PortCities London

The Somali Community in the Port of London

Frankincense and myrrh

Trading links

The people of northern Somalia were influenced by the Sabean Kingdom of South Arabia. This is the same kingdom that the Bible links with the Queen of Sheba.

First century BC pottery from the Middle East, the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia has been found along the coast of northeast Somalia. This demonstrates the region's trading links. 

Early influences

Scrubland on the Kenya-Somalia border.
View full size imageScrubland on the Kenya-Somalia border. © NMM
Before the rise of Islam the people of northern Somalia came under Persian and Arab cultural influence. They finally adopted Islam some time between 800 and 1000 AD along the east coast.

Somali legends talk about a migration of Arabs into northern Somalia around 1200 AD. They intermarried with the locals and gave rise to the Somali people. All Somali clans traditionally trace their ancestry to two brothers Samaal and Sab.

Over the next four centuries the Somalis moved east into Djibouti and Ethiopia and south into eastern Kenya. They conquered or absorbed the Galla and Bantu peoples in the course of their migration.  

The Zelawi

Pepper Vine, Kerela, India.
View full size imagePepper Vine, Kerela, India. © NMM
The Somali people are mostly a clan-based pastoral society. However, there are some exceptions to this. The people of Zeila in northern Somalia, who are known as Zelawi, are a people of mixed Arab, Somali and Ethiopian origin. They have a history of occupation by Persians and South Arabs.

The Zelawi also have a history of maritime trade with the Greeks, Romans and the people of South India. Roman glass has also been