Saturday, 14 February 2015

The connection between Somalia and Valentine's Day

Somalia is often described as the world's most dangerous country, the quintessential failed state. It has had no effective central government for more than two decades, and is affected by conflict, drought, piracy and famine. The BBC's Africa Editor Mary Harper has a special interest in Somalia. Today she found out something new:

I was somewhat taken aback when I opened my Facebook page this Valentine's Day morning. I discovered it was the birthday of 30 of my Somali Facebook friends. It reminded me of New Year's Day when 279 of my Somali Facebook friends had their birthdays. True, I have a lot of Somali friends on Facebook - but those numbers are extraordinary. Or maybe not. Many Somalis don't know when their real birthdays are. They have after all lived through more than two decades of war. Records have been destroyed and there is currently no functioning administration. Even before conflict tore their country apart, most Somalis were nomads, and their culture was largely oral. The Somali language wasn't written down until the 1970s. But back to my Facebook page. I wrote a post about the 30 Somali Valentine's birthdays - and all the ones on New Year's Day. Within two hours, the post had more than one-hundred-and-seventy 'likes' and more than fifty comments. Non-Somalis were completely baffled. My Somali friends quickly put them right - in witty and touching ways. Abdi said it was likely only one percent of Somalis who say their birthday is on Valentine's Day were actually born on the 14th of February. Saeed said his father tossed a coin to decide on his birthday. Maxamed was born in a refugee camp. His whole family was, as he put it, 'under such severe depression' that nobody thought about dates of birth. Another friend posted that Somalis should have their birthdays on Doomsday as, he said, 'they are in love with guns and war'. But I would like to say a special thank you to the Somali friend who posted on my Facebook page a photo of a luscious red rose. And to say Happy Birthday to my 30 Somali Valentine's Day friends -- whether or not they were actually born on the 14th of February.

You can listen to my BBC radio report here: The Somali/ Valentine's Day connection

The BBC Somali Service version is here: My report in Somali


  1. Hi Mary. Let me tell you some secrets about Somalis in general and your Facebook friends.First in our culture there is not any celebration of Birthdays.Period. This has came with our adoption of Western cultures and styles.In Somalia one has to remember the year he was born not month or day.And all those freinds are what I call the new people which have settled in bog ccities like Mogadishu or otjher big towns.If your friends are below 30-35 are more likely they have born in in country side and immigrated to Big cities. Just to give you an example 90% of inhabitants of today big cities like Mogadishu,Galkayo,Jiowhar,Baidowa,Kismayo etc are all new people immigrated from hinterland..This new inhabitant have not certificates of birth which the old generations like the 40 years Old and 50 have got.And their mothers at best can tell them the year they have been born in the countryside.That is the reason they are all born on New years day or the 14 February specially those on Facebook which are mostly youngsters..I am sorry to ,correct you but you are becoming just like those foreigners who are easily taken by the Somali strange behaviors without investigating their historical roots..You have first to,ask did Somali celebrated birthdays? No but they celebrated the day the new born came to this world by having a party first to thank God by those who can afford. its called "walqal" and its also the day a name is given to the newborn. Lovers day is not in cultural Calaendar.those who use as a birthday have chosen a birthday date for them and they liked to be in February. If you check with Nairobi,UNHCR you will discover have of the refugees are born on 1 January.Why? The date have been given to them by UNHCR officers. All the best.Ahmed.

  2. Great post and nicely put.

    It is also to choose a date that cannot be easily forgotten since the actual birthdays are not known by most Somalis. That is why there are a lot of birthdays on specific dates like 31 Dec, 1st Jan, 14 Feb, 26 June, etc. So that they can be easily remembered when someone asks.

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  5. Let me tell you some secrets about Somalis in general and your Facebook friends.First in our culture there is not any celebration of Birthdaysfacebook


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