Folk Islam and Indigenous Ritual
Somalis have modified Islam, for example with reference to
the social significance of baraka. Baraka is considered a gift
from God to the founders and heads of Sufi orders. It is likewise
associated with secular leaders and their clan genealogies.
A leader has power to bless, but his baraka may have
potentially dangerous side effects. His curse is greatly feared,
and his power may harm others. When a clan leader visits the
leader of another clan, the host's relative receives him first to
draw off some of the visitor's power so that his own chief may
not be injured.
The traditional learning of a wadad includes a form of
folk astronomy based on stellar movements and related to seasonal
changes. Its primary objective is to signal the times for
migration, but it may also be used to set the dates of rituals
that are specifically Somali. This folk knowledge is also used in
ritual methods of healing and averting misfortune, as well as for
Wadaddo help avert misfortune by making protective
amulets and charms that transmit some of their baraka to others,
or by adding the Quran's baraka to the amulet through a written
passage. The baraka of a saint may be obtained in the form of an
object that has touched or been placed near his tomb.
Although wadaddo may use their power to curse as a
sanction, misfortune generally is not attributed to curses or
witchcraft. Somalis have accepted the orthodox Muslim view that a
man's conduct will be judged in an afterlife. However, a person
who commits an antisocial act, such as patricide, is thought
possessed of supernatural evil powers.
Despite formal Islam's uncompromising monotheism, Muslims
everywhere believe in the existence of mortal spirits (jinn),
said to be descended from Iblis, a spirit fallen from heaven.
Most Somalis consider all spirits to be evil but some believe
there are benevolent spirits.
Certain kinds of illness, including tuberculosis and
pneumonia, or symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and
loss of consciousness, are believed to result from spirit
possession, namely, the wadaddo of the spirit world. The
condition is treated by a human wadad, preferably one who
has himself recovered from the sickness. He reads portions of the
Quran over the patient and bathes him with perfume, which in
Somalia is associated with religious celebrations.
In the case of possession by the zar, a spirit, the
ceremony of exorcism used to treat it is sometimes referred to as
the "zar cult." The victims are women with grievances
against their husbands. The symptoms are extreme forms of
hysteria and fainting fits. The zar exorcism ritual is
conducted by a woman who has had the affliction and thus
supposedly has some authority over the spirit. The ritual
consists of a special dance in which the victim tends to
reproduce the symptoms and fall into a trance. The "illness"
enables a disgruntled wife to express her hostility without
actually quarreling with her husband.
A third kind of spirit possession is known as gelid
(entering), in which the spirit of an injured person troubles the
offender. A jilted girl, for example, cannot openly complain if a
promise of marriage arranged by the respective families has been
broken. Her spirit, however, entering the young man who was
supposed to marry her and stating the grievance, causes him to
fall ill. The exorcism consists of readings from the Quran and
commands from a wadad that the spirit leave the afflicted
Gelid is also thought to be caused by the curse or
evil power of a helpless person who has been injured. The
underlying notion is that those who are weak in worldly matters
are mystically endowed. Such persons are supposed to be under the
special protection of God, and kind acts toward them bring
religious merit, whereas unkind acts bring punishment. The evil
eye, too, is associated with unfortunates, especially women.
Thus, members of the Yibir, the numerically smallest and weakest
of the special occupation groups and traditionally the lowliest
socially, are the most feared for their supernatural powers.
Somalis also engage in rituals that derive from pre-Islamic
practices and in some cases resemble those of other Eastern
Cushitic-speaking peoples. Perhaps the most important of these
rituals are the annual celebrations of the clan ancestor among
northern Somalis--an expression of their solidarity--and the
collective rainmaking ritual (roobdoon) performed by
sedentary groups in the south.