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Archive for the ‘Somali Traditions’ Category

After travelling for several hours, the family had just settled into their new location with ample grazing ground and access to water nearby. The mother was disassembling the hut, sticking the Dhigo and Udub firmly into the soil and in close proximity were the two young girls holding the harness of the camel on which their elderly grandmother sat. Just as the two girls approached the hut, they were ambushed by loud chanting and the cries of ululating women drifted along the cool breeze and landed on their ears.

This they realised was an emancipation of the soul (it is not very often that weddings take place in the nomadic settlements) and were quickly impassioned. Imbued with an intense passion to participate in that wedding, the girls exchanged giggles and elatedly talked of attending the dance session afterwards. And quite rightly so, for this was their chance to mingle with the locals and exchange some verses of poetry.

Their grand-mother who, due to infirmity of age was too weak to walk and had to travel on camel-back, heard all the girls’ excited wails from her resting point. She too, though, hears the voice of ululating women resonating from the dark plains, not far from where they were now settling. After the girls had discussed their plans to attend the wedding, the grand-mother interrupted them and said:

‘Girls, girls! Would you stop the camel so that I can dismount and join those ululating women…’

They girls were taken aback by this request and stared at each other in amazement, unable to decide whether the old woman meant what she said or merely spoke in jest. This feeble woman, they thought, could not stand the noise and the dancing that takes place.

‘O’ grandmother, are you joking or have you finally gone insane’ they said.

Their grandmother smiled and then laughed, shaking her head slightly. Little do the girls know about the feelings of the old woman and what she is going through! Little do they know that over half a century ago, in an evening very similar to this, the very place that they have now settled bore witness to their grandmother’s first wedding! And in a manner similar to this evening’s wedding that the girls were planning to attend, many people from all over the countryside attended her wedding too. It was even perhaps here where her firstborn’s umbilical chord was buried. But to all this they were unaware, over taken by the wails of the wedding nearby. Even before the start of their long journey to this place, the grandmother was well aware of where they were headed and the wedding taking place.

In a short, succinct poem, the old lady relates her complete life story to her adolescent grand-daughters, wistfully lamenting her ripeness of age and the different stages in her life. She said:

 

  • Beri baan, beri baan          
  • Wax la dhaloo dhulka jiifta ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Bilig bilig baraar celisa ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was newly born, lying on the ground

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I scuttled around tending to lambs

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Daba-jeex dabka qaada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Rukun rukun, reeraha u wareegto ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was entrusted to kindle the fire

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when aimlessly I ran around the huts

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Raamaley riyo raacda ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Habloweyn had hadaafta ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a juvenile guarding the goats

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a strolling mature girl

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Aroos indha-kuulan ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Mar curad marwo reerle ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a mascara-clad bride

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a first-time mother and a housewife

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Laba-dhal laafyoota ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Saddex-dhal sit sitaacda ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was an elegantly ambling mother of two

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a dazzling mother of three

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Afar-dhal afo aada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Shan-dhal sheekaysa ahaa 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was the finest mother of four

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a gossiping mother of five

  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Lix-dhal liibaantey ahaa
  • Goblan talo aduunyoy 
  • Ma hadaan gabooboo
  • Laygu qaaday guro awr. 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a triumphant mother of six

    Woe to you o’ world!

    did I now become old

    That I am carried on camel-back

 

Image by Photogenic. Story translated from Guri Waa Haween.

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old

time to rest

Everything in life has its peak then its glory fades. And we are no different. After a man’s life has reached its pinnacle, having attained all the sagacity and prudence it could, it starts to wane. Soon everything he possesses will start to either diminish or disappear. Whether he likes it or not, the dreaded wrinkles begin their assault on the once handsome face and the inevitability of age becomes certain. Then he starts to walk on threes, and finally on all fours. Like a toddler learning how to walk, the old man staggers and stumbles a multitude times. Hesitant and unable to walk long distances, he becomes confined to his resting place. Rendered immobile and almost out of touch with the community, he rests under the shade of his hut or a nearby tree and awaits any passerby to inform him of the events and news around him. Despite being hungry and weak, he is unable to eat and meals become almost unpalatable to him, except for whatever he could gulp down of camel milk.

