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It is arguable
that mankind’s existence in its entirety has been built upon caste system after
caste system spawning from prehistoric civilisations like Babylon with its
awilu (upper class nobility), mushkenu (free people of low estate) and wardu
(slaves/prisoners of war) (Russell, 2016)1,
Imperial Rome which thrived on slavery and patriarchy as well as Ancient Egypt where
pharaohs perceived as god regimented the lashing of thousands of commoners to
build monuments in smouldering heat. And as if such systems were not unwarranted
and horrific enough, this EPQ is centred on a conglomerate of individuals whose
persecution goes far beyond the ‘caste system’ – the untouchables.

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Untouchability2 was most
renowned in rural India where 200 million Indians belonged to a community
deemed so impure by religious scriptures that they were placed outside the
hierarchical Hindu caste system; coming into contact with them was to be
defiled (Gidla, 2017). Numerous
anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists such as Rajni Kothari in
his collection of studies on the social system of Bengal Caste have discovered
links between age-old caste systems and parliamentary forms of government as
well as the socio-political development of the corresponding countries.

In response to the
question my essay aims to impose these notions onto the uncharted issue and sad
case of the ‘Madhiban’, the alienation and ostracization of this perversely
oppressed subtribe and how this has stunted the socio-political, economic and
overall growth of the failed state of Somalia and an adjacent newly established
autonomous region known as Somaliland.


I will begin by
clarifying who the Madhiban are, then outlining the origin of their
persecution, subsequently walking you through their expulsion from society and
horrific maltreatment. I will then proceed by exploring similar cases e.g.
Untouchability such as that in India during the 14th century and apartheid in
South Africa and the US during the 20th and 21st century. After underpinning
the root causes of such oppression and alienation, I may explore the
consequential impact on welfare development, demographics and acculturation in
the region.

Establishment of Madhiban

Midgan is the name of one precise
group and a disparaging generic term that Somali people apply to all the various
occupational groups. They are also called Gaboye (a term introduced during the
Barre era)3,
but this is not a clan/group name – nor the name of an ancestor. The most common
generic name for the groups in other parts of Somalia is sabor or bon. In this
extended project response, I will be using the identifying term Midgan, except
where local representatives themselves use another term.


professor of Sociology at Central Michigan University, dedicated to minorities in
Africa, stated in a telephone interview “Madhiban” is a pejorative term
used to refer to a group of people who engage in hunting, gathering, and metal
and leather work (15 Oct. 1995).

He stated that mainstream
people of Somalia evade and despise the occupations of the Madhiban and so the
former treat the latter as “untouchables.” He also stated that the
term “Madhiban” is more refined than Midgan. This information could
not be corroborated by sources currently available to the Research Directorate.


Kinship and tribal
identification in Somalia is and has always played a governing influence on
social standing and the public perception of individuals. Being without a tribe
was equivalent to being homeless and this was essentially, what the Madhiban
were. When conglomerates of people are alienated, it is anthropologically proven
that they band together. The madhiban constructed their
own sociolect.


Physically, members of
Midgan, and other so-called occupational groups are not distinct from other
Somalis. No one knows how large a proportion of the population these groups
constitute: Some sources believe one percent, others claim that there are far
more. A study conducted by UNHCR in 2002 estimated that there were about 20,000
members of these groups in Northwest Somalia (Ambroso 2002, p. 32). Landinfo
met with two organisations that represent the groups in Hargeisa in April 2016,
and they gave different estimates. One of them estimated that there ar

e 4,000 such households in
Hargeisa, i.e. between 20,000 and 30,000 people. The representatives for the
other group, VOSOMWO, Voices of Somaliland Minority Women Organization 3, said
that the number of households in Hargeisa alone is about 8,000 or an estimated
60,000 people


Origins of Madhiban persecution


According to
ancient Somali legend, the gaboye/madhiban were a weak-willed set of natives
who in 1890 consumed forbidden meat. The acts were said to have taken place
during a time of drought and poor harvest; animals were dying and many of the
people saw no need to starve whilst perfectly good meat so blatantlyavailable.

