Cover image for Unraveling Somalia : race, violence, and the legacy of slavery

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DT409.Q27 B47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

In 1991 the Somali state collapsed. Once heralded as the only true nation-state in Africa, the Somalia of the 1990s suffered brutal internecine warfare. At the same time a politically created famine caused the deaths of a half a million people and the flight of a million refugees. During the civil war, scholarly and popular analyses explained Somalia's disintegration as the result of ancestral hatreds played out in warfare among various clans and subclans. In Unraveling Somalia, Catherine Besteman challenges this view and argues that the actual pattern of violence -- inflicted disproportionately on rural southerners -- contradicts the prevailing model of ethnic homogeneity and clan opposition. She contends that the dissolution of the Somali nation-state can be understood only by recognizing that over the past century and a half there emerged in Somalia a social order based on principles other than simple clan organization -- a social order deeply stratified on the basis of race, status, class, region, and language. Unraveling Somalia makes this argument by focusing on those particularly targeted in the recent violence: the people of the Jubba valley Gosha area. The people of the Gosha, whose ancestors were brought to Somalia as slaves, have always confronted discrimination in Somalia on the basis of their Bantu heritage and their history of enslavement. In tracing their struggles to legitimize their Somali identity, Unraveling Somalia reveals the critical significance of racial and class divisions in contemporary Somalia. In addition to offering a new explanation of the collapse of the Somali state, Unraveling Somalia contributes to our understanding of how constructions of raceand class in Africa are related to supposedly tribal warfare on the continent. In drawing connections among race, class, and violence, this book also contributes to the building of a comparative theoretical analysis of the global disintegration of nation-states and the politics of terror.


Summary

In 1991 the Somali state collapsed. Once heralded as the only true nation-state in Africa, the Somalia of the 1990s suffered brutal internecine warfare. At the same time a politically created famine caused the deaths of a half a million people and the flight of a million refugees.

During the civil war, scholarly and popular analyses explained Somalia's disintegration as the result of ancestral hatreds played out in warfare between various clans and subclans. In Unraveling Somalia , Catherine Besteman challenges this view and argues that the actual pattern of violence--inflicted disproportionately on rural southerners--contradicts the prevailing model of ethnic homogeneity and clan opposition. She contends that the dissolution of the Somali nation-state can be understood only by recognizing that over the past century and a half there emerged in Somalia a social order based on principles other than simple clan organization--a social order deeply stratified on the basis of race, status, class, region, and language.


Author Notes

Catherine Besteman is the Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby College.


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Besteman's work offers a startling new insight into the chaos of Somalia in the 1990s. Based on field study, her history of southern Somalia's Jubba valley, which was the center of the famine and civil war that led to the disastrous US intervention, explodes the myth of an ethnically homogeneous nation torn apart by clan warfare. The people of the south were descendants of Oromo (Galla) ex-slaves of the Somali. They were farmers, not herders, speaking different dialects, darker skinned, racially oppressed. What happened there was not clan warfare but rather a natural consequence of two centuries of aggression and oppression. This is an economically focused political ethnography with an underlying commentary about the problems of doing research among the descendants of ex-slaves when both they and their former masters, who continue to dominate them, wish to hide the past. Besteman's well-written and important book is a fine example of how careful scholarship can expose the realities behind widely held beliefs. All levels. R. T. Brown Westfield State College


Choice Review

Besteman's work offers a startling new insight into the chaos of Somalia in the 1990s. Based on field study, her history of southern Somalia's Jubba valley, which was the center of the famine and civil war that led to the disastrous US intervention, explodes the myth of an ethnically homogeneous nation torn apart by clan warfare. The people of the south were descendants of Oromo (Galla) ex-slaves of the Somali. They were farmers, not herders, speaking different dialects, darker skinned, racially oppressed. What happened there was not clan warfare but rather a natural consequence of two centuries of aggression and oppression. This is an economically focused political ethnography with an underlying commentary about the problems of doing research among the descendants of ex-slaves when both they and their former masters, who continue to dominate them, wish to hide the past. Besteman's well-written and important book is a fine example of how careful scholarship can expose the realities behind widely held beliefs. All levels. R. T. Brown Westfield State College


Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Pt I Introduction
1 Somalia from the Margins: An Alternative Approach
2 Fieldwork, Surprises, and Historical Anthropology
Pt II The Historical Creation Of The Gosha
3 Slavery and the Jubba Valley Frontier
4 The Settlement of the Upper Gosha, 1895-1988
Pt III The Gosha Space In Somali Society
5 Hard Hair: Somali Constructions of Gosha Inferiority
6 Between Domination and Collusion: The Ambiguity of Gosha Life
7 Negotiating Hegemony and Producing Culture
Pt IV Violence And The State
8 The Political Economy of Subordination
9 Conclusion
Epilogue
Glossary
Notes
Bibliography
Index