As the sun sets everyday, his uncertainties grow – unsure whether he would be fit enough to see the break of dawn. And if he makes it to the daybreak, he becomes even more uncertain of its dusk! He starts to realise that soon, like his friends, he too will share a dark and dismal pit with the insects while the soil gnaws away at his fragile bones. If he was a poet it dawns on him that his friends with whom he would have exchanged banter with are long gone, as Dharbaaxo Jin said:

  • Raggiise aan la maansoon lahaa aakhiro u meerye
  • Raagihii mudnaa iyo Qamaan mawdkii baa helaye
  • Sayyidkii murtida sheegi jirey meel fog buu tegaye

 

  • The men I would’ve versed with have left for the hereafter
  • Death has caught up with the venerable Raage and Qamaan
  • The sagacious Sayyid too has departed to a far away place

In his feeble state, the old man become slightly petulant and develops an unpleasant disposition. The strident wails and laughter of frolicking kids annoys him. He is perturbed by loud noises and disturbances of any kind. Being in an isolated state, he often requires a constant companion to tend to his needs. And if not for a dutiful son or grandson or an unusually compassionate young man or woman to look after him, the old man if often left in his lonesome state.

When the poet Faarax Xasan Cali (farax Afcad) was in a ripe old age, he recited a poem describing the sort of woman he would marry, if he were to do so. He said:

  • Caanaha cidey kama bogto oo badey gugeygiiye
  • Hadba balaq midaan ii shubeyn waan ka boobsanahay

 

  • Cidey’s milks I am not satiated with as my years have increased
  • And she who wouldn’t readily pour me [milk] then I am wary of

It is also usual for an old Nomad in this decrepit state to completely lose his eye sight and/or become deaf or become partially sighted or partially deaf. When night falls and others are in deep slumber, he lies awake in his lonesome place twisting and turning, his groans and grunts filling the dark space. he is rendered sleepless at night and restless during the day, waiting for the angel of death to cast a shadow of gloom on his sombre existence.

Sheikh Axmad Gole was an erudite scholar, renowned throughout the Somali lands, particularly Western Somalia, for his understanding of religion. But when old age got to him, he was asked about his state and he replied thus:

 

  • Indhihii mid waa jaw                  the eyes, one is completely gone
  • Midna jeex yar baa haray           and a portion is left of the other
  • Jaaha iyo gacantii                      the face and the hands
  • waa wada jirkoodaas                  are but that mere skin
  • Dhegihii waxbaa jooga               a fraction is left of the ears
  • Waase sii jufmahayaan               But they are deteriorating
  • Ushaa ii jifada dheer                  that stick with the steel end
  • Waa jimicsigaygii                        is my tool for my exercise
  • Gol hadaan ku joogsado             if one a hill is step
  • Waan luqun jubaarmaa               I lose my footing and tumble
  • Dhul hadaan jadi maago             if on land I decided to walk
  • Waa badi jugleeyaa                    I stagger and fall on my bottom
  • Jidba geeljireentana                  if on my back I lie
  • Dhabarkaa I kala jaba                 my back would break
  • Hadaan jimicsi doonana             if I decide to stretch & exercise
  • Jiliftaa I kala baxa                      my spine splits into two
  • Hadaan jeenan waayana            if nourishment I don’t get
  • Sidii inan yar baan jalan            like a toddler I’d whine
  • Jil hadii aan qaatana                 and if I swallow a little
  • Waa jululuqeeyaaye                 my stomach starts to rumble
  • Jirkaygii hufnaanjirey              my once beautiful skin
  • Waa meela joolla ah                 is decrepit and old
  • Jismigii madoobaa                    my once dark hair
  • Hadmaa jookh cad lagu rogey   when was it encased in black?
  • Naagihii aan jeelkeenay            the women that I married
  • Way I jidi necbaadeen              have started to despise me
  • Wiilashaan jeclaan jirey            the sons that I used to love
  • Jawaab igama qaadaan             take no response from me
  • Odaygu waa jinoobaa               that the old man is possessed
  • Waaba lagu jalbeebtaa             they say and secretly gossip
  • Jiriidow Allahayow                   Oh Allah, you are Omnipresent
  • Kolba joogi meynee                 and we won’t last for eternity
  • Jidkii nebig na qaadsiiyoo       guide us to the path of our prophet
  • Jahanama hanoo geyn            and keep us away from hellfire

 

….To be continued

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A story has it that once a weary traveller came to a nomadic family by dusk. Unable to continue on with his journey, he decided to stay the night with the family that night. But due to the rainless season, the family had nothing much to offer. Noticing this, the guest did not expect a grand feast from the family and decided to be content with whatever he was given. Preserving his name, the head of the family ordered the children to bed and asked his wife to slaughter one of the lean goats in the pen, which she did immediately and served the guest. In the morning, before the man embarked on his journey, he turned to the head of the family and asked:

‘Do you want me to repay you five-fold for your hospitality or mention your name among the meeting with elders?

