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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

 

SOMALIA2 030  SOMALIA2 125

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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The Raw Somali 

The Raw Somali

 

The trained Somali

The trained Somali

 

Is there anything wrong with these two images, or is it just me?

 

obtained from JSTOR.

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Gelbis – the process of escorting the bride and groom to their newly constructed hut/house is one of the pre-requisites of Somali weddings. The above song is usually sung during such processes.

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dance

 

During the rainy seasons of Gu’ and some times throughout the moderately infrequent rains of the Dayr seasons, the pastoral nomads of Somalia’s countryside rejoice in the abundance of wealth that they have. It is at this time when most of their animals give birth. The once barren earth now becomes fertile; the top layer of soil remains constantly damp (sayax) and with water covering the ground, it produces fresh green grass called Cosob for all animals to graze nearby. With the continually dropping rains, and the abundance of lush pasture for the animals, there is always a plenteous supply of fresh milk and water.

The men, relieved of the burdens of trekking countless number of miles with their camels in search of green pastures, the salty Daran plants that their camels love and watering places, can now sprawl out under the fully blossomed branches of the nearby Galool trees and relax. They celebrate as their milch-camels usually give birth during these seasons and consume the highly cherished milk just after a camel has given birth. This milk is called Dambar and is often highly prized. The camels, with their front legs loosely tied are let out into the fields nearby to nibble at the freshly sprouting leaves. The entire plains are covered in soft green grass and the elders of the village gather under trees and brilliant verses of poetry acclaiming the sweetness of the seasons are sung.

The female nomads, alleviated from the arduous chores of disassembling huts during the dry seasons of Xagaa and Jiilaal to move to greener pastures, are now engaged in conversations and endless moments of merriment. There is a plenty supply of water and milk – the two essential nutrients of the Somali nomads.

Weddings and cultural dances are a regular occurrence during these seasons. It is also a time when young men who have come of age go about, usually to far away places, scouting for their brides. Local cultural dances and wedding ceremonies are the best forms of entertainment and differ from region to region. And scouting usually takes place at the dancing circles where many young men and women come to compete in a war of words.

Though impoverished and penniless, they have neither money nor jewels to bestow upon their soon-to-be brides, but one thing is prized above everything here – eloquence of speech. And what a deadly weapon it can be! In this Nomadic culture, even the amount of camels a man owns or the aristocratic lineage from which he hails may sometimes mean little where articulacy in speech and poetry are considerably triumphant. The more eloquent a man is – I.e. the more he is able to extol the virtues of his clan, family, valour and exalt the woman he admires by showering her with praise, using an array of metaphors and descriptions of the nomadic life with a clear indication of his wisdom and intellectual capacity – the more appealing he is to the observant eyes of the young clapping ladies.

The young man is in a tough competition though, for poetry here is a pastime for all. So he must be able to evoke deep sentiments through recitation and complement it with a hypnotising dance. The women too are venomous in their speech and often respond with sharp words. Perhaps one of the most famous cultural dance, that most people have heard of, is the story between Hurre Walanwal and Cambaro (I will write more about this famous story in another post soon)

The Engagement & Wedding

These cultural dances usually occur after a wedding. Weddings are perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Somali culture. A wedding denotes not only the union of two souls but the relationship between two families and, more importantly, two tribes. The engagement or Meher usually takes place a few days before the wedding, and sometimes on the same day. The wedding arrangements and agreements are all settled on that day to prepare for the big day. But before the jubilant groom can lay hands on his beautiful bride, there are many hurdles to cross and many gifts to bestow upon her family. These include

Gabaati – This is usually a gift conferred upon the girl’s family when the groom and his father go to ask the girl’s father for her hand in marriage. It is given to the soon-to-be bride’s family. Usually a young camel is given.

Yarad – This is a present given to the immediate family of the girl and is given on the day of engagement as a form of gratitude. Usually a shawl or money wrapped in an expensive shemagh or keffiyah is given.

Sooryo – this is a present given to the male members of the girl’s family. Usually it is her brothers/cousins etc who take this and is always in the form of money.

Meher – this is the engagement. The amount of camels or money the man must make a pledge to bestow his wife as Dowry is usually known as her Meher. The Meher does not need to be paid straight away, but is a promise which the man is bound to fulfil. In earlier times, when camels were in plenteous supply, a woman would be given about 100 camels just for her hand in marriage. Today, due to the lessening amount of camels in the nomadic countryside, you would be hard pressed to find a man who can afford to pay 10. The importance of Meher cannot be underestimated – without it the wedding cannot take place, so the lady needs to be clear as to what she wants for her Meher and the man is obliged to pay it.

 

Gelbis

Once the hut is constructed for the wedding in a remote place and all the essential utensils are decorated within it, the wedding starts with something called Gelbis – this is usually done just before sunset in most places. Everyone is invited on a specified date and then the Gelbis starts. Gelbis involves a disciplined routine. All the women attending the event in their colourful dresses escort the bride who stands in the middle of all of them, shaded by a long sheet of cloth. Standing far away from the designated hut, about a hundred metres away, they slowly make their way to the hut whilst somali dancedrumming, clapping and ululating (mashxarad) loudly. They sing;

Nuur Allow

Nebi Allow

Maxamad Nebi

Magac samow

 

O’ Light of God

O’ Prophet of God

O’ Prophet Mohamed

How excellent your name is!

