Visualizing Somali Clan Genealogy | Gephi

I came across a second edition paper written by a dutch researcher named Jan Abbink who has taken the formidable task of actually outlining the complete Somali clan genealogy. The author himself recognizes the amount of effort needed in having to prepare something like this by writing at the very beginning of the paper’s first edition:

[…]the total Somali clan genealogy has been prepared to assist researchers, lawyers, students and refugee organizations in their queries on Somali clan relations, a very touchy and nebulous issue. Some people including Somalis will find this exercise impossible, misguided or futile[…]The idea that there will ever be an undisputed total genealogy is a chimera; the very basis of genealogical tracing in Somali is its flexibility as an idiom of social and political positioning of people: alternative reckonings, reclassification and ‘manipulation’ of descent and lineages are the very game of Somali life.

The paper itself is quite interesting and doesn’t include too much academic jargon, which might put off most people. I also noticed that considering the amount detail involved, it’s somewhat difficult to outline the entire genealogy in one chart. For example, using only the Darod clan family, i counted 273 unique links. I figured it would be interesting to see how this chart would look like as a network graph.

I’ve recently learned about this awesome open source software called Gephi, which enables anyone to create a network graph with just a few clicks. Actually it’s more than just a few clicks, but my point is that it’s pretty straight forward to use. So after a few YouTube videos and even more articles, i started getting a little organized.

Gephi has the capability of creating network graphs using CSV files, however it needs two specific files, namely the Node file and the Edges file. The node file should have the ID for each point and its label, while the Edges file should have two columns, one for the source ID and the other for the target; in order for it to make a link between all the points. I won’t be going into too much detail about this but the gist of it is that the node file outlines all the unique points, and the Edges file just tells Gephi how to link them.

I decided on limiting the graph to only the Darod clan family. I couldn’t find any way of getting a soft copy of the original PDF file, so i ended up actually typing out all the names manually in MS Excel first. This was pretty infuriating, considering how there are a number of names in the paper that appear more than once, but represent completely different lineages. This meant that i had to give each duplicated name a unique ID. For instance, if the name Hassan appeared twice, i had to rename the second instance HASSAN_1. I’d then have to remember the location of HASSAN_1 on the chart, since that’s the name that would need to be used when creating the edges file. That said, you’ll have to excuse me if there are any errors.

After a frustrating amount of time, i came up with the following network:

Click here for a much better view.

That’s just from a single clan family, and the author has highlighted that the Dulbahante lineage can go down even further, however a different publication would need to referred to for the details. Clicking on a node would bring out the information pane which holds certain network stats and also the connections linked to the selected node. I still haven’t figured out how to limit the information pane to only connections, since the network stats won’t be very useful for most people. If you would like the labels for the smaller nodes to be visible, zoom in further and the labels should pop up; or simply mouse over the node.

I plan on finishing the rest of the chart and maybe then link all the clan families together to make some kind of master network graph of all the clan families in Somalia; which is a pretty arduous task. I guess it’ll be a nice healthy break from only posting about R.

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3 Responses to Visualizing Somali Clan Genealogy | Gephi

  1. Paul Watkins says:

    What a beautiful and stunning display! I am only just starting with GEPHI but can see the power behind the tool. How did you go from GEPHI platform to interactive display you have on this web page? In my case I have a family tree connecting my family to early founders of Colonial Maryland in the early 1600s. I started a project linking similar people (with family trees on, Family Tree DNA, etc.) and there are now ~80 of us combining family trees as well as DNA segment sharing data. I am using MS Excel to map the relationships since standard pedigrees are difficult to do with free software, besides in our case there is a great degree of consanguinity (marriages between cousins from 1st through n). I would like to use GEPHI for several things including supporting the DNA mapping/sharing among contemporaries once we’ve identified all the possible common ancestors (in some cases dozens for each one of us….), then use the dynamic aspect to show marriages and coming together of “nodes” along with migration from Maryland to Kentucky and elsewhere. If you can send me some links or resources since there is very little I have found with genealogy applications of GEPHI and your work has set the bar very high indeed! Congratulations and thanks for sharing.
    Paul Watkins (in San Diego, CA)

    • says:


      Thanks for dropping by, and for the nice words. 🙂

      I honestly haven’t used GEPHI very much, and this post was actually my first time using it. It seems to me your project is a whole lot bigger and complicated than the small one i carried out. If you want to export your graph in to an interactive display, you can download the SigmaJS exporter plugin for GEPHI. The link is here:

      But i can tell you this, judging from the graph i made, the most difficult part was compiling those Excel files. After that, it’s just uploading it to GEPHI, running the layout. When you’re happy with how it looks, it’s just a matter of using the SigmaJS exporter and it spits out an HTML, CSS, and javascript files for you open in a browser.

      Believe me, my graph is not as good as i wanted it to look. Judging from the details in your post, i’m sure yours will look really impressive though. Good luck

      • Paul Watkins says:

        Hello Abdullah,

        Thank you very much for your reply and helpful advice. I agree that the key seems to be proper uploading of info using Excel and that is what I am currently trying to work out, how to properly assign attributes (in multiple columns? or maybe multiple items within one row of a given column?)….

        But thank you very much for the link for the viewer, when I get to that point it will be most welcome.

        Good luck with whatever you are now doing, your work is very impressive and your “clan” layout will serve as a very nice model for my project.

        Best regards,

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