And the man replied: ‘I’d prefer it if you mentioned my name in your meetings with the elders.’

Though I cannot confirm the truthfulness of this story, it is indubitable that to be perceived a generous man is a gift too great to be conferred upon a Somali nomad. In order for the guest to have suitable bedding, the young ones must sleep on bare earth; in order for him to have a plenteous meal and milk to quench his hunger and revitalise the deteriorating muscles, the children must sleep hungry that night. At all cost, the guest must be fully accommodated with sufficient food and bedding. Sometimes if the drought intensifies and the head of the house has nothing to offer the guests (if they are in number) he then runs to his nearest neighbours, requesting their help in lending him some food or accommodating the guests on his behalf.

 

Xirsi Cilmi Goolle was a man much loved for his generosity and genteel manners throughout Berbera and its vicinity. And when his time had come, a great devastation spread all over the area. When the news of his death reached Cali Jaamac Haabiil, a well-known poet who lived during the era of the great Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (Known as Mad Mullah to the British) and renowned for his retaliatory poems against the Dervishes, he was exceptionally affected. Therefore, he composed a poem detailing six distinctive things by which he cannot forget Xirsi for. He said:

    • Galgaladkaygii xalay iyo Faaraxow gama’ la’aantayda
    • Gogoshaan ku jiifsaday hurda goodkii igu yaacay
    • Gasiinkii la ii dhigay waxaan gowska uga daayey
    • Dad guryii ka yimid baa war baas iila soo galaye
    • Gablamooyin waxay ii wadeen guul darriyo hooge
    • Geeridii Xirsey sheegayeen gacal ha waayeene
    • Gabbal baa u dumay reerihii geliga Booc yiile
    • Abidkii rag waa go’i jiree tanise waa gawre
    • Lix haloo u wada gaar ahaa gocanayee mooyee

 

    • My tossing and turning last night O’ Faarax and my sleeplessness
    • The bedding that I slept on and the bugs that bit me
    • The reason why I did not eat the food that was kept for me
    • People from the settlement have reached me with distressing news
    • Woe to them! They have brought me but sadness and despair
    • Xirsi’s demise they mentioned, may they lose their dear ones
    • Darkness has befallen the residents of Booc and its vicinity
    • Though men had always met their deaths, yet this is devastating
    • Except for six distinctive things that I constantly yearn for

In a manner similar to that of Asnaan Sharmaake, after the first few opening lines of his poem, Haabiil goes on to state six things distinctive to the character of Xirsi. Without having to go through the entire poem, here is the stanza that talks about his hospitality:

 

    • Geb haday martidu soo tiraahdo goor uu nala joogo
    • Godka lagu janneyoo haduu goosan la carraabo
    • Garabsaar rag weeyee haduu gogosha soo daadsho
    • Gasiinkii lasoo dhigay hadaad gol iyo daad mooddo
    • Bakhayl bays gamiimee haduu gaarka ka qoslaayo
    • Godolkuu ku haasaawinirey gocanayaa mooyee

 

    • When the guest suddenly arrive while he is in our presence
    • May paradise be his, if he gathers the absconded flock
    • He is a benefactor of men, if he spreads out the mats
    • The food outspread; if you’d think it but a valley of flood
    • And it’s misers often sulk, if he blissfully beams from the corner
    • The pleasant banter with which he entertained I constantly yearn

 

Qawdhan Ducaale and Cabdi Gahay Warsame Baanje were two great poets renowned for their brilliant oratory throughout Somalia. It is said that they were bitter enemies when it came to poetry and used to recite unpleasant verses about one another. After several inflammatory poems, Qawdhan recited a poem insulting Warsame Baanje (Cabdi’s father) of stinginess, lack of hospitality towards his guests. He said:

 

    • Marti daasha leh oo goor maqrib ah dadabta loo heelay
    • Inuu meyd digaaga u qalo dudana mooyaane
    • Inuu gool dureemada ku koray dacal ugu logo laga waa

 

    • When at dusk the weary guests are shown their quarters
    • Except that he serves them dead chicken and then sulks
    • That he slaughters them a healthy camel is against his custom

 

Image

 

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 SOMALIA 169

Somalis are renowned for their hospitality. Though in their breast lies an indomitable spirit, sculpted by the asperity of their surroundings, Somalis are generally a pleasant people with a keen eye for generosity and are known to indulge in the pleasures of conviviality.