The groom, who is also at an equal distance on the other side of the hut, along with all the men present, too, slowly makes his way to the hut with the men chanting songs of praise of the prophet.

Allahuma salli calal xabiib Muxamad

Oh Allah, shower your blessing upon our dear prophet Mohamed

The women approach the hut first, and the bride alone, still clouded in mystery under the long sheets held by the women above her head, enters the hut unseen. The rest of the women assemble outside the hut, leaving adequate amount of space for the approaching gentlemen. The men then arrive, with the tribal chiefs and revered elders on either sides of the groom, buzzing like bees in their mantra.

With slow, calculated steps, and chanting all the while, the groom makes his way into the hut while the rest of the men align themselves outside the hut, still persistent in their chants. With both parties now standing at the entrance of the hut, Ardaa, the chanting finally stops and the most notable member of the congregation gives a short speech and blessings are showered upon the newly weds. After verses from the Holy Qur’an are recited and Amen is declared en masse, three men fire three shots in short succession into the air to conclude the ceremony. This concludes the Gelbis After the feast of fresh meat and milk is consumed, the bride and groom are escorted with horses and camels to their new home and the party begins. 

As the poet, Cabdullahi Faarax Warsame ( Lecture) stated in one of his poems;

Waa gob iyo caadkeed
Aroos inay gangaamaan
Guri ay yagleelaan
Gelbiska iyo shallaadkiyo
Gole lagu kulmaayoo
Giringiro ciyaartii
Dadku gaaf ka boodaan
Wa gob iyo caadkeed

 

It is of Nobles and their custom

To coordinate a splendid wedding

And construct a house

The Gelbis and the chantings

At the places of gathering

Where the dance take place

And the masses leap at the Gaaf

It is of Nobles and their custom

As the sunset dips into the horizon and darkness engulfs the area, fires are lit and dances continue on through the night. After the Gelbis several routine and mandatory tasks are performed as part of the wedding. These include Gaaf, which is also known as Todoba Bax, Xeedho, Shaash saar, etc. depending on the region where the wedding is taking place. Even the dances differ from region to region.

This is one long post, so I will stop here and explain more about Gaaf, Xheedho and Shaah Saar in another post…

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click on the above image to read entire letter or click here to read

 

This letter dated January 1904, speaks of of the tragic battle of Jidbaale where so many Somalis lost their lives. Though the Dervishes lost a thousand men in the Battle of Jidbaale, yet the opposing forces led by the British Army also consisted of thousands of Somalis, many of whom lost their lives on that day. Speaking of this battle and other battles the Dervishes engaged in, Ismaciil Mire composed the following poem and speaks about the gravity of the situation.

History has it that Ismaciil Mire and his friend Maxamad camped at some people’s hut one night and a woman charged towards him and accused him of several things, including killing her sons, looting her camels and so forth, in order to set the local men against him in retaliation. Ismaciil Mire was at the time the leader of some regiments of the Dervish army, being the second in the chain of command after the Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan. Relating the tale of the woman and her accusations as well as shedding light on the conditions of the battlefield, Mire said:

 

Gelin dhexe xalaan Maxamadow, geyrtay oo kacaye
Gam’ina waayey hadalkay i tidhi, gacallow naagtiiye
Adigay gabley tidhi markaad, geyshka wadateene

Midnight last night, oh Maxamad, with a jolt I awoke

And I couldn’t sleep, my dear, of what the woman told me

You murdered my offspring, she said, when you with your army came

Waxay tidhi adaa igu gondolay, garangartaan iile
Waxay tidhi aday guridhigoo, ma lihi gaadiide
Waxay tidhi adaa gelengel tubay, garayartaydiiye

She said that you have tied me to this uninhabited wilderness

She said you have rendered me home-bound and I have no camels*

She said you have, in the deserted fields, left my flock of goats

Waxay tidhi guyaalkii adaa, gaajo ii dilaye
Waxay tidhi gurboodkii adaa, geesaha u dhigaye
Guhaadeeda aan jirin bal aan, gabay ka soo qaado

She said you have, over the years, starved me to death

She said you have killed all the youth

Of her false intimidations now, let me recite a poem

Gumburo iyo Cagaarweyne iyo, geedkii Daratoole
Goobtii Jidbaaliyo Xargaga, guuldarradii joogtay
Gembigii ka dhacay Ruuga iyo, gudurigii haagay

At Gumburo* and Cagaarweyne* and the tree of Daratoole*

The location of Jidbaale* and Xargaga*, the defeat that prevailed

The turmoil that took place at Ruuga* and the Guduri* that feasted

Gabooddeeda Beerdhiga wixii, la isku gooraamay
Maydkii gabraday seerigay, Good ku tumanaysay
Gawarkaad maraysaba laftaad, galayaxaa mooddo

