the deceased, that is, by an agnatic group descended from a common ancestor three or four generations back. In the case of offenses requiring the payment of a smaller compensation, sharing still occurred within the diya-paying group, but in minor cases the jiffo-paying group alone might be involved.
The lineages constituting a diya-paying group were often secondary; that is, the ancestors of each were fewer than the twelve to fourteen characteristic of a primary lineage. If a group with a remote ancestor lacked the numbers to constitute its own diya-paying group, it might join with another such group to form one, thus minimizing the financial burden. Moreover, the ultimate traditional sanction was armed conflict, and here again lack of manpower was clearly a liability.
Both diya-paying and jiffo-paying groups were important units of social and economic organization aside from their stated purpose. They functioned as mutual aid groups in times of economic hardship or other emergencies. They established and enforced regulations. In 1964 it was estimated that more than 1,000 such groups existed in the republic. Among the nomads, membership ranged from 300 to more than 5,000 men and among the sedentary Somalis from 5,000 to 100,000 men.
The political and economic business of any functioning segment in Samaal society was managed by a council call a shir, which included all adult males in the group. Each member might speak and take part in deliberation. Age and seniority of lineage took precedence in that an older man or one from an older lineage would customarily be asked to speak before others did, but the opinions of a persuasive speaker, whatever his seniority, would be given added weight. A wealthy herder might also have a greater say. The term oday (elder) could be applied to any adult male, but those with more prestige and experience might be asked to arbitrate disputes over a wide area and act as ad hoc leaders in political matters.
In traditional society, most Samaal men lived as warriors and herders; a warrior (waranle) considered his vocation nobler than any other except the religious life. A religious person ( wadad; pl., wadaddo) was considered the equal of a warrior, but few Samaal committed themselves to a religious life. Many who did so retained their ties to clan and lineage, although in principle they were supposed to avoid partisanship and armed conflict. This rule did not pertain to jihad or religious warfare. A few wadaddo settled in religious communities.
Cultivating groups of Samaal origin resided in various places. These groups, which also kept livestock, were accepted as fellow Samaal by the pastoralists but were considered to have lost prestige, even if they had gained economically. Some Samaal attached themselves as cultivating clients to stockraising Digil or Rahanwayn in the riverine region; the Samaal usually ended such relationships when they could resume their pastoral activities or when the economic advantages of cultivation diminished. The lineage pattern remained intact among Samaal cultivators.
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