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Tomal / Tumal
Handullah Abdi.jpg
Handullah Abdi a 20 year old Tumal man
Regions with significant populations
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The Tomal, also known as Tumal or Tumaal, is an artisanal caste among Somali people. [1] [2] Their traditional hereditary occupation has been as smiths and leather production, and they have been endogamous. [3] [4] [5]


The Tomal have been one of the low status castes or outcasts among the Somalis, along with Madhiban and others. They have historically faced discrimination, restrictions, harassment and prejudice from other social strata of the Somali people. [2] [6] [7]


20 year old Tumal man Egal Mohamud photographed in 1890 by Rolande Bonaparte Egal Mohamud.jpg
20 year old Tumal man Egal Mohamud photographed in 1890 by Rolande Bonaparte

According to the folklore tradition of the Somali people, Tomal and other low castes arose from unholy origins. [8] They were historically smiths who worked various metals, [9] and some also were leather workers (producing and processing animal skin). [10] They may be, states Peter Bridges, pre-Somali Bushmen-like natives who lived in these lands. [10] They are one of a castes within the Sab lineage among the Somali, but they are not the Bantu-related slave strata of the Somali people. [11]

According to Richard Francis Burton, the colonial era Somali ethnographer describing his observations in the northern Somali country, the Tomal were also known as Handad probably a corruption of Haddad which in Arabic means "ironworkers". They were considered vile because they had intermarried with the servile group within the Somali society, and their work with metal and fire was presumed to make them following the path of David [ clarification needed ] and close to witchcraft. These people, states Burton, were also found and reviled in Al-Yaman. [12] Later scholarship, such as by Heather Marie Akou – a professor of History specializing in Near East Cultures, states that per mythical narrative Tomals had intermarried with Midgans, and have been the talented descendants of nomads in the Horn of Africa. [13] The Tomal caste has been notable for their everyday dress, where they traditionally carry a hand crafted long spear called waran as walking stick, and a hidden dagger called bilawi in a leather belt. [13]

According to Teshale Tibebu – a professor of History specializing on Ethiopia and Horn of Africa, the Tomal along with Mijan and Yibir castes have traditionally been considered as ritually impure using Islamic rationalization, and other caste members of the Somali society would never marry a member of the Tomal, Mijan and Yibir castes. [14] Incidental reports of prejudicial comments against the Tomal by other Somali people, in contemporary society include they being called "nasab-dhiman", or "ignoble outcast". [15]

Cognate castes in Horn of Africa

The Tomal caste is not an exception limited to the Somali ethnic group, and equivalent cognate caste is found in numerous ethnic groups in Horn of Africa and East Africa. According to Donald Levine – a professor of Sociology specializing in Ethiopian and Horn of Africa studies, similar caste groups in different languages and ethnic groups have been integral part of societies of this region. [16] These strata have featured all the defining characteristics of caste, states Levine, characteristics such as "endogamy, hierarchy, status, concepts of pollution, restraints on commensality, a traditional occupation and membership by birth". [17] In east African ethnic groups, such as the Oromo people, caste structure with cognates to Tomal have been recorded in 16th century texts, states Cornelius Jaenen. [18] The table below illustrate some alternate terms for castes mirroring the Tomal in other ethnic groups that share this region with the Somali people. [19]

Castes equivalent to Tomal in Horn of Africa
Ethnic groupCaste name [19] [20] Occupation
SomaliTomal, Tumalsmiths
Agew of LasraTebibsmiths
Amhara people Teyb, Gafatsmiths, potters
Tigre people Tebibsmiths
Argobba people Qetqechsmiths
Borana people Tumtusmiths, potters
Borana people Tumtusmiths, potters, weavers
Gurage people Nefwrasmiths
Sidama people Tunichosmiths
Burji people Tumtusmiths
Kefa people Qemmosmiths
Konso people Haudasmiths, potters, weavers, tanners

See also

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  1. Lewis, I. M. (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. James Currey Publishers. pp. 13–14. ISBN   0852552807 . Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  2. 1 2 Donald N. Levine (2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. pp. 62, 195. ISBN   978-0-226-22967-6.
  3. Scott Steven Reese (2008). Renewers of the Age: Holy Men and Social Discourse in Colonial Benaadir. BRILL Academic. pp. 139–140. ISBN   90-04-16729-3.
  4. Heather Marie Akou (2011). The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture. Indiana University Press. pp. 20–23. ISBN   978-0253223135.
  5. David F. Horrobin (2012). The Somali, in "A Guide to Kenya and Northern Tanzania". Springer. pp. 29–30. ISBN   978-94-011-7129-8.; Е. de Larajasse (1972), Somali-English and Somali-English Dictionary, Trubner, page 108
  6. Elaine Tarone; Martha Bigelow; Kit Hansen (2013). Oxford Applied Linguistics: Literacy and Second Language Oracy. Oxford University Press. pp. 55, 73–74 with footnote 5. ISBN   978-0-19-442313-7., Quote: "In addition to the Bantus, there are Somali clans considered to be of low caste and treated as outcasts. They are the Yibir, the Midgan and the Tumal. They face restrictions, prejudice, discrimination, harassment and attacks in East Africa as well as in the Diaspora."
  7. kK Fangen (2006), Humiliation experienced by Somali refugees in Norway, Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 19, pages 69-93
  8. Mohamed A. Eno and Abdi M. Kusow (2014), Racial and Caste Prejudice in Somalia, Journal of Somali Studies, Iowa State University Press, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 91, 96, 108-112
  9. Donald N. Levine (2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. p. 195. ISBN   978-0-226-22967-6.
  10. 1 2 Peter Bridges (2000). Safirka: An American Envoy. Kent State University Press. p. 95. ISBN   978-0-87338-658-6.
  11. Vincent Bakpetu Thompson (2015). Conflict in the Horn of Africa: The Kenya-Somalia Border Problem 1941–2014. University Press of America. p. 32. ISBN   978-0-7618-6526-1.
  12. Richard F. Burton (2014). First Footsteps in East Africa; Or, an Exploration of Harar. Courier. p. 24 with footnote 1. ISBN   978-0-486-78954-5.
  13. 1 2 Heather Marie Akou (2011). The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture. Indiana University Press. p. 22. ISBN   978-0-253-22313-5.
  14. Teshale Tibebu (1995). The Making of Modern Ethiopia: 1896-1974. The Red Sea Press. p. 198. ISBN   978-1-56902-001-2.
  15. Mohamed A. Eno and Abdi M. Kusow (2014), Racial and Caste Prejudice in Somalia, Journal of Somali Studies, Iowa State University Press, Volume 1, Issue 2, page 105
  16. Donald N. Levine (10 December 2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. pp. 57, 169–171. ISBN   978-0-226-22967-6.
  17. Donald N. Levine (10 December 2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN   978-0-226-22967-6.
  18. Cornelius J. Jaenen (1956), The Galla or Oromo of East Africa, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, University of Chicago Press, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer, 1956), pages 171-190
  19. 1 2 Donald N. Levine (10 December 2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN   978-0-226-22967-6.
  20. Saïd Amir Arjomand (2014). Social Theory and Regional Studies in the Global Age. State University of New York Press. pp. 229–237. ISBN   978-1-4384-5161-9.