The tragedy at Beerdhiga* and the bloody slaughter that ensued

The death that filled the grounds where Good* had trampled upon

On every bank that you tread and the skeletons that dried

Gob ninkii ahaan jirey wuxuu, gibil madoobaadey
Giddigiis naflaa’iga wixii, gobolba meel aaday

When the noblest of men became emaciated with hunger

The entire population, when every region scattered to a place

Dayuuradaha gowliyo wixii, samada guuraayey
Daarihii gelgelintaa noqdiyo, gebiyadii ciiray
Wixii guuldarriyo hoog ka dhacay, dunida guudkeeda

The planes that roared and the things that travelled the sky

The buildings turned to rubble and the walls that collapsed

The defeat and devastation that overwhelmed the world’s pinnacle

Gembiyo jahaadkii arlada, gaday wixii joogay
Gaaliyo Daraawiish wixii, uunka kala gaadhay
Keligey ma wada geysannine, la isku geeryooye

The destruction and holy war that engulfed the earth’s inhabitants

The infidels and Dervishes and between the people what occurred

It’s not only I to blame, for both parties suffered countless casualties

Geyigii rogmaday oo dhan baad, guudka ii sudhiye
Waxbana hay gurraynine dembaad, galabsanaysaaye
Gartaa maaha naag yahay inaad, ii gilgilataaye

All the ravaged land, you have saddled on my head

So accuse me not, for you are only accumulating sin

You have no right, o’ woman, to threaten me

Gashi kaama qabo oo ma layn, gabannadaadiiye
Gambana kaama furan baan u fili, gulufyadaydiiye
Naa gefkiyo beenta daa yaadan gelin, godadkii naareede

I owe you no blood money, and your sons I did not kill

And I don’t think my regiments robbed you of your scarf

So stop the transgression and lies, o’ woman, lest you dwell in the pits of hellfire

 

Gaadiid = the actual meaning of Gaadiid is vehicle of transport. So, since the Nomads’ only means of transportation is the camel, Gaadiid hereby refers to camels for transportation – usually Hayin

Guduri = a bird that feeds on corpses

Gumburo, Cagaarweyne, Daratoole, Jidbaale, Xargaga, Ruuga, and Beerdhiga – These are areas, stretching from the vicinity of Laascanood, and scattered all the way from the Nugaal valley to Burco, are the sites where the Dervishes engaged in battles with the British forces. It is in the battle of Jidbaale where they suffered most casualties. An anonymous man was cited to have said…

 

Abidkeyba meel lagu jabaan jiqila buurnaaye

Dagaalkii jidbaaley ninkii joogey baan ahaye

Ilaahay I jecelaa muxuu jiray arwaaxdayda

I have always dwelled in the horrible places of defeat

I was the man present at the war of Jidbaaley

O’ how God loves me for he has protected my soul

 

p.s I have removed a few lines from the poem containing tribe names simply because some people have the tendency to read tribal names out of context. The lines i have removed too shed more evidence of the disaster that struck the Dervishes.

p.p.s Any corrections/suggestions to the translations would gladly be welcome.

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Continuing on from my previous post on Somali Culture, here are a few other images that I managed to obtain from Somali heritage.

 

culay

Dhiil la Culayo – The woman in this picture is inserting smouldering branches into the Dhiil. Once inserted, they are left inside for a while and then shaken vigorously. This process is called Culid. The burning sticks of wood are known as Culay. When shaken for a while, a black residue is left inside the Dhiil. This process is effective in killing germs and all sorts of bacteria inside the Dhiil. The first milk that is poured into this vessel is said to taste very sweet.

Maybe Cawrala knew the taste of such milk and hence sought to entice her lover, Calimaax, with it by saying:

Casarkii haddaan weel la culay, caano kugu siiyo

Cishihii haddaan sarar cusba leh, kugu cashaysiiyo,

Oo waa caafimaad rage haddaan, cagaha kuu duu go

 

if by evening if provide you with milk from a shaken vessel (dhiil)

and by night feed you with salted morsels of steak

it is in the health of men, if I rub your feet

Do not confuse this with the process of Lullid – which is where milk is put into a vessel (Haan is always for this process, never a Dhiil) and then placed horizontally on the floor. It is then shaken vigorously by rolling it to and fro on a pillow or a cloth placed on the floor to separate the fat (Subag) from the milk. The Subag comes out thick. It is constantly checked by tasting or feeling for the thickness of the fat that forms on the surface and finally when all separates and the Subag is taken out, what is left is pure sweet milk.

The Haan, however, also undergoes a similar process to disinfect it. The process is called Aslid (haanta waa la aslaa lama Culo). This is done by collecting the bark from the roots (and sometimes stem) of trees such as the Qaroor and Muxur and Muqlo and then cooking them in water. The bark obtained is often reddish/reddish-brown in colour and a reddish mixture is the result of the cooking. This is called Asal. This Asal is then poured into the Haan and shaken to ensure that it reaches everywhere.

