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The Digil-Rahawiin People of Somalia

More About the Somali People:       Somaliland Net

Religion: Islam
Population: 1,500,000
Status: 0.01% Christian



Location: The Maay-speaking peoples are found primarily in the Lower Jubba Valley of central Somalia, between the Shabeelle and Jubba Rivers and south of the Jubba River.

These are primarily the Digil and Rahawiin peoples. The latter name is often spelled Rahanweyn or Rahawin, following the Northern Somali pronunciation. Mirifle is another name used fairly interchangeably with Rahawiin.

Because their language is called Maay, they are sometimes called the Maay people. Many of the Gosha people also speak Maay language.

Since the civil war and aid efforts, Baidhowa is a well-known town of the Digil-Rahawiin. Ajuuran speakers of Northern Somali live to the southwest of the Digil-Rahawiin. However, many different clans and tribes are interspersed in the inter-River area (between the Shabeelle and Jubba Rivers), and to the southwest of the Jubba.

History: The Maay speakers (basically Digil and Rahawiin), along with the Jiddu and Tunni (two related Digil clans speaking languages previously classified as dialects of Maay), are descendants of the earliest wave of Somaloid peoples and also the most southern. 

Firm evidence for the history of the Somali people dates back to only about 1000 AD  Ahmed, Ali Jimale, Ed.  The Invention of Somalia  (New Jersey, U.S.A.:  The Red Sea Press, Inc.,  1995)  p. 233-256.

Linguistic, cultural and historical evidence indicates they came originally from the southern highlands of what is now Ethiopia.  The Somali are from the same broad group of early Cushitic peoples from which the Rendille came.  The Somali-Rendille are one broad group with similar language and culture.

This Maay-speaking group came in contact with the northern Bantu peoples the on the coast from Mogadishu south and inland and were an initial cause of migration back south of the Swahili and related peoples.  Later the Digil and Rahawiin themselves suffered incursions from northern Somalis and then Oromos, the latter from about 1500. 

They maintained trading relations with the Arabs, Persians and remaining Swahilis on the coast, though preserving their nomadic cattle herding.  There were clashes with the Italians in the colonial period from the late 19th century.

Identity: The Digil and Rahawiin (Mirifle) are two of the clan federations of the Somali peoples.  The Somalis are not a unitary people group, but a grouping of broad clan federation divided by language and by clan conflicts.

The Somali group of peoples and languages is very complex and confusing.  Many segments of the same clans speak several languages, so clan and language profiles don't match easily.

The Somali group of the Somali-Rendille languages of the Eastern Cushite group includes dozens of clans and sub-clans and separate tribes not in the Somali clan system, and numerous languages, some of which are Garre, Garre-Ajuuraan, Somali, Jiddu, Maay and Borana.  Some clans and individuals are bilingual.  Language and clan affiliations are maintained separately. 

The Digil-Rahawiin speak various dialects of what is known as the Maay language.  The Jiddu, whose speech is classed as a separate language, are closely related to the Digil and Rahawiin.  The Tunni also are an allied clan whose language was previously classified as a Maay dialect and has now been classified as a separate language.

Many Gosha peoples also speak Maay, while some Gosha speak Garre.  The Gosha are a mixed group of peoples living in the Lower Jubba Valley, mostly descendants from former Bantu slaves.

There are about 2,400 Gosha speaking Maay on the Kenya side of the border.  About 20,000 Garre in Kenya also speak Maay.  The Leysaan clan of the Somalis also speak Maay and are allied with the Digil-Rahawiin, as is the Daraawe division of the Garre clan.

Language: The Maay language is a member of the Eastern Cushite family of languages.  Until about 1992, all the Somali family of peoples were listed as one group.  More information on the languages led to a reclassification of Maay, Tunni and Jiddu as three separate languages, distinct from Somali. 

These southern languages retain more of the proto-Somali-Rendille language characteristics than does Northern Somali.  The Digil federation clan of Debarre in the Dhiinsoor district speak a very distinctive language called Dabarre.  All these peoples, however, speak Maay as a second language.

Maay is a language, not a people name.  The main speakers of Maay dialects are the Digil and Rahanwiin (Rahawiin or Reewiin) clans of the Somali people.  Many of these peoples also speak "standard" Somali, since that is the language used in broadcasts and most publications.  The Somali Bible is in standard (Northern) Somali.  There is no Bible or any other publication in Maay.

Political Situation: Digil and Rahawiin were affected in their social and political character by the Italian colonial administration.  There were some violent conflicts as the Italians tried to tighten their control.

After the unification of British Somaliland (north) and Italian Somaliland (south and the horn), the Digil-Rahawiin were disadvantaged in the leadership positions of the new Somalia.  Somali peoples had never before been in any unified political structure.  The British had developed a strong infrastructure and educational system, whereas the Italians had done more exploitation than development.

The Digil-Rahawiin, as well as some Hawiye Somali,  developed a federation of clans, in contrast to the lineage-based structrure of the broader Somali peoples.  These allied clans have felt oppressed by the political and military domination of the Northern clans.  In the anarchy after the death of Said Barre, the Rahawiin Resistance Army (RRA) fought a guerrilla war against Farah Aideed.

