The Yibir in Somalia is one of the few known Muslim communities worldwide that maintains Jewish descent. The community is small and tightly knitted, numbering not more than thirty thousand. The name Yibir, also pronounced Yibro and Yahar, simply means Hebrews.
Despite the wide array of research on African communities of Jewish descent, the Yibir have received minimum interest from academicians. No significant studies have been conducted on the group making the Yibir one of the most forgotten world populations.
For at least eight centuries, the Yibir have lived amongst the pastoralist populations of Northern Somalia. There, the populations are divided into different clan groupings. A strict caste system traditionally organizes the clans into a fixed hierarchy of noble to inferior. Being one of the lowest castes, the Yibir constitute one of the poorest populations in Somalia, if not the poorest.
Furthermore, the Yibir are not considered as ethnic-Somalis, or Samaale; instead, they are traditionally classified as Sab, i.e. the ethnic category that encompasses migrant and smaller groups of low castes. (Other Sab groups include the Muuse, a small group of Arabic ancestry; the Tumaal and the Madhibaan, small clans of ambiguous roots ancestrally related to the Yibir; and the Bantu, migrant populations primarily from central Africa).
Accordingly, the Yibir are seen as inferior and landless. A popular Somali myth presents the Yibir as wondering scavengers of human carcasses. Samaale clans of higher castes shrug from the Yibir and do not conventionally intermarry with them; as a result, the Yibir mostly marry within their own community.
As a low caste, the Yibir do not traditionally practice herding and are prevented by local customs from owning livestock or land. For most of their history, they made their living by doing low-wage menial labor and housemaid work for other clans. They are also associated with leatherwork occupations, such as tanning hides and handcrafts involving the making of saddles, amulets and prayer mats. The Yibir are also well known for their skill in blacksmithery, in making iron tools and weaponry.
Historically, the Yibir have practiced a diversity of peddling trades such as folk medicine, spirituality and magic. Although considered a low caste, and in light of the scarcity of modern medical services in contemporary Somalia, Yibir healers and medicine-men provided the clan communities with indispensable folk medical services. As part of their traditional professional practices, they made and sold varieties of herbal medicines, performed traditional surgery involving circumcision, and specialized in the treatment of bone fractures. Midwifery is a popular Yibir specialization.
HISTORY OF Y I B I R Y I B I R I IN S O M A L I A The Yibir in Somalia is one of the few known Muslim communities worldwide that maintains Jewish descent. The community is small and tightly knitte Read more