ORIGIN According to legend, the common ancestor of most if not all Somali clans was Irir Samaale, a name which possibly derives from the phrase soo maal – literally, ‘go and milk’ – in reference to the almost exclusively pastoral lifestyle of his descendants. DNA studies suggest that the Somali share close ethnic links with the Oromo of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, and that the two groups share a mixed African and Middle Eastern ancestry going back perhaps 5,000 years when it is known that an element of trade existed between the Somali and Arabian coasts of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
CLANS While Somaliland – and the rest of Somalia, for that matter – ranks among the few truly homogenous African states in terms of ethnicity, religion and language, the clan and subclan allegiances inherent to Somali culture have often been responsible for problems and divisions similar to those associated with tribalism elsewhere. No two sources agree precisely on the number of clans in greater Somalia, or their precise relationship to each other, but broadly speaking there are three caste-like tiers. Clan membership plays an important role in Somali politics, and marriages between members of different subclans are probably more common than within the subclan, as they help cement ties or heal rift s between neighboring families.
At the top of the Somali hierarchy are the four noble clans, all of which claim direct ancestry from the founder Irir Samaale. Ranked below them are the agro- pastoral Rahanwein clans, such as the Digil and Mirifle, whose homeland – between the Jubba and Shebelle rivers – lies outside present-day Somaliland. Even lower in status are the minority artisanal clans such as the Tumal, Yibbir, Jaji and Yahar, who traditionally live in their own settlements interspersed through the territories occupied by the various noble clans, where they perform specialist activities such as metalworking, tanning and hunting. They are regarded as unclean by the noble clans and are thus treated as outcasts who only marry among themselves.
Of the four noble clans, the most numerically significant is the Hawiya, which includes about 25% of Somalis, centred upon Mogadishu and southern Somalia, as well the border region of Ethiopia and Kenya, but is practically unrepresented in Somaliland. The main noble clan in Somaliland is the Isaq, whose territory incorporates Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao, and which comprises around 22% of all Somalis. The Isaq Somali are divided into several subclans, among them the Arab, Ayoub, Garhajis, Habar Awal, Habar Jeclo and Tol Jecle. The Darod clan is centred mainly upon present-day Puntland, but the historically significant Warsangali subclan also has a large presence in Somaliland, particularly around Erigavo and Maydh. The numerically less significant Dir clan is present in the far west of Somaliland, but its population’s main focus is Djibouti and bordering parts of Ethiopia, though the Issa subclan has strong historical links with Zeila and the Adal Sultanate.