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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
South East Wales

Somali community

March 1927; Marshelling Yard Roath Dock Storage
© BHAC [Butetown History and Arts Centre]
The Somali community in Cardiff has the largest British-born Somali population in the UK. They were originally drawn to Cardiff as seamen at the end of the 19th century, shortly after the opening of the Suez canal, to work in the thriving docks. These young men came as sailors, not as refugees or slaves, driven by the desire to earn money to buy more livestock back in Somalia. Some of them settled down and married local women, whilst others returned home periodically to visit their families, living in boarding houses during their time onshore. The boarding houses were run by Somalis and provided the visiting sailors with the familiarity of shared language and customs.

Because of Britain's colonial presence in Somaliland it was possible for the sailors to work and live in the UK. There was usually plenty of work available for the seamen in the docks, and later in the steel industry, although they were often filling jobs that the white workers didn't want, whether on the tramp steamers where working conditions were tough, or in the merchant navy during World War One when white British seamen were transferred to the Royal Navy. It was not an easy life, and times of economic crisis could spell disaster: the Great Depression saw hundreds of Somali sailors dying from starvation through lack of work.

Khat;/Quadd
green leaves that are chewed fresh – used as a recreational substance; this is a traditional habit which highlights the difference between religion and culture in Somalia. Islam says that you can’t take anything that dulls the mind, but chewing Quadd is a cultural tradition. There is some debate at present regarding the habit as use of this natural stimulant can have adverse effects on family and community life.
With the outbreak of civil war in Somalia in the 1980s, seamen from this well established community were allowed to bring their families over. There are also large Somali communities in London and Manchester but Cardiff is the oldest as Abdi Agli says: "there's a Somali proverb which says 'Cardiff, my home' ".

Religion is a vital part of a Somali's life. There is no room for compromise with the Suni Muslim religion, although there are some clashes between religion and culture ,the UK Somali population are more likely to celebrate birthdays, which doesn't usually happen in Islam. Friday prayer is very important. Many young people and families go to the Al-Noor Mosque: this was built on the site of the original Peel Street Mosque. The Peel Street mosque was built after the Second World War but demolished as part of the Butetown redevelopment in 1988.


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Internet Links
Bay People - An oral history of settlers in Cardiff's Tiger Bay
A Seafaring Tale By Isman Hassan Ali
Camels and Curran's by Jama Mohammed Ali
Article: Wales has been a refuge to a persecuted patriot
English/Somali Bilingual newsletter from Cardiff
News site for UK Somali community
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