Customs: The Digil and Rahawiin clans retain much of the historic nomadic, pastoral culture primarily centered around camels with a few cattle and goats in the more productive areas. The Digil and Rahawiin clans retain much of the historic nomadic, pastoral culture primarily centered around camels with a few cattle and goats in the more productive areas.  The culture has been modified by the agricultural setting of the Lower Jubba.  The rain in the Baay-Bakool plateau enables sorghum growing.

Most of the agriculture is conducted by the Gosha or Oromo peoples, but it has affected the Somali culture.  Many are involved in trade with Swahili or Arab communities on the Indian Ocean coast.  Many Maay speakers live in cities and towns.

In general, men herd and protect the camels and cattle (cattle mainly in area south of Garissa and camels mainly to the north), women take the responsibility of milking the animals, food preparation and family nurture. 

A common pastime is the use of qaad (khat) or miraa, a stimulant leaf.  This miraa is also a social pastime.  The Digil-Rahawiin share the Somali love of poetry.

A man is allowed four wives under Islamic law and polygamy is widely practiced.  Divorce is easy and common, but is an option for the man only.  In case of divorce the children are divided by gender, boys to the father and girls to the mother.

Religion: The Somali-related peoples accepted Islam in the 1400s, or perhaps even as early as the 1200s.  Sufi mystical orders and practices are prominent in the Islam of Somalia.  Their commitment to Islam has led to the development of legendary claims of lineages in the Arabian Peninsula, but these claims are not supported by linguistic evidence and other oral traditions.

These people are thoroughly Sunni Muslim in profession, but paradoxically their family and clan identities take precedence over the claims and values of the Muslim faith.  It is common for Somalis to refer themselves as Arabs.

In the 1990s Islamic fundamentalism has been gaining ground over the traditional Sufi mystical orders.  Fundamentalists have established NGOs and brought financial aid.

Christianity: Efforts at Christian mission have met with little success.  The Maay-speaking peoples have never had Christian efforts directed to them as a distinct group.

The only Christian work in the area has been in the form of aid ministries since 1992.  There has been some SIM contact, but no established ministries.  SIM broadcasts are in Northern Somali only, but many Maay speakers can understand that language.



Ratio of pastor/evangelists to population: (total pastors or evangelists--???)
Ratio of missionaries to population:
         0 missionary for every 25,000 persons
              (total missionaries)
Who is Jesus Christ to them?
         0%  Believe Jesus is the Son of God and are nominally Christians
                          (Maybe 2 or 3 believers in Somalia)
         0.01%  Believe in the Son of God and have accepted him as their Savior
         99.9%  Believe Jesus is a prophet, teacher, a good man, but not God's Son
         0%  Believe Jesus is a myth
         0%  Have never heard His name

 Christian witness to the Digil-Rahawiin is very difficult and response to the Gospel has been very limited.  Only recently has any specific ministries been directed to these clans.

 Ratio of churches to population: There are no churches
 Total number of communities (cities, towns, villages): Unknown

 No. Some can read the standard Somali Bible.

Any attempt at open Christian witness is either ignored or met with violence, thus forcing Christian ministries to concentrate on service as a means of building good will so that Christian dialogue may take place. Ongoing war and instability make it difficult or unsafe to live among them.

 Only in standard Somali language.
Recordings: Yes   Literature: Yes   Audio-Visual: Yes
Radio  Yes   Video/Films: Yes (Jesus Film)

 Not receptive to Christianity, more open to cultural change. They are very proud, self-sufficient people and somewhat warlike. Christianity will be strongly opposed by Muslim leaders. Those in refugee camps in Kenya have been more open to Christian contact and witness as they have been impressed by the compassion of Christian medical and aid workers.

Yes, anyone working among the Digil-Rahawiin should be well versed in Islam and be sensitive to their Muslim culture and religion. Patience and perseverance are required. Knowledge of both standard Somali and Maay language (Af-Maay) is a must.



 Ahmed, Ali Jimale, ed. The Invention of Somalia. New Jersey: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1995.

 Biber, Douglas. "Dramatic Roles in Central Somali Narrative Discourse," Studies in African Linguistics. Vol. 15, No. 1, April 1984.

 -----. "Accent in the Central Somali Nominal System," Studies in African Linguistics. Vol. 13, No. 1, April 1982.

 Cassanelli, Lee V. The Shaping of Somali Society: Reconstructing the History of a Pastoral People, 1600-1900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

 Ehret, Christopher and Mohamed Nuuh Ali.  "Somali Classification," Proceedings of the Second International Congress of Somali Studies, Linguistics and Literature.  Hamburg:  Helmut Buske Verlag, 1983.

Lamberti, Marcello. Map of Somali Dialects in the Somali Democratic Republic. Hamburg, Germany: Helmut Beske Verlag Hamburg, 1986.

 Menkhaus, Kenneth J. Rural Transformation and the Roots of Under Development in Somalia's Lower Jubba Valley. Columbia: University of South Carolina (unpublished dissertation), 1989.

 Saeed, John I. "Central Somali--A Grammatical Outline," Monographic Journals of the Near East. October 1982.

 Schlee, Günther. Identities on the Move: Clanship and Pastoralism in Northern Kenya. Nairobi: Gideon S. Were Press, 1994.

 Orville Boyd Jenkins
 September 1996
 Last updated 28 April 2006

More About the Somali People:       Somaliland Net
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