Digil people


Digil (Somali Clan)

The Digil (Dighil) are one of the six primary clans of the Somali people of Somalia.

They are closely related to the Rahanwayns.

Digil People

Like all Somalis, they claim descent from Samaale, the mythical founder of the entire ethnic group. Also like all other Somalis, they speak the Somali language and are Sunni Muslims. Some Digils are nomadic herders, who raise camels, sheep, and cattle, but most of them are farmers. The Digil ethnic group, however, is subdivided into thousands of sub-clans and sub-sub-clans, and individual Digils feel far more loyalty to their local clan than to any larger collectivity of people. Most Digils are concentrated in northwestern Somalia.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Digils faced starvation because of the famine and civil war in Somalia. Political instability became endemic as centralized authority broke down in the face of severe clan and sub-clan rivalries. Somalia essentially became a no-man's-land of misery and suffering, with no single individual or group enjoying enough power to impose any order. In 1991, many Digils joined the Somali National Alliance, a group headed by General Mohammed Farrah Aidid, a member of the Hawiye clan. Even the intervention of United Nations troops in 1992 did not perma- nently restore stability to the región. Like millions of other Somalis, the Digils faced catastrophe.



The Maay-speaking peoples are found primarily in the Lower Jubba Valley of central Somalia, between the Shabeelle and Jubba Rivers and south of the Jubba River.

These are primarily the Digil and Rahawiin peoples. The latter name is often seen spelled Rahanweyn or Rahanwin, following the Northern Somali pronunciation. Mirifle is another name used fairly interchangeably with Rahawiin.

Because their language is called Maay, this cluster of clans is sometimes called the Maay people. Many of the Gosha people also speak Maay language.

Since the civil war and aid efforts, Baidhowa is a well-known town of the Digil-Rahawiin. Ajuuran speakers of Northern Somali live to the southwest of the Digil-Rahawiin. However, many different clans and tribes are interspersed in the inter-River area (between the Shabeelle and Jubba Rivers), and to the southwest of the Jubba.


Digil Subclans



The Digil subclans are mainly farmers and coastal people. The land they inhabit is the most fertile in Somalia. Mirifle subclans are Agro pastoralists with farming communities and some semi nomadic peoples.



The Maay speakers (basically Digil and Rahawiin), along with the Jiddu and Tunni (two related Digil clans speaking languages previously classified as dialects of Maay), are descendants of the earliest wave of Somaloid peoples and also the most southern. 

Firm evidence for the history of the Somali people dates back to only about AD 1000. [Ahmed, Ali Jimale, Ed.  The Invention of Somalia  (New Jersey, U.S.A.:  The Red Sea Press, Inc.,  1995)  p. 233-256.]

Linguistic, cultural and historical evidence indicates they came originally from the southern highlands of what is now Ethiopia.  The Somali are from the same broad group of early Cushitic peoples from which the Rendille came.  The Somali-Rendille are one broad group with similar language and culture.

This Maay-speaking group came in contact with the northern Bantu peoples the on the coast from Mogadishu south and inland and were an initial cause of migration back south of the Swahili and related peoples.  Later the Digil and Rahawiin themselves suffered incursions from northern Somalis and then Oromos, the latter from about 1500. 

They maintained trading relations with the Arabs, Persians and remaining Swahilis on the coast, though preserving their nomadic cattle herding.  There were clashes with the Italians in the colonial period from the late 19th century.



The Digil and Rahawiin (Mirifle) are two of the clan federations of the Somali peoples.  The Somalis are not a unitary people group, but a grouping of broad clan federation divided by language and by clan conflicts. 

The Somali group of peoples and languages is very complex and confusing.  Many segments of the same clans speak several languages, so clan and language profiles don't match easily.

The Somali group of the Somali-Rendille languages of the Eastern Cushite group includes dozens of clans and sub-clans and separate tribes not in the Somali clan system, and numerous languages, some of which are Garre, Garre-Ajuuraan, Somali, Jiddu, Maay and Borana.  Some clans and individuals are bilingual.  Language and clan affiliations are maintained separately. 

