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Girls at Somali Week event
The Somali community made their prescence known in the capital as early as the 19th century. Find out what the word Somali means, who the Fortune Men were and how the emerging generation of this community are contributing to London life.
The name "Somali" comes from a word meaning "milk the animal" and relates to the peoples’ nomadic farming tradition.
Today, it is estimated, there are around 70,000 Somalis living in the capital, with the largest group of some 10,000 people, in Tower Hamlets. Whilst a lot of Somalis came to London as asylum seekers, fleeing civil unrest in their country, many are second, third and even fourth generation Somalis.
There are records of Somalis in London dating back to 1914, when they were recruited to fight in the First World War and then settled in the capital. This first group was followed by a continuous trickle, many of whom came over as merchant seamen.
Rageh Omaar, well known Somali journalist
In Somalia, they were nicknamed "The Fortune Men" because they promised to bring wealth back home. As they had always intended to go back to Africa, many of the first Somalis in London didn’t learn English, and they have been slower to establish a formal community here than many other ethnic groups.
Young Somali girl
Somalia is a clan-based nation, and communities of Somalis were founded centuries ago in all eight of the countries that make up the Horn Of Africa. They are the only people of Arab-African ethnicity, dating back to the time when the Arab slave trade swept through the eastern seaboard.
Iman - the famous Somalian model
Somalia itself is a relatively young country, formed in 1960, from a former British Protectorate and an Italian Colony. Many southern Somalis actually speak Italian, and spaghetti is one of the national dishes. Recently, the country has been ravaged by civil war (since 1991), and by intermittent border disputes until 1993.
Aid work in Somalia
One million citizens died in the subsequent famine which brought the nation to the brink of anarchy. Nevertheless, the Somalians are said to be one of the most unified African people, sharing a common language, heritage and faith (Islam).
Abdi Bhadon, Somali actor and poet
Somalis in London have managed to retain much of their cultural heritage and traditions, and their communities here are very much based on the family. As time goes on, however, Somalis are making an impact on London’s industrial, professional and commercial life.
Adam Dirir - Writer and Entrepreneur
They are also rising in the creative industry and contributing to law and politics. Up and coming Somali writers such as Zahrah Awaleh and Shafi Sayed are making their mark in the British literary world and Abdi Bhadon is also making his way up in the television and entertainment industry.
last updated: 11/09/2008 at 13:49