Update: While the Haan is being disinfected, women usually sing songs to accompany the routine. One of them is:

Garangara lagaa goosey
Geed dheer lagaa soo lul

Laba qaylo kaa yeedhay
laba qaalin kula buubtay

Laba qaar laguu kala jar
Geeljire ku qooraansey

May a Garangar be made out of you
May you be hanged from a tall tree

May two scream be heard from you
May adolescent camels fly with you

May you be cut into two pieces
May a camel herder ogle you

The Haan is never used without Asal being applied to it first. The Asal is left in the Haan for several days to disinfect it and mend any tiny holes it may have had. The Asal is also used as a coating for the Dhigo, Udbo, and lool branches used for building the Somali hut (explained here).

The Qarbad/Xab (the hide used to store water) also undergoes the process of Aslid. After this process is applied to the Qarbad, the water that is stored afterwards tastes very sweet and is reddish/brown in colour. The Galool tree is used in this process.

 

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Masaf/Xaarin – This is the same Masaf I’ve explained earlier in Somali Culture. It is used to separate impure particles from maize and is used particularly in the Southern regions of Somalia, since farming is almost non-existent in the drier North. After harvesting the maize, first the corn seeds are put in a Mooye mixed with a few drops of water and ground slightly – leaving the maize (Galley) seeds on their own, then the seeds are spread out in a Masaf/Xaarin above and left to dry in the sun. The Galley is now refered to as Galley buusha baxsan – meaning that the actual Galley seeds are left with all impurities and coverings removed. The Galley is then either ground to be cooked as soor or cooked in its state.

 

Babis

Babis – a Somali hand-held fan made from Caw.

 

Dhiil Dhiil 3 Dhiil 2 Dhiil 4

Above are different types of Dhiilo (sing. Dhiil). All the above Dhiilo are carved out of wood and are used in the Southern regions of Somalia. Nothern Dhiilo are not carved out of wood, but made from Caw and special tree fibres. The Dhiil on the top left is decorated with Aleel or tiny sea shells.

 

Gambar

Gambar – This is the classic Somali stool called made from cow’s hide.

 

heritage

Various forms of Somali arts and crafts. In front of the wooden camels are two carved wooden bells called Koor. These are tied to the camel’s neck.

 

Salliderin

Salli/Derin – this is another design of the same Salli/Derin I’ve explained earlier here.

 

xaaqin

Xaaqin – made from the leftovers of Caw. This is a brush used for sweeping the house/hut.

 

SaqafWaft 

Saqaf – This is a Somali comb. The original name of this comb is Wafti.

 

Birjiko

Birjiko - A Somali stove. Food cooked using one of these is only matched in taste by the food cooked using this Dhardhaar. ;)

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Salaamu Calaykum dear friends,

I have been rather busy lately and have been unable to update this blog, and probably would not be able to do so for the next few days either. So, until we meet again in a few day’s time, I shall leave you with this brilliant video. Do enjoy…

Native, I haven’t forgotten about the Somali weddings account
and as I promised you I will bring you an extensive write-up of what the custom
entails. Bear with me…

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On the wall behind the woman is Salli or Derin. It is mainly used as a prayer mat, but it is also used to sleep on and sometimes it is spread out for the guests to sit on when they arrive. Notice that the man is sitting on one. The object on the wall where the man is leaning on is called Masarafad or sometimes called Masarafad Hilbood. Its main use was to take the large amounts of meat to the guests. The nomads often have many guests and huge quantities of meat is eaten. Receiving a guest with such generosity is often praise worthy and the theme of many verses of poetry. In the Somali culture, where families are judged by their hospitality, Sooryo (receiving guests well) is very important and so is Sagootin (seeing them off well). Now both these items are used for decoration purposes.

womenknitbasket-custom.jpg

This woman is weaving baskets known as Dambiilo (single – Dambiil). Behind her on the wall is Kebed made from threads obtained from trees and strings. The object on her right handside with the blue and white patterns is called a Masaf or Xaarin and is used to separate soil and the impure particles from maize – a process called Haadin.

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The mysterious containers (on the left) wrapped in a white cloth and laced by a red rope in the middle are called Xeedhooyin or a Xeedho for a single one and are carved out of wood. Though they are used to store food, they are also used mainly for wedding purposes and this is usually in the Northern regions. I will explain this in more detail in another post.

The other two similar containers (on the right) with the one single lace running across the top part are Dhiilo. This is just one of the many types of Dhiil and it is made from Caw. It is usually used in the Northern parts of Somalia.