In the vast arid countryside, where the nomadic settlers roam, hospitality is of utmost importance. Here, in these boundless miles of barren lands and parched terrains, the nomads’ lives become interdependent; so much so that hospitality has become something of an obligation upon every nomadic settler. Regularly a nomadic family would receive a way-wanderer or a traveller lost for directions or people just passing by. These consist of nomads looking for their lost camels/sheep, or nomads on a long trip wishing to rest for the night or even Qur’an teachers who wish to provide their services to the nomadic families in rural areas.

It is the custom of the Somalis to provide for their guests, once they arrive, with all means available. It could be Diraac, the dry season when water is scarce, when the camels udders are empty, when the sheep are weak and the general atmosphere of the house is rather bleak and chaotic. Yet, despite this the family must provide food and shelter for the weary travellers who come their way no matter what. Even with most nomadic families already leading an abstemious way of life owing to their locality and meagre resources, to be able to serve a guest appropriately is highly commendable and to turn a guest away is the most dishonourable deed.

Being able to serve your guests is an honourable act and highly esteemed throughout the Somali society, however inappropriate a time they guests arrive. In the Nomadic lifestyle, the father who is the head of the house is ware that at any time he might receive guests and travellers, so he is always looking after his name and his honour. If a man is in possession of several milking camels, it is within his means to milk one or even two camels for his guests to serve them with fresh milk, and even slaughter them a camel, but during the times of Diraac/Jiilaal when milk is in short supply, when the sheep have become emaciated and the camels are taken to far away places for grazing, what is the head of the house to do to preserve his dignity?

Hospitality has been the subject of a countless number of poems and is peppered throughout the Somali literature in various forms, but to emphasise the importance of such noble act, I will post a few:

When Asnaan Sharmaarke of the Sultanate of Hobyo had an argument with his ruler, Ali Yusuf Kenadiid, he was later heard composing the following lines:

    • Tixda gabay guraasow beryahan daayey tirinteedee
    • Xalaan tow kasoo iri hurdada goor dalool tegaye
    • waxaaan tabayey mooyee anoo taahayaan kacaye
    • Halkiiyo toban jirkaygii waxaan tabayey lay diidye
    • Boqol tiirshihii aan ahaa lay tix gelinwaaye
    • Kol hadaan tawalo oo u kaco tu aan la gaareyn
    • Shan haloo aan laga toobaneyn sow la tebi maayo?

 

    • The composing of poems O Guraase these days I have abandoned
    • But last night I stirred from slumber with part of the night gone
    • I know not what I was in search for, but with grunts I awoke
    • Since the age of ten I have been denied that which I sought
    • For a man equivalent to a hundred men I was not valued
    • But once I resolve to pursue that unattainable quest
    • Five indispensable things wouldn’t you miss?

After these few opening lines into his poem, Asnaan relates the five character traits that he is distinguished for. Without detailing the whole poem, below is the stanza in which he exalts his quality as a hospitable man:

 

    • Erga toban habeen soo dhaxdayoo timi halkaan joogo
    • Tulda geela inaan loogo waad igu taqaaniine
    • Waa laygu wada toosayaa taajir saan ahaye
    • Gacantaan tashiilada aqoon sow la tebi maayo?

 

    • If after travelling ten nights messengers come to my dwelling
    • You know that it is my custom to slaughter them a camel
    • And all will awake to the feast as if I am wealthy
    • The hand that gives without restraint wouldn’t you miss?

Though Somali custom dictates that every traveller/visitor is received with open arms and cordially entertained regardless of ethnicity, region or tribal allegiance (even enemy tribes), this custom is gradually diminishing. I will add a few more poems in the next post.

