Somalia was known to the ancient Egyptians as the Land of Punt. They valued its trees which produced the aromatic gum resins frankincense and myrrh. Punt is also mentioned in the Bible, and ancient Romans called it Cape Aromatica. Somalia is named for the legendary father of the Somali people, Samaal (or Samale).
The Somali people share a common language, Somali, and most are Muslims of the Sunni sect. Somalis also live in northern Kenya; in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia; and in Djibouti, to the northwest of Somalia. In spite of national boundaries, all Somalis consider themselves one people. This unity makes them one of Africa’s largest ethnic groups.
Location and Geography.Somalia is on the outer edge of the Somali Peninsula, also called the Horn of Africa, on the East African coast. It is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Aden, on the east by the Indian Ocean, on the southwest by Kenya, and on the west and northwest by Ethiopia and Djibouti.
At approximately 246,200 square miles (637,658 square kilometers), Somalia is about the size of Texas. Its coastline extends about 1,800 miles (2,896 kilometers). Somalia is hot for much of the year, with two wet and two dry seasons. Vegetation is generally sparse, except in the area between the Jubba and the Shabeelle Rivers in south-central Somalia.
A semiarid plain called the Guban runs parallel to the northern coast of Somalia. The Karkaar Mountains extend from Somalia’s northwestern border to the eastern tip of the Horn of Africa, with the highest point, Shimber Berris, at 7,900 feet (2,408 meters). South of the mountain ranges, a central plateau known as the Haud extends to the Shabeelle River and westward into the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. During the rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to November, this area provides plenty of water and grazing lands for livestock.
Somalia’s two rivers, the Jubba and the Shabeelle, flow from the Ethiopian highlands into southeastern Somalia. The Shabeelle (Leopard) River does not enter the Indian Ocean but instead turns parallel to the coast and runs southward for 170 miles (274 kilometers) before drying up in marshes and sand flats. The Jubba flows year-round into the Indian Ocean.
The port city of Mogadishu, in southeastern Somalia on the Indian Ocean, is the largest city and the traditional capital of Somalia. Mogadishu was largely destroyed in the fighting between clans during the civil war of the 1990s. In 2000 a Somali assembly voted to make Mogadishu the new president’s base but to move other government functions to the city of Baidoa, northwest of Mogadishu, until the capital could be rebuilt.