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'Aye what more can a man desire than a short life and a merry one?
Nowhere on God's Earth is that more true than Somalia. As much fightin' as a mortal man could ever need, enough ill gotten loot to be burstin' the Swiss bank accounts of four score and twenty warlords and a total absence of rum due to the prohibition of alcohol under customary Islamic Shariah law.
Iff'n your the kind of man who enjoys technicalities, the actual name of the nation in the local tongue is Soomaaliya, 'owever the English pillaged a few vowels over time, so most just call her Somalia. Officially she be christened the Somali Republic, 'cept this naught be the place to be reading Hobbes and respecting officialdom. She be a place where the howls of anarcho-capitalists can be heard at night, as the ten million strong population slowly succumbs to more maladies than you would find at a particularly notorious house of ill repute, if it crashed into a disease research laboratory.
Somalia lies on the Horn of Africa, which seems coldly appropriate given that the horn is the part of a large mammal most often removed and sold on the black market by poachers. Mayhaps Tiger Penis of Africa was taken?
Anyway, the important bit to remember is the Africa part. Think, millions of internally displaced people on a voyage to flee certain death, debauchery and excess within the ruling class that would cause the Royal courts of yesteryear to shake their heads, and malnutrition on a scale that makes scurvy hand in a resignation letter and find another day job. Aye, 'tis enough for a good shanty from the Golden age of piracy, and we aren't even in sight of Old Hob yet.
Somalia faces the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the geographic home of Islam. Islam has been in Somalia since the start, so you are right in thinking things do get even worse for at least half the Somali population. I mean, what is a pirates' tale without its whores, harlots and ladies of the night? Under traditional Islamic law Somali woman may be considered any one of the above for being seen outside her home with a male non-relative. Then she is stoned.
'Lo, things never worked out too well for the innocent in pirate lore, but walking the plank couldn't hold a candle to female genital mutilation, even if it was captain of a ship designed for holding candles.
Iff'n you think looking to the heavens is going to help the Somalis, think again. The Somali climate is semi-arid, which is another way of saying for one half of the year all the drinking water is contaminated, while during the other half there is no water at all. Most Somalis are dependent upon bore water, although in the long run it may be better to follow the solution of another arid nation-state, Australia, and gather the contaminated waters together, bottle it and sell it as Fosters.
In all seriousness though, only 1.64% of Somali land is arable, which is rather sad when you consider all that stands between 10 million people and crippling famine is a tract of land smaller than a ping-pong table.
Somalia is blessed with the longest coastline of any state in Africa. Given that we are discussing the length of things, and this is Africa, to be the longest, it must be freakishly long.
The Silk Road actually ran along the Somali coast for a good few centuries. We say ran along because the road didn't dare touch the place and risk catching something. Centuries before, the Greeks - who were less concerned with communicable diseases for some reason - traded openly with the Punt empire on the coast of north Somalia.
Participating in global sea trade is about the only glimmer of hope in the lives of Somalis, so they can be forgiven for assisting in the maritime movement of goods, without being asked.
According to Western media there are only about 1,000 pirates in Somalia, so it may be wise to mention the other 9,999,000 Somalis devoid of a pathological desire for loot.
Everyone in Somalia is an orphan. This holds true because the sons of the warlords are all attending Oxford and are thus technically not in Somalia. Other than them, everyone else has less family than Batman, and no Bruce Wayne Enterprises to show for it. In addition, most Somali names are influenced by the Arabic language, so their birth certificate is essentially a ticket to the terrorist watchlists of the world.
Somalis consider it necessary that a man can trace his ancestry back to someone important, such as a Sultan or the guy who licked the doorhandles in the Sultan's palace. All the descendants of this individual consider themselves a clan. Clan members share a spiritual connection that would blast the soul right out of a white person if they were given the chance to experience it.
Unless there is a fat white man literally jumping up and down shouting "I totally did this, and I'd stab them all in the balls again given the chance," every conflict can be explained by saying the word clans. This confirms in the mind of the observer absolutely nothing can be done, as this pre-dates European ass sitting on the African continent. For all you anthropologists out there, the main Somali clans are the the Darod, the Dir, the Hawiye, the Isaaq and the Rahanweyn.
The largest clan in Somalia, they number about 3 million and have a combined weight of 40 kilograms. The clan is denoted by their pot bellies and the swarms of flies entering every one of their orifices, and such attire is on prominent display when clan members perform their long held clan traditions of dying, being in deaths final throws, and succumbing to the inevitable.
The clan traces their lineage back 17 generations to the child you refused to sponsor when an Oxfam worker approached you last week.
Don't get us quoted on it, but there was a time before the daily routine of the average African involved war and waiting for the United Nations to arrive. The Isaaq are from this mysterious place.
All Isaaq are tall, young warriors who dress only in loincloths on the rare occasions when their private parts are not hanging out in a manner that makes every other earthly culture feel inadequate. The Isaaq are so close to the Earth that if you were to drop a wrapper next to their home, their brain would collapse in upon itself. Of course, close to the Earth in this sense means they only eat crazy shit like monkey brains, zebra genitalia or Nestle products. These are invariably caught on a hunt, because the spear is the single most technologically advanced thing in Africa. The rest of the Isaaq day is spent performing painful coming-of-age rituals, because there is nothing like self harm to pass the time.
The clan traces its lineage back to a hermit who claims to be older than the sun and only descends from his mountain cave to declare everything a witch.
