Experience Somali Culture -- Beyond Watching 'Captain Phillips' -- in Minnesota
When casting began for Captain Phillips, nominated today for six Academy Awards, including best picture, the search for Somali actors to play the pirates led to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Roughly 50,000 Somali-Americans live in the Twin Cities and another 30,000 in other parts of the state, comprising the largest Somali population outside of Africa.
Barkhad Abdi, who played Muse and was nominated for best supporting actor, responded to the casting call. He had never acted before. His success has generated curiosity about this unexpected Minnesota community just south of downtown Minneapolis.
The Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum, which opened in October 2013, is one place to learn more about Somali culture.
One goal of the Somali Museum is to educate American-born Somali youth about their cultural traditions from another continent, in addition to educating visitors from other cultures about the Somali way of life.
This traditional Somali water jug is decorated with white linen and shells, both motifs that are common in traditional Somali design. It's one of about 1,000 artifacts in the museum.
"It's important for people to understand that before the Civil War, before the early 1990s, that Somalia was peaceful and prosperous in many ways -- that Somalis are people who take great pride in their ability to provide for their families and their independence," says Sarah Larsson, outreach director for the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum.
A touching scene from Captain Phillips takes place when Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) asked his captor, "Surely there are better things for you to do with your life than be a pirate and hold people for ransom?'
Muse responded, "Maybe in America."
One of the places in Minneapolis where many Somalis are making a living and providing for their families is at the Midtown Global Market. About half of the 50 shops are Somali-owned. You can eat Somali food, take dance lessons and just have conversations with Somalis who have escaped the horrors of their war-torn country to come to the United States
The Midtown neighborhood is home to more than a dozen Somali restaurants, including Sanaag Coffee and Restaurant, operated by Osman Ali, the founder of the Somali Museum. Somali food is typically stew-like, served with rice. Bananas are also an important part of the Somali diet. In the most-traditional Somali restaurants, women dining without a man in their party may be seated in a separate area.