Between these two sets of containers is a small object. This is called Dabqaad and is carved out of a special stone primarily found in Ceelbuur, in the South and many other Somali regions. It is used for burning Frankincense, Myrrh and other kinds of incense. The coloured object standing on the far wall facing you is called Alool, the other two facing each other are Kebdo (Single – kebed). They are all now used for decoration purposes. The Kebed is primarily used for building and a protection against the strong Jiilaal winds.

haano-full.jpg

These brilliantly patterned objects are also Dhiilo (single – Dhiil). The object at the forefront, however, is not a Dhiil but a Mooye and is used for grounding spices. These Dhiilo are used throughout Somalia but the methods of making them slightly differ in North and South. The ones above are carved out of wood and are particularly used in the Southern regions of Somalia.

somali20container1-custom.jpg

This is the Dhiil used in the Central and Northern regions of Somalia. Notice the difference between the two. This Dhiil is made out of the Qabo tree and the thin fibres of the Booc tree which are then skilfully interwoven. Both types of Dhiilo are used for storing milk and water.

giraangir.jpg

Whoever spent some of his childhood years in Somalia would automatically recognise this thing. It is called Garaangar and every child makes his own by hand. I remember running around all day behind my Garaangar knowing that I had the best toy in the world.

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These are the traditional clothes worn by the Somali women. Known as Subeeciyad, it is a one single long cloth draped around the waist and over the shoulders.

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The man you see above is being drenched in milk. A rather strange thing to be doing when you consider that that milk is much needed and many children sleep hungry at night. This is called Caana Shub and the man being treated in such a manner is the Sultan, Ugaas, Caaqil, Nabadoon, a sage or a leader of a certain tribe or region.

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This is how older generations of Somalis dressed and kept their hair. While travelling men usually carry a Barkin to rest their head on and keep their hair from touching the ground.

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Barkin

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This is what a Somali spoon or a Fandhaal looks like. I am sure you can guess what its uses are. It is also carved out of wood.

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Dabqaad.

Note that all these items may have several name variation in different regions of Somalia.

Images

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These are the words to the classic song Soomaali Baan Ahay that I’ve tried to translate. I must say, though, that any translation from Somali to English doesn’t give much justice to the original and doesn’t convey the message accurately. If you spot any mistakes in the translation, or you find any better words to use, please do let me know..

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Sinnaantaan la magac ahay
San-ku-neefle ma oggoli
Inuu iga sarreyn karo
Anna garasho sogordahan
Sooryo ruux ugama dhigo
Soomaali baan ahay!

I share names with equality
A mortal I do not allow
That he surpass me
And allusive words and hints
I confer not on anyone as gifts
I am Somali

Inkastoon sabool ahay
Haddana waan sarriigtaa
Sacabbada ma hoorsado
Saaxiib nimaan nahay
Cadowgayga lama simo
Soomaali baan ahay

Though impoverished I am
Yet my hardships I endure
And my palms I do not extend
A man with whom I am friends
With my enemy I do not rival
I am Somali

Nabaddaan u sahanshaa
Colaaddaan ka salalaa
Soomajeesto goobaha
Ninka nabarka soo sida
Gacantiisa kama sugo
Soomaai baan ahay

I am in a quest for peace
And from enmity I am terrified
But [from the battlefield] I flee not
And the man who brings wounds
From his hands I await not [I launch assault]
I am Somali

Nin I sigay ma nabad galo
Nin isugeyna maba jiro
Libta weli ma sii deyn
Gardarrada ma saacido
Nin xaq lehna cid lama simo
Soomaali baan ahay!

A man who endangers me lives not in peace
And there isn’t a man who did wait for me
Gratitude I have not yet abandoned
Nor do I support not any transgression
And a wronged man I compare not with others
I am Somali

Ninkaan taydu soli karin
Uma yeelo suu rabo
Sida dunida qaarkeed
Sandulleynta ma oggoli
Ninna kabaha uma sido
Soomaali baan ahay

To whom my ways do not appeal
As he wishes I do not comply with
Like some parts of the world
Coercion I do not accept
Nor do I carry any man’s shoes
I am Somali

Ninka Iga sed roonow
Siintaada magaca leh
Ogow kaama sugayee
Hana oran sasabo badaw
Dareen seexda ma lihiye
Somaali baan ahay

O’ you who is wealthier than I
Your offerings for name’s sake
Know that I expect them not
Say not, too, persuade the ignorant
For I have not a conscious that sleeps
I am Somali

Ninna madax salaaxiyo
Kama yeelo seetada
Sasabo ma qaayibo
Sirta waxaan iraahdaa
Saab aan biyaha celin
Soomaali baan ahay

Neither man’s stroking of my head
Nor his lace on my legs [duplicity] do I accept
Persuasion I do not approve
As for secrets [about me] I say
A Saab [vessel] that hold no water
I am Somali

Dabayshaan la socod ahay
Salfudeydna uma kaco
Waabay sunaan ahay
Marna samawadaan ahay
Samir baan hagoogtaa
Soomaali baan ahay

I am of a step with the wind
And on impulse I do not act
I am like fangs of poison [when provoked]
And at times, the bearer of good [when dealt with peace]
I am swathed in patience
I am Somali

Nin I sigay ma nabad galo
Nin isugeyna maba jiro
Libta weli ma sii deyn
Gardarrada ma saacido
Nin xaq lehna cid lama simo
Soomaali baan ahay!