The issue with
this stance was that these animals had not been slaughtered in the ways
constituted by Shari’ah Law and this meat was therefore not permitted by Islam
(the presiding religion in Somalia both then and now). The gaboye ate the meat
and when the remaining natives learned of` their ‘sin’5, the
sub-tribe and its lineage for over 10 centuries would never be treated the same
again. (Ali A. , 2017) (Ali, 2017) (Ibrahim,

This recount has
been conceded down orally through generations of Somali families across the
globe as it had been through mine. The story was passed from my great maternal
grandfather to my paternal grandmother to my mother and eventually to me at age
twelve. In the same way the discrimination persisted to torment those whose
only crime was carrying Madhiban blood.

What struck me
about this was the fact that it is well known that food that is haram, can be
considered permissible in times of crisise.g. when a person is facing starvation.


Just like the
majority of prejudicial cases throughout history there is no just/logical
explanation that can be provided to vindicate it. Such is made evident when a
young girl in her preteens is able to pick apart the basis of Madhiban persecution
and so easily refute its validity.


Physical records of the origin of
Madhiban persecution


Online there is
almost no documentation of the origins of the Madhiban/Mitjan/Muse
Dheri/Gaboye. They are identified as ‘descendants of hunting peoples believed
to have been in the Somali peninsula before the Somali penetration.’ (, 2011)

Although their
genealogy is unmentioned, the maltreatment of the sub-tribe is well documented.
There has been much exertion by Somali civic/national leaders to discourage use
of the term ‘Midgan’ as it is very derogatory – this was powerless to entrenched
prejudice with firm roots. Gaboye communities have traditionally worked as
smiths, barbers and leather workers for other patron communities, as well as
medicinal advisers and midwives. Gaboye women and men perform infibulation and
circumcision respectively. Other Gaboye are tailors, singers, and butchers. (, 2011)

Upper castes in
the region are outlawed to intermarry with Gaboye outcaste clans, upon penalty
of becoming outcastes themselves.A large majority of Somalis from major tribes/clans
habitually reject Gaboye people. As they are shorn of any land, Madhiban faced
economic marginalization. As a minority they have no military strength and have
been greatlysusceptible to attack by the militias of the higher caste tribes.


women face disproportionately greater danger of rape. Following the rise of
Hawiye clan leader Mohamed Farah Aideed in 1991, his militia launched brutal
assaults on Gaboyes, whom Aideed accused of loyalty to ousted dictator Mohamed
Siad Barre. Because of their ‘outcast’ status, none of other powerful clans
came to their rescue. In a testimony to Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination in 2002, Professor Asha. A Samad described their treatment
during those terrible days, saying, “Large numbers of them perished. The
Midgan-Madhiban were routinely raped, expelled from their homes, kidnapped and
killed. Large numbers of Midgan-Madhiban simply disappeared.” As they are
outside the clan systems of arbitration, those who suffered had no opportunity
of gaining compensation for their loss.(, 2011)

1Babylon is the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia
whose ruins lie in modern-day Iraq 59 miles (94 kilometres) southwest of

There were several levels in the
social hierarchy with the king at the top and the slaves at the bottom.
In between, in descending order, were the nobles, the free citizens
and those in military and civil service. The class structure was generally
rigid although some mobility from one level to another was possible. The debt
slave had the possibility of paying his debts and regaining his freedom
but the only hope for the foreign captive was escape or death.
Thus in Babylonian society there were mainly three classes in society, the awilu,
a free person of the upper class; the wardu, or slave; and the mushkenu,
a free person of low estate, who ranked legally between the awilu and the
wardu. Most slaves were prisoners of war, but some were recruited from the
Babylonian citizenry as well. (Russell, 2016)


2Untouchability is the practice of ostracising
a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal
mandate. The excluded group could be one that did not accept the norms of the
excluding group and historically included foreigners, nomadic tribes,
law-breakers and criminals and those suffering from a contagious disease. It
could also be a group that did not accept change of customs enforced by a
certain group. This exclusion was a method of punishing law-breakers and also
protecting traditional societies against contagion from strangers and the
infected. A member of the excluded group is known as an Untouchable. (contributors,
2017) supported by (Oxford Dictionary)

3 1996 to 1991 where the Somali Democratic Republic was ruled by
President Siad Barre

4Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: The
Madhiban clan, including literal translation in English, whether it applies to
a single clan or group of clans, 1 October 1998

5 The acts were not really sin as all forms of the Holy Quran state “He
hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swine flesh, and that which
hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven
by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo!
Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:173).

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