Cultures Of The World: Somalia, by Susan M. Hassig
This book provides an interesting answer to a profound question: how does one write a somewhat sunny and optimistic book about an imaginary state with a dismal history without a complete whitewash? The answer is itself revealing, and worthy of exploration. The book is itself a very easy to read book (for anyone from the junior high school level up), filled with lots of pictures of Somalis drinking coffee, beautiful Somali landscapes and buildings, maps, and even a few Somali vocabulary words for the interested reader. There are even a few photos of Somalis holding guns, historical photos of the Barre dictatorship, and some photos of Somalis during the drought of the early 1990’s accepting food at refugee camps.
What the book does not offer is a systematic or particularly deep account, but gives at least a basic understanding to the uninformed (presumably Western reader) about Somali nomadic and town life, economic and social relations, and culture. Particularly interesting is the focus on the poetry and folk religious aspects of the Somali, which appear very similar with Mediterranean cultures (concerning the “evil eye”). The Arabic history and genealogy was also of interest, even if the history was somewhat superficial. Very little information was included here on Somalia’s breakup post dictatorship–with one short blurb on Somaliland and nothing on Puntland or the Sharia Courts.
In short, if you read this book you will not find out a lot about the deep problems that have plagued Somalia throughout its history, but you are likely to gain an appreciation for the beauty of the Somali people, culture, and land. That’s not an insignificant feat.