A man who endangers me lives not in peace
And there isn’t a man who did wait for me
Gratitude I have not yet abandoned
Nor do I support not any transgression
And a wronged man I compare not with others
I am Somali

Saan la kala jaraan ahay
Summadi ay ku wada taal,
Rag baa beri I saanyaday
Anoo xoolo soofsada,
Xil midnimo anaa sida,
Soomaali baan ahay

I am like Saan [hide] split into two
That still bears the credentials
Some men once disintegrated me
Whilst I tended to my flocks
[But] the obligation of unity I [still] carry
I am Somali

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During the Jiilaal seasons when winds and scarcity of water hit the parched Somali terrain, the nomads dig wells – Berkedo – to accumulate rain water. Those nomads who live at a distance from the Berked usually water their animals after every 9 to 10 days of thirst, thereby reducing the amount of journeys they’d have to make to the well. On the journeys to the Berked, the drover, walking alongside the herd, guides them into the direction of the Berked. The goats, being the leaders they are, pilot the herd and often seem to automatically recognise where they are going – or at least show the Sheep that they have a clue as to where they are headed. The sheep are naïve creatures and simply follow them. They lag behind and often require gentle whippings from the drover and a pebble-filled canister thrown their way to move them. Sometimes even the whippings of the drover mean little to them because of their insensitive nature and the thick fur that protects them. They have no inclination to move on their own accord and appear to be very sluggish in their movements. Having been driven out early to the watering grounds, the herd is not allowed to graze, but the sheep are often seen nibbling away at the grass.

When soo hor, cries the young herder at the well to the drover for a part of the herd to be released to the Berked, the goats immediately rush headlong into the direction of the Berked, dip their heads into the containers provided and after quenching their thirst, play about joyfully with a rejuvenated oomph. The goats are born leaders – or have qualities resembling a leader’s. They are lively and enthusiastic about life’s prospects, though they are deficient in terms of experience and, some times, competence. The young Waxar gracefully gambols around the Ardaa soon after birth and imitates the Ceesaan, who in turn imitates the Goat (Ri) in its high-pitched bleating.

They are bold and brash, principally driven by an impulsive rush into things. Their skewed judgment of their own vulnerability hinders them from looking further ahead into the possibilities of their actions. Amused by their own frolicking, they are diverted from the flock, though their senses are promptly reawakened by the hint of fox’s presence.

The sheep, however, like inebriated beings in a moment of drunkenness, dawdle absent-mindedly into the open environment, confounded by the happenings. They glance at each other in a moment of murkiness, then at the goats rushing for the Berked and, being the insipid creatures that they are, walk with some trepidation and uncertainty towards the direction taken by the goats, blindly following them. Sheep are rather shallow and slightly slow on the uptake, thereby taking years to respond to little matters requiring little or no brain activity at all. The humdrums of daily existence mean little to the sheep who, in blithe disregard for any perils that lie ahead, graze in the thickest of the forest, unconscious of the darkness that looms and the jeopardy that seeps from within.

By evening when the sun starts its graceful exit from the earth and it’s time to bring the herd home, the sheep walk fatigued as if in a state of infirmity and on a strenuous journey, nibbling away whatever grass they manage to scrounge around. Though in the hindsight they are aware that they would be returning home, their feeble mind convinces them of the possibility of grazing for ever…little do they realise that the cunning fox lurks in the corner burrow and the hyena is dreaming of a succulent meat tonight; even worse, little do they realise that the sun is setting on them and soon darkness will engulf them…

When it rains, the sheep are unruffled by the thunder. They are competent swimmers and will swim through any flood, come what may, despite several losses and injuries. Locking their heads together, they form a ring of black heads in the enclosure around their young one and withstand the pellets of rain. If they find themselves being swept away in a flood, the sheep wriggle their plump bottoms about in the water with their head always above the water – except when overcome by an enormous surge. They somehow manage to swim out of the tide that carries them.

The goats, on the other hand, are expert whiners and their Qalaad could be heard a distance away. Little floods could cause serious inconveniences to their health and a flash of lighting would agitate their nerves. If swept away they have little chance of survival and, as a habit, dip headfirst into the water. They are often heard making a racket of noises as they are seized by the surge.

The ones that perish in the floods, of Sheep and Goats, are never mourned for and the survivors never look back. That the floods could rise once again and swallow them is inconceivable to their brains. Death means nothing to both the Sheep and Goats. One lost Sheep or Goat does not render the average herd from pausing in their graze and reflecting upon the future that awaits them – even if that death occurs right in front of their eyes and a fox devours a young delectable Sabeen!

The Somali population’s mentality differs not much from that of the animals they rear. The general populace, with their Sheep Logic, are desperate to be led, having no capacity within them to do so. They largely follow their whims and desires and though they perceive the goings-on in their surroundings and the chaos that envelops them from within, they are too blasé about them do not comprehend all that they perceive. Their limited mental vision and the grass they graze on obstructs their view from the perils that lie ahead. Living off the handouts of other countries plotting bigger schemes on their country, the Somalis live in a state of almost total unconsciousness.

