Somalis (Somali: Soomaali) are an ethnic group inhabiting the Horn of Africa (Somali Peninsula). The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. They are predominantly Sunni Muslim. Ethnic Somalis number around 28-30 million and are principally concentrated in Somalia (around 15 million), Ethiopia (8.5 million), Kenya (2.4 million), and Djibouti (534,000). A Somali diaspora is also found in parts of the Middle East, North America, Oceania and Western Europe.
Samaale, the oldest common ancestor of several Somali clans, is generally regarded as the source of the ethnonym Somali. The name “Somali” is, in turn, held to be derived from the words soo and maal, which together mean “go and milk” — a reference to the ubiquitous pastoralism of the Somali people. Another plausible etymology proposes that the term Somali is derived from the Arabic for “wealthy” (dhawamaal), again referring to Somali riches in livestock.
Alternatively, the ethnonym Somali is believed to have been derived from the Automoli (Asmach), a group of warriors from ancient Egypt described by Herodotus, who were likely of Meshwesh origin according to Flinders Petrie. Asmach is thought to have been their Egyptian name, with Automoli being a Greek derivative of the Hebrew word Semoli (meaning “on the left hand side”).
An Ancient Chinese document from the 9th century CE referred to the northern Somalia coast — which was then part of a broader region in Northeast Africa known as Barbara, in reference to the area’s Berber (Hamitic) inhabitants — as Po-pa-li. The first clear written reference of the sobriquet Somali, however, dates back to the 15th century. During the conflict between the Sultanate of Ifat based at Zeila and the Solomonic Dynasty, the Abyssinian emperor had one of his court officials compose a hymn celebrating a military victory over the Sultan of Ifat’s eponymous troops. Simur was also an ancient Harari alias for the Somali people.