J2H Blogs

British Somali History Enquiry:
'Unpacking the suitcase?' Part 2

11 April 2014

Justice2History Blog: Our colleague David Stewart has been teaching our Enquiry on British Somali History for the first time in a boys comprehensive school in inner London. You can read about the enquiry in the new edition of Teaching History, but here is David’s story of how the enquiry went when he taught it:

British Somali History Enquiry: ‘Unpacking the Suitcase?’ Part 2

In the second lesson of the enquiry we look at Somalia itself and characteristics of its people.

“It’s in Africa,” volunteered one student. A good start, but I wanted to get students thinking about what was distinctive about Somalia’s geographical location and how this has affected its history and culture. We were getting somewhere when another student pointed out that it had a very long coastline – the longest in Africa in fact. And where does the country seem to be pointing? “The Middle East!” “India!” – this led us into a lively discussion on the importance of Islam in Somalia and its long history of trade around the Indian Ocean.

The sarong, and the link with the Indian Ocean, seemed to particularly catch the students’ imaginations. One boy told us that they wear sarongs in his country, Sri Lanka, too, which prompted another to tell us that they are very common in Bangladesh. Suddenly, this idea of Somalia as outward facing and tied up through trade and culture with countries around the Indian Ocean had become real.

Then in lesson three we continue investigating the Somalis’ experiences in Cardiff, this time back in 1919:

Who started the fighting during the Cardiff Race Riots in 1919? The boys were very keen to find out who was to blame and were glad when they found out that many of the culprits were arrested.

When discussing the causes of the riots I was very impressed with the comments that some students made. They were able to link the riots to World War One and the problems of readjustment that many returning soldiers experienced. They saw that the Somalis were blamed for things they hadn’t actually done and seemed struck by the injustice of this situation.