 

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drum

 

Once the drumming starts and the Gaaf is initiated, silence fills the air. Every ear is tuned towards the person reciting the poetry or singing, in order to assess and judge the worth of his/her words. Addressing everyone present, the young girl starts the ceremony with these lines:

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

Salaamu calaykum safiya iyo daahirow

Salaama calaykum safkan meesha joogayow

Salaama calaykum soomaaliyey dhamaan

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

Peace be upon you O’ Safiya and Daahir

Peace be upon you O’ who have assembled here

Peace be upon you Somalis in your entirety

 

One she has passed her greetings to everyone in the room, then she explains her reason for travelling so many nights to attend this grand occasion:

 

Beryaan soo dhaxayoo bogoxaa shishaan ka imid

Calaf ma dooneyn cagahana ma daalineyn

Oo soor ma dooneyn saaxiibna uma gudeyn

Boqorada iyo boqorka soo booqo baan is idhi

Ciyaarta ka tiiri oo caawi baan is idhi

 

For nights I have been travelling, coming from distant lands

Neither was I in search of my destined partner nor was I tiring my legs

I wasn’t in search of food and for a friend I did not travel

To visit the Queen and the King was my intention

To perfect their dance ceremony and help them was my intention

 

Then a few words of the merriment of the occasion and the Gaaf:

 

Oo wiilka guurkiisu gacaleeye waalanaa

Afartaa geesoodba gurmad baanu kaaga nahay

Oo gaafka kuu taagney wiilal iyo gabdhaba

Oo ku guulayso anna iga uga gudoon salaam

 

O’ how dear is the man’s wedding to us

From the four corners arrives you an entourage

And at your Gaaf we assembled both boys and girls

May this be a triumph for you and I bid you peace

 

Then she would praise the girl:

 

Gabadhu waa ubax la beeroo uroon indhaha

Waa iftiin belelayoo waa ilays la shiday

Ragbaa u janaaney jaaheeda inay arkaan

Badda kuwaa jiiray Beledweyne orod ku tegey

Kuwaa ka sahwiyey salaadii Ilaahigay

Kuwaa riyo moodey oo aan rumaysan weli

Kuwaa dhuuniga la quutaa dhunkaal ka yahay

Oo walaal Dhooley nimaad dhaaftay dhimasha gaar

 

The girl is pleasing to the eyes like a flower sown

She is a glaring beam; she is that kindled light

Many men have gone mad for a glimpse of her sight

The ocean many have stormed and reached Beledweyne in a sprint

Some have blundered and mistaken the prayers of Allah

Some thinking it a dream have not believed it yet

For some all things edible have become but poison

O’ dear Dhool, he whom you have missed has reached his death

 

Further praising the girl, she says:

 

Shan iyo toban geela niman baa ka shubi lahaa

Kun baa loo diidey boqolbaa berriga fadhiya

Adaase lagu qaadi waayee qalbiga ku hay

Oo gabadhu caynkay tahaan kuu cadaynayaa

Casaan weeyaanoo midabkeedu waa cajiib

Casarkii ma wareegto oo waaberi lama celcelin

Timaha ma casaysan oo baarra kama cashayn

Kuwa cishaha dheelmadana caado uma lahayn

Waxaa dhalay reera dhiirdhiiran oo kulkulul

Dheregna ma ay waayin guri dheelan bay ka timi

 

15 camels some men would have paid to have her

A thousand have been rejected; a hundred lie wretched on land

You were too worthy to let go, so that you should know

And now I will shed light on the type that the girl is

She is fair in complexion and her tone is astonishing

She neither roams in the evening nor restrained in the morning

She hasn’t dyed her hair and from bars did not eat

And those who travel at night, she isn’t among them

She is born to a family hot-blooded and passionate

And provisions she lacks not, coming from a wealthy house

 

Then, praising the man (I haven’t got many poems praising the man) she says:

 

Markuu lebisto markuu laamiyada marmaro

La wada damacyee ma dumar buu u qaybsamaa

 

When immaculately dressed and strolling the streets

Though desired by all, is he divisible amongst women?

