Information on inter-clan marriages of Tuni and Sheikhal in Mogadishu in the late 1970s, including whether they were socially permitted, and if not, what was the clans' reaction [SOM24523.E]

Specific information on the above-mentioned subjects could not be found among the sources consulted by the DIRB. However, the following general information on marriage between low-caste or outcast Somalis and those from the major clan families was obtained in a 13 September 1996 telephone interview with a professor of African and women's studies at City College in New York, who is knowledgeable about Somali customs and traditions.

According to the professor, marriages between the major Somali clans and those groups considered low-caste or outcast were and are rare. The professor explained that the Sheikhal have a reputation for religious probity, and that a marriage to someone from one of the low-caste groups like the Tuni would be exceptional. However, the source explained that the circumstances of the couple that led to the marriage would need to be known in order to understand the consequences, if any, of a marriage between a Sheikhal and a Tuni.

A family might shun a son or daughter who marries without his or her family's approval. In addition, the family would be expected to treat the offender in this fashion, otherwise it might be mocked by the larger community. The source also described an example of an extreme response, such as when a relative decides that a marriage brings such dishonour on the family that he kills the couple, or in the case of a woman who marries without approval, the woman. The source stressed that this was an extreme example and that family reactions could be mitigated by a number of factors. For example, an only son might be treated differently than a son from a family in which there are two or three sons; likewise, the eldest son from his brothers.

The source also stated that the 1960s and 1970s were a period of Somali nationalism in which clan identity was outlawed and less emphasis placed on clan identity. Young people were encouraged to identify with being Somalis first and with the objectives of the Somali state. Clan membership might not have been at issue for younger people in an urban setting during this period. Some Muslims also consider clanism and nationalism to be secondary to Islam, so an inter-clan marriage may not be problematic.

The professor added that marriage in Somali society also mirrors the fluidity of Somali politics and clan relationships, to the extent that in times of conflict clans will be more restrictive about who constitutes an eligible marriage partner. During times of peace exogamous marriage is the traditional and strategic norm. Low-caste groups have always tended to be endogamous because of their limited social status in Somali society.

In a February 1996 presentation to the Immigration and Refugee Board in Toronto, Matt Bryden, a consultant with the United Nations Emergency Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE), stated that the minority or outcast groups in Somalia tend to marry within their group (15 Feb. 1996, 45). He also added the following information on marriage between major clans and outcast groups, which may be of interest.

According to Bryden, "marriage typically requires the consent of both clans," and "it depends which member of the couple is male and which is female" (ibid.). Bryden states that in the situation of an Issaq male marrying a Midgan women, the man's family "would have nothing to say in [the marriage] if he chose to do so (ibid.)." In the woman's case her father or uncle would be responsible for the ceremony, so she would have the consent of her family (ibid., 46). Regarding an elopement between an Issaq male and a Midgan woman, Bryden states that it would be rare for the couple to be subjected to persecution from either family (ibid.). "It is very hard to envisage, so I think someone who is claiming on those grounds would probably have some further explanation to make" (ibid.).

For additional information on marriage between low-caste groups and Somali clans, please consult Responses to Information Requests SOM23044.E of 20 March 1996 and SOM23701.E of 29 March 1996, which are available at Regional Documentation Centres.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Convention Refugee Determination Division, Immigration and Refugee Board, Toronto. 15 February 1996. Information Session on Somalia.

Professor of African and women's studies, City College, New York. 13 September 1996. Telephone interview.