The elders of that population have passed down years and years of traditions and practices. The chain of Goat Logic is passed down through an uninterrupted chain until it reaches the Waxar. The young ones born either in or outside Somalia, with a developing sense of Waxar Logic, aspire to become just like their parents and are often seen regurgitating their ideas and behaviours. The dwelling of the young ones or their birth place, even if outsie Somalia, does little to change the inherent susceptibility to Sheep Logic which is passed down by the elders. Neither does the Waxar Logic differ much from the Goat (Ri) Logic, nor the Nayl Logic from the Sheep (Lax) Logic. From a young age, the progeny of this type of logic is infested with the endemic Qabiil Syndrome that takes root and eventually turns them into either whiners like their seniors or leaves them in a state of complete insensitivity. The middle aged ones, with a half-lived life and the logic of the Sabeen or Ceesaan, are in no position to change things and inflict the lashing of Qabiil on the growing young ones.

And just like the Goats and Sheep they rear, death is of little significance for they grasp it not. It does not engender a feeling of loss to say the least. The loss of hundreds or perhaps thousands is of no value and moves them not even in the slightest sense. This sense of insensitivity is shared by all and sundry.

The primitive admiration of inherited Goat/Sheep Logic supersedes any new rebellious, counterculture Waxar or Nayl willing to change the long-established and unequivocally revered perceptions of the elders – perceptions which any Ceesaan or Sabeen with a bit of nous would easily rubbish.

Those who rule, with their Goat Logic, are very much short sighted and scatter at the slightest hint of a commotion. They are an impetuous lot and carry huge, impenetrable solid heads above their scraggy shoulders – a weight too much for them to bear and as a result of which they disappear after a short time. With an imprudent penchant for control, they lead their susceptible flock astray into parched fields and dehydrated pastures where the Jiilaal winds have swept away the very remnants of life from the surface.

All in all, Waxar Logic = Ceesaan Logic = Ri Logic and similarly Nayl Logic = Sabeen Logic = Lax Logic.

There is no change in sight…We are all of the same Goat/Sheep

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Somali art, film, music & culture

DIALOGUES IN THE DIASPORA

Sunday, 4th November 2007
7pm-11pm
Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ
Tickets: £15/ – £20 at the door
Booking: 020 8985 2424/ http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk

Numbi is the largest celebration of Somali culture and music to hit London.

This imaginative and passionate festival is to be held annually in London with a summer/ winter programme, in venues around London – an ongoing research project investigating contemporary arts practice from pre-civil war Somalia to the present day Diaspora. The idea is to invite artists from a variety of disciplines and diverse backgrounds to work as collaborators with practitioners and young people from the Somali Diaspora. Each artist-collaborator has something distinct to bring – our vision is to provide a platform to both emergent and established artists to explore new ways of creating work – in theatre, visual arts, music and film – that draws from the experience of Somali communities around the world. Cultivating cross-cultural artistic collaborations, the festival aims to deliver work that challenges perceptions, fosters genuine representation, and speaks to Somali communities and as well as a diverse audience of the general public.

Artists collaborating on the project include Kinsi Abdulleh, Rashiid Ali, Renee Mussai, Benjamin Samuels, Byron Wallen, Steven Watts and Concrete Stilettos.

Loosely based on the Numbi launch in October 2006, the line-up will include up to 15 artists who will create a unique cross-cultural fusion of contemporary spoken word, poetry, urban hip hop, traditional Somali music and dance, as well as a newly commissioned short performance piece directed by Benjamin Samuels. All work is in English.

Includes contributions from Xudaydi, The Pan Africans, The Nomadix, Jama Damalian Warrior, Mecca2Medina, Prince Abdi, Yusra Warsama, Wiilwaal, plus a special film screening of See Shells , a short film by legendary Somali film director Abdullekadir Ahmed Sead based in south Africa & 4R Knaan‚ + the Numbi Award.

For further info:
kinsi.kudu@talk21.com
079 4953 4402

http://www.myspace.com/kuduarts

http://www.kuduarts.com/

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  • Hadhuub – made from Caw, the Hadhuub is used for milking goats and, very rarely, camels.

 

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  • Haan or Aagaan - largely made from Caw and in some parts of Somalia, the Qabo tree. The cover and the cavity upon which it sits are both usually made from Gaatir tree. Haan has two purposes. One - Milk is stored in it over a period of time so that when it coagulates Subag (fat) is separated from the curd. Two – milk is poured in it, then violently shaken to separate the actual milk from the fat (subag). This process is called Lulid.

 

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  • Hadhuub-Gaal or Gaawe or Mure- made from trees called Booc and Argeeg. Thin threads of skin are peeled from these trees to make this container and its sole purpose is milking camels.

 

SOMALIA 218 

  • Bocor - made from Bocor tree usually found in the mountains of Cal Madow, the Bocor grows as you see in the picture above. It is similar to an overgrown marrow – the insides of a Bocor contains tiny seeds which are removed so that it is used for storing goats Subag.

 

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  • Jenjel – made from the branches of Dhumay tree and then strengthened with dried goat hide. It is used as an overcoat for small metallic containers – joog - used for storing subag.