 

Then giving advice to the man she says:

 

Gabadhu waa hogol guyoo waa hilaac mar baxay

Hadba ninbaa haybinaayoo adaa hantiyey

Harraad iyo gaajo midna yaaney halis u noqon

Oo yaaney saxar taabanoo siigo yaaney qaban

Minaad la qosleyso mooyee qallooc ka dhawr

 

A girl is like thunderous rain; she is a flash of lighting

Every now and again a man sought her but you won her

To thirst and hunger may she not succumb

May not a speck of dirt touch her, or dust stick to her body

Except that you’re laughing with her, protect her from evil

 

Giving a classification of men and women and praising the newly-weds, the young girl adds:

 

Nimanku ma gudboona guntigay ka siman yihiin

Garkaa wada marayoo garashey is dheeryihiin

Midbaa is garaadiyoo geesi loo filaa

Midbaa gurigii lasoo goodey kala gilgila

Midbaa garanwaaya hawshiisa gaar ahaan

Adiga guulaystow kuuma qabo gedaa

 

Not all men are of the same calibre though equal of the girdle

The beard runs along them all but wisdom, one another they excel

There is one that professes nobility and perceived to be brave

There is one that shakes and disassembles the assembled hut

There is one that is oblivious to his duty as a whole

You, o’ victor, among them I count you not

 

And the women:

 

Dumarku ma gudboona gambadey ka siman yihiin

Midbaa is guduudisoo gaarri loo filaa

Midbaa garanweyda hawsheeda gaar ahaan

Adiga guuleysatoy kuuma qabo gedaa

 

Not all women are of the same calibre though equal of the scarf

There is the one that brightens herself and perceived to be obedient

There is the one that is oblivious to her duty as a whole

You, O’ victor, among them I count you not

 

And she ends with a general advice for the girl:

 

Laba nin oo haybta sare ka siman

Naa hooda guur iyo haween bey ku kala hadhaan

Haweeyoy inanka hano hilib hadeynu nahay

 

Two men, though equal on the outer appearance

It is through marriage and women that they each other surpass

Look after your man, O woman, if we are of the same meat

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SOMALIA2 131   

As the sun plummets down the horizon, the joyous people of the village depart company after the Gelbis to prepare for the more interesting part of the ceremony and the festivities continue through the night. Demonstrative of the happy times they are having, everyone in the village as well as the neighbouring settlements congregate at the hut of the newly-weds. An unrestrained enthusiasm sweeps across the surroundings and the sounds of ululating women travels several kilometres upon the open fields.

Come nightfall and the Gaaf begins. With a mixture of several forms of poetry, songs and riddles, the Gaaf is perhaps the most entertaining part of the entire wedding ceremony. The villagers look forward to the Gaaf in anticipation. Settlers from far areas travel several nights just to witness the fun-filled night as a young girl recited in her poem in one Gaaf I attended:

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

Beryaan soo dhaxayoo bogoxaa shishaan ka imid

Calaf ma dooneynoo cagahana ma daalineyn

Oo soor ma dooneynin saaxiibna uma gudeyn

Boqorada iyo boqorka soo booqo baan lahaa

Ciyaarta ka tiiri oo caawi baan lahaa

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow (these set the rhyming pattern for the poem)

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

For nights I have been travelling, coming from distant lands

Neither was I in search of my destined partner nor was I tiring my legs (in vain)

I wasn’t in search of food and for a friend I did not travel

To visit the Queen and the King was my intention

To perfect their dance ceremony and help them was my intention

 

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Right: The Bride and groom in the middle and the Malxiis & Malxiisad on either sides

The hut is decorated to the best of their means (the above is not a hut but a tin-roofed house), with all sorts of elegant decorative utensils and Nomadic handicrafts at display; the bride, in her wedding apparel, is covered with brilliant patterns of henna, the women in their Subeeciyad and the man in his best clothes, each according to his means.

The Gaaf is simply a congregation at the house of the newly-weds for seven nights, where singing, poetry and riddles are preserved through the nights and it too, like the Xeedho, has some strict rules to be observed:

  • As soon as you enter the hut, it is customary that you first shake hands with the groom, then the bride, then the best-man (malxiis), then the best-woman (Malxiisad) – and in that precise order also. After that you are permitted to greet any other attendees of your acquaintance or liking.
  • When many people have attended and food is lavishly consumed, the entertainment then starts. Entertainment here is to be understood primarily in terms of extended verbal jousts and battle of words and intellect. Poetry, riddles and songs, all either wishing blessing for the newly-weds or expressing self-avowal of one’s intellect or wisdom is composed or recited; sometimes it even culminates in a battle between the sexes, as often is the case.
  • Once the entertainment starts, the groom is appointed his two male helpers. One of these helpers acts as the ‘court’ (Maxkamad) and the other as the ‘public prosecutor’ or a ‘policeman’ (Askari). The Askari with his baton walks around the room and initiates the ceremony by either singing or reciting a poem first. Then he points his stick to someone in the gathering and that person must stand in front of the ‘court’ to be sentenced.
  • The sentencing of this person could comprise of answering several riddles, a poem recitation or singing a song. If that person does not comply to any of these, he/she has one chance to pass on the sentence to someone else.
  • Everyone attending the Gaaf is subject to such random picking to be sentenced to a public performance.
  • If a person gets a riddle wrong, he/she is punished and the punishments sometimes include being branded on the face with ashes or something similar for the duration of the night. Sometimes the punished are made to drink water filled with salt.
  • Several bottles of perfumes are brought in to spray on the performer who sings well or recites a good poem or answers all his/her riddles correctly.