The Dir are grizzled ex-military and other soldiers of fortune. They can most regularly he found in the local kindergarten. All have seen things you would never understand. Unless you happen to be well versed in Arabic, in which case you could probably understand fairly clearly.
You see, Somalia actually has a large urban population, owing mostly to the tendency of teenagers to occupy their free time by firing upon their friends with automatic weapons. Mogadishu just takes this to a whole new level, with 2 million non-player characters to terrorize.
The Dir traditionally live in apartment blocks with more holes than a French galleon made of Swiss cheese, if it were fired upon by the Royal Navy. Despite these surroundings, the Dir are probably the most fun loving of the main clans, developing such entertaining activities as a version of you're it using RPG rounds and the rather famous pass the body of the deceased United States serviceman.
The Rahanweyn are the sole thing keeping the global military-industrial complex solvent. The warlords and clerics of Somalia, the only thing they enjoy more than emptying the pockets of the public is filling their minds full of rhetoric. Admittedly, this is not to difficult to do when everything from nature through to the Italians have pissed on your nation.
When in Somalia, the Rahanweyn spend most of their time deep inside a fortified compound made of Mumm champagne and fabige eggs. When outside Somalia they spend almost the same quantity of time deep in the ass of whatever corporation or East Asian state is willing to exploit the territory the warlord controls.
The traditional dress of the Rahanweyn is the ill-fitting high street suit, not the animal skin they wear when they feel a camera may be pointed in their direction. That skin is actually the traditional dress of making people a little sick in their mouths.
Although sacrifice of animals is practiced on occasion by all Somali clans, the Rahanweyn take it to grandeous levels. First, a group of young individuals is covered in firearms and ammunition belts and lead around the yard. Then the hapless individuals are provoked to lash out at the foreign power tasked with defending the latest aid mission to Somalia. Finally, the warlord delivers his traditional denial of any involvement to be printed by the BBC, and the story is buried by one about a celebrity getting her tits out.
The ancestry of the Rahanweyn clan cannot be traced since they moved it to the Caymans back in 2008.
The Hawiye clan is a motherly lady named Mama and her clinical addiction to cooking. Mama is the single person able to just get by in Somalia, running both a small business of some sort and a community vegetable patch, despite the fact all her children were beaten by the militia, then eaten by a lion and finally raped by Al Qaeda.
She will welcome any film crew - no matter how large - into her home made of bullet holes, respond to any question the reporter poses with a rolling laugh, and maintain that things will soon get better.
This final statement will be rather cringe-worthy if given any thought, as the whole reason for the segment is to report Al Shaabab's new policy of putting babies in blenders, after prominently featuring the huge black eyes and smiling infant faces of Mama's 12 adopted daughters.
Many millions of ethnic Somalis have settled in Western nations across the world. Expatriate Somalis may be identified either by frequent comparisons to Nelson Mandela if the individual is wealthy, or being blamed for all of society's ills if they are still dependent upon the government for support.
When a man becomes lonely at sea, he imagines things. Mermaids, sirens and sea-monsters. On a particularly forbidding night he may dream of a functioning Somalia government. Of course, the man soon shakes off such ridiculous thoughts and ransoms another Ukrainian registered vessel.
Things weren't always so fine and lawless, though. During the 1970s and 80s Somalia had the largest army in Africa. Or to put it another way, the most people trained solely in the art of killing another human being.
This was by virtue of siding with the United States during the Cold War. Alien as it may seem today, the American government enjoyed using buckets of tax money to prop up corrupt regimes in regions beset by sectarian conflict. This was in the interests of preserving democracy in the face of communism, something the Said Barre regime took to heart completely when it annihilated all opposition.
An African state without a tale of colonial woe would be like Blackbeard without a beard, a ship or a compulsion to do anything more criminal than jaywalking. Somalia, well endowed as ever, was host to the longest colonial resistance war ever, as the Muslim Dervish fought to keep all things British off their shores.
Even when they weren't being pirates, the Somalis were handing the Royal Navy its ass in a way that would bring a tear to the eye of an old privateer. Four British expeditions were expelled from Africa faster than the wayward son of a Tory prime-minister, and the British only broke through in 1920 with the use of aircraft. This happened just in time for the Somalis to fight on the side of the allies during some form of battle in World War Two, because even raping, murdering pirates simply hate Nazis.
Somalia is one of those strange places where the further back one goes, the more civilized it looks. While European sailors were mutineering and robbing and wearing Amazon rainforests worth of wooden legs, Somali merchants were trading their balls off. The Ajuuraan state traded so hard with Ming China they literally influenced the Chinese language. This is understandable when you remember the Somalis were not shifting tobacco or smallpox, but live fucking giraffe. What are gold and treasure maps when you have your own, mobile zoo?
Due to connections with the Ottoman Turks, the Somali sulturnates had a century of cannon experience under their belt before European seamen could get the wrapping off theirs. So, yeah, becoming pirates in popular thought actually made the Somalis less hardcore.
edit Further reading
The Disney franchise Pirates of the Gulf of Aden is set mostly within Somali waters. The first film of the series Curse of the Black... um... inappropriate? is notable for being the only film to feature the romance of a black couple yet not a single dance competition. Johnny Depp leads in the role of an eccentric pirate captain, a portrayal insiders say was influenced by the many million tonnes of toxic waste dumped by Mafia front companies off the Somali coast.
Somalia is also referenced in a cargo freighter's worth of depressing United Nations reports and, if there is any karma on this Earth, a map leading to a huge cave full of gems and well equipped maternity wards and competent leaders.