The Digil-Rahawiin (Digil-Mirifle) speak various dialects of what is known as the Maay language.  The Jiddu, whose speech is classed as a separate language, are closely related to the Digil and Rahawiin.  The Tunni also are an allied clan whose language was previously classified as a Maay dialect and has now been classified as a separate language.

Many Gosha peoples also speak Maay, while some Gosha speak Garre.  The Gosha are a mixed group of peoples living in the Lower Jubba Valley, mostly descendants from former Bantu slaves. 

There are about 2,400 Gosha speaking Maay on the Kenya side of the border.  About 20,000 Garre in Kenya also speak Maay.  The Leysaan clan of the Somalis also speak Maay and are allied with the Digil-Rahawiin, as is the Daraawe division of the Garre clan.



The Maay language is a member of the Eastern Cushite family of languages.  Until about 1992, all the Somali family of peoples were listed as one group.  More information on the languages led to a reclassification of Maay, Tunni and Jiddu as three separate languages, distinct from Somali. 

These southern languages retain more of the proto-Somali-Rendille language characteristics than does Northern Somali.  The Digil federation clan of Debarre in the Dhiinsoor district speak a very distinctive language called Dabarre.  All these peoples, however, speak Maay as a second language.

Maay is a language, not a people name.  The main speakers of Maay dialects are the Digil and Rahanwiin (Rahawiin or Reewiin) clans of the Somali people.  Many of these peoples also speak "standard" Somali, since that is the language used in broadcasts and most publications.  The Somali Bible is in standard (Northern) Somali.  There is no Bible or any other publication in Maay.


Political Situation

Digil and Rahawiin were affected in their social and political character by the Italian colonial administration.  There were some violent conflicts as the Italians tried to tighten their control. 

After the unification of British Somaliland (north) and Italian Somaliland (south and the horn), the Digil-Rahawiin were disadvantaged in the leadership positions of the new Somalia.  Somali peoples had never before been in any unified political structure.  The British had developed a strong infrastructure and educational system, whereas the Italians had done more exploitation than development.

The Digil-Rahawiin, as well as some Hawiye Somali, developed a federation of clans, in contrast to the lineage-based structure of the broader Somali peoples.  These allied clans have felt oppressed by the political and military domination of the Northern clans.  In the anarchy after the death of Said Barre, the Rahawiin Resistance Army (RRA) has fought a guerrilla war against Farah Aideed.



The Digil and Rahawiin clans retain much of the historic nomadic, pastoral culture primarily centered around camels with a few cattle and goats in the more productive areas. The Digil and Rahawiin clans retain much of the historic nomadic, pastoral culture primarily centered around camels with a few cattle and goats in the more productive areas.  The culture has been modified by the agricultural setting of the Lower Jubba.  The rain in the Baay-Bakool plateau enables sorghum growing.

Most of the agriculture is conducted by the Gosha or Oromo peoples, but it has affected the Somali culture.  Many are involved in trade with Swahili or Arab communities on the Indian Ocean coast.  Many Maay speakers live in cities and towns.

In general, men herd and protect the camels and cattle (cattle mainly in area south of Garissa and camels mainly to the north), women take the responsibility of milking the animals, food preparation and family nurture. 

A common pastime is the use of qaad (khat) or miraa, a stimulant leaf.  This miraa is also a social pastime.  The Digil-Rahawiin share the Somali love of poetry.

A man is allowed four wives under Islamic law and polygamy is widely practiced.  Divorce is easy and common, but is an option for the man only.  In case of divorce the children are divided by gender, boys to the father and girls to the mother.



The Somali-related peoples accepted Islam in the 1400s, or perhaps even as early as the 1200s.  Sufi mystical orders and practices are prominent in the Islam of Somalia.  Their commitment to Islam has led to the development of legendary claims of lineages in the Arabian Peninsula, but these claims are not supported by linguistic evidence and other oral traditions.

These people are thoroughly Sunni Muslim in profession, but paradoxically their family and clan identities take precedence over the claims and values of the Muslim faith.  It is common for Somalis to refer themselves as Arabs. 

In the 1990s Islamic fundamentalism has been gaining ground over the traditional Sufi mystical orders.  Fundamentalists have established NGOs and brought financial aid.

Reports indicate about 0.01% of the Digil-MIrifle clans are Christian.