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When the house was filled the man with the blue shirt on the right was the Askari and picked performers.

Though the customs of the Gaaf have somewhat diminished now and its tradition is not fully observed within much of the Somali community in Somalia, and is extinct in the western world, yet the Nomads practice it and for them it is a great occasion. They take great pride in their ceremonies. Utmost care is ensured so that everything is in its due place and the hut, adorned in a variety of woven mats and decorative material, looks as ornamental as their skilful hands can make it.

But what makes the Gaaf interesting is not the decoration of the hut or the number of people attending; it is the words recited by the performers and the wisdom behind them that lightens up the gathering and the more versed a person is in poetry the more esteemed they are in those circles.

Poetry in this forsaken land is not simply a hobby of the erudite gentlemen of high nobility; each and everyone is in possession of an admirable wit for words and is capable of composing either rabble-rousing speeches or laudable verses of praise. Here are laymen and ordinary Nomads on whose tongues fountains of words flourish, so everyone on the night composes poems on the spot. It is these words that are imparted, the feelings they embody and the sentiments they arouse that become the highlight of the night.

Observing these nomads had now strengthened my aforementioned predilection for a residence among them. Their simple ways of living and care-free life had appealed to me for a very long time. As for the exchange of poems during the nights of Gaaf, I will post a few examples in my next post…

To be continued…

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The Gelbis (escorting the bride to her new home), as I said earlier, is the occasion that marks the commencement of the wedding ceremony. And this (above left) is how it starts, with the women slowly making their way to the hut ululating, drumming and singing songs of praise and various wedding songs as well as the Gelbis song. In the middle of them would be the bride shrouded in a white cloth. In the olden times, a bride and groom would be escorted to their new hut with a convoy of the finest horses in town, but those days are long gone now. I was received with scepticism while taking the pictures of this particular wedding, with each individual wanting to see how they became magically transformed into my digital camera’s small screen. An inquisitive look filled most of the faces present, while some, as the girl with the glittery face, braved their way.

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The entrance of the hut, Ardaaga, would be decked with Alool (above left), though the earth would not normally be as barren as above and would be beautified with leaves and pebbles as underlay and then ornamented with a beautifully crafted mat. Once the women reach the hut, the men then make their way to the hut, humming Islamic songs of praise of the Prophet. As they approach, the gunmen take their prominent places near the hut. Once the men approach the hut, they assemble outside the hut and let the groom enter the hut alone. The gunmen then fire several (usually three) consecutive shots into the air, before the blessings and prayers are showered upon the newly-weds. Then animals are slaughtered and a grand feast is declared for the night!

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But before the feast, right after the prayers and blessings, all congregate to watch young men assemble in a circle and partake in a jumping contest. The elders watch their offsprings from the sidelines, whilst the women ululate and the young ones, frolicking in the open land, learn the moves to the dance being performed.

 

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The dance though usually vibrant and energetic, escalates in harmony, as if it were choreographed. The dizzying swirls and the gravity-defying leaps all appear to effortlessly flow from the dancers as they waggle their bodies up and down and side to side in unity. The particular dance being performed in the above images is called Shurbo and the men chant Hoo lebi whilst leaping in the air. The group of dancers below are jumping to the Muraasenyo which is very similar to the Shurbo but with different chants. Though the young ladies now watch from the sides, their turn will come once night falls. As soon as darkness engulfs the land, a troupe of dancers consisting of young men and women escort each other to an open field, far off the newly-weds’ hut and prepare their grounds. There the young women gracefully gambol and compete in a war of verses with the young men.

 

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The dance continues all the way until nightfall. Once the last few rays of the sun plummet down the horizon and the bewitching mosaic of colours across the sky start to fade, the villager return to their homes to prepare for the Gaaf.

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