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CULTURE OF THE SOMALI BANTU

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Family

Strong family and social networks are important strengths of Somali Bantu culture. Somali Bantu families are traditionally large and multi-generational. Extended family members often live together or nearby, and provide support, social identity and a source of security. 

Somalia is a clan-based society, although many Somali- Americans seek to move beyond the conflicts this created in Somalia. Marriage is considered a relationship between two families or clans; however, most marriages are chosen rather than arranged. 

Community

It is very common to find Somali Bantu families spending time in each other’s homes whether to just hang out or to cook together. Being together is very important to Somali Bantu culture.

 

Decisions that are made in the community are done together and have to be discussed and approved by the elders of the community, thus causing everyone to agree on the same decision. The ultimate decision though is made by the elders after all opinions are considered, brought up, and discussed.  

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Image by Faseeh Fawaz

Religion

Somali Bantu are primarily Muslim in their belief and practices. It is important to remember that religion and culture are very closely intertwined in the lives of the Somali Bantu. This affects their daily living and community interactions. Here are just a few of the practices they adhere to, but there many others.

• Women cover their arms and legs and wear the “hijab” (head covering) in public—and in the presence of unrelated males at home—this reflects the values of modesty and purity. 

 

• Muslims abstain from pork and alcohol (some Somali Bantus may avoid products containing vanilla due to the alcohol content, or products with gelatin such as prenatal vitamin capsules due to containing pork products). 

 

• Eating only “halal” meat (regarding the way animals are slaughtered, similar in some ways to “kosher” meat preparation). It is important that you don’t give non-halal meat to friends you have who are Muslim as they have repercussions for eating non-halal meat. 

Somali Bantu also follow the 5 pillars of Islam that you can look up and find out more about if you are interested.

Our Food

We greatly enjoy making and sharing our food and hope you get to enjoy it sometime soon! Many of the foods we eat are made of either starches or protein because this is what we had access to when we lived in Somalia. A few examples of our foods are goat stew or curry, ugali (a very sticky form of corn mush), manyasi mboga (spinach stew), sambusa (deep fried meat pockets), and mbogo manyasi (green bananas) are just a few of them.

 

We also have catered at different events in the area and would be glad to provide food for your event in the future. You can contact Siraji Hassan, the president of United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh for more information. 

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Dance

Dancing and music are an important part of our culture. We dance and play music at our weddings, birthday celebrations, baby showers, and really any celebration or gathering we have. But our dancing may look different than what you might be used to from a Western and especially an American perspective.

 

We dance in large groups and it usually starts out as walking or skipping around in a large circle with everyone following after that person in front. Then people may take turns going in the center to dance. At weddings, the guests dance around the bride and groom and bridal party for some of the time, and then the bridal party joins into the circle. We will also form two lines and dance as partners across from each other.

 

Here is a link to a video from one of our weddings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HgjasqXNK4

Traditional Arts

African Arts Collective 

We invite you to support a community of refugee women from Africa who gather in fellowship and friendship over the hobby of sewing! These women meet to learn the skill of sewing and how to make clothing for their families. They have been collecting scraps of material used for clothes to make these beautiful handmade cards. The inside is blank and would be perfect to send for any occasion like birthdays, sympathy, or just because. Includes an envelope and an insert telling you who made your card! All proceeds go back to these women to purchase sewing notions and fabric.

 

If you wish to purchase any of our cards, you can find them at Atlas Art Press at the address below. 

 

VISIT THE SHOP:  

ATLAS ART PRESS, LLC

75 SHENOT RD., BOX 4, 

WEXFORD, PA 15090

Henna

Henna is a beautiful way that women in our community show their artistic abilities. We use henna to draw beautiful designs as well as dye our fingernails instead of using nail polish. Women in our community will do henna designs on their hands and arms typically only for special occasions like weddings, birthday celebrations, or religious holidays. It is a way for us to beautify ourselves along with our clothing and other jewelry as a celebratory action.

Image by Wei-Cheng Wu