 

 SOMALIA 225

  • Sati (left) - Made from caw. Though originally used  for storing meat, now the Sati is generally used for decoration purposes.
  • Sallad (right) – used for preserving meat and Subag, the Sallad is also made from the branches of Dhumay tree encased in goats hide. Now its used for decoration purposes.

 

SOMALIA2 180

Hangool – made from the Qudhac, Damal, Galool trees. And the finer quality ones from the Dhebi tree. The Hangool is used primarily for picking and managing the ood - the thorny animal enclosures, but it is also a fashion accessory so the Nomads tend to showcase it as a work of art, flamboyantly displaying it in their circles.

 

All of these utensils are now largely used for decorating the huts. Whenever a new couple weds, their new hut, built in some remote area, is ostentatiously decorated with Hadhuub, Sati, Sallad, Bocor, Gaawe, Dhiil, Haan, etc… They form the very basic of the nomads large array of natural tools and without them there would be no house.

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A Nomadic experience 1

I woke up from my sisters hut. Beside me, stacked in some corner or hanging from the boughs were Sati, Sallad, Bocor, Hadhuub, dhiil, etc. – the very finest of a Somali nomad’s handmade utensils (I will explain these in another post hopefully in detail). Being my first time sleeping on a mat on rock solid earth, after so many years, together with my peculiar habit of sleeping on one side, I woke up with that morning with sore shoulders and a bruised ribcage.

It was a bright day, with a clear blue sky above. Not a single cloud hovered in the sky. The villagers of Habarshiro had already woken up and were by now at the wells, watering huge numbers of animals. My mother sat outside the hut – ardaaga, a partly enclosed area at the entrance of the hut plastered with tiny pebbles and covered (usually) with a mat – and made breakfast. That day it was Ruub – special thick round bread baked under burning ashes served with Sixin. After gobbling down the food quickly I made my way to the berked, for I have been informed that my younger sister, Zainab, would be arriving to see me today. I watered the animals from the Berked, all the time expecting the figure of my sister to emerge from behind the small hill that surrounds the village. After about an hour, she finally emerged, exhausted but with a radiant smile and with her seven-month old baby on her back! I couldn’t believe it – she had walked from a distance of four hours to come and see me and there were no words, however lofty, to repay that kind of love…

By noon, after we had lunch, I was sitting amidst several of my relatives when we were informed that a she-camel belonging to my father had gone missing a few days ago. The news came as a bolt from the blue to all the people, for their love for camels is without comparison. Generally, for the nomads, the lost camel is far dearer to them than all the present ones combined, so they would do everything at their disposal to search for it, often hunting it for days in the wilderness without returning home. Soon my brother, Mohamed, an expert camel herder, was sent with information of its last known location to follow it and bring back any news or sightings – a confirmation whether it was worth the pursuit or if it has been disposed of by the ever present predator, the hyena. They wanted a confirmation and as the old proverb goes “hubsiimo hal baa la siistaa” (precision/certainty is worth a she-camel). The rest of the day passed without much vibrancy.

 

SOMALIA 233 

 

The next morning my brother came early into the village with some news. Traditionally, when someone brings news to the nomads they welcome the bearer of the news in hope that he brings glad tidings. They say;

Warran oo lagugu ma warramo,

wiilkaaga mooyee walaalkaa ku ma dhaxlo,

la waari maayee waayo joog,

wax xun iyo cadaab la’ow

 

Bring news, but may your news not be brought

May your son inherit you and your brother not

Life won’t be long but may you live long

May you be free from all that is evil and hell

And he did bring some news. “There have been several sightings of a she-camel,” he said, “but its whereabouts were still unidentified. I have seen some tracks and followed them. There appeared to be a hyena chasing the camel, but just past Manshax the tracks disappeared.” The news was even worse than they had expected. The involvement of the hyena had raised their worst fears. Immediately an expedition was organised. The car that brought me to Habarshiro was still with me and so was the driver. It was then decided that we must take the car and look for the she-camel. We set off early, two of my brothers, my cousin and I, following tracks and trails of animals. Stopping at several huts yielded no valuable information. We finally met a young shephard in the vast Sool plateau and that’s when we were informed by the nomad that a ‘lone she-camel’ had been spotted earlier somewhere to our East. A sigh of relief came upon the faces of my brothers and cousin.

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A nomad with his sheep and goats

We followed the direction of our informant nomad and headed east. The car drove slowly across plain fields and desiccated terrain, stopping from time to time and my brothers getting out to inspect and sift through the hundreds of footprints on the soil. Analysing the trails very precisely, they’d decide upon the time they were left and in which manner, as in if the camel was running or walking, and then they would decide upon the direction the tracks were leading to, thereby estimating a specific location that it would have reached.

SOMALIA 234

A camel-herder with his camels. This is my brother

The nomads are expert trackers and their knowledge of their land is unrivalled. Using trees as landmarks and indicators of their location, the nomads know exactly how long it would take a camel, or a person for that matter, to travel from one place to another, and using this knowledge we headed for the probable route of the she-camel and the estimated destination. After about 2 hours, and regular intervals to inspect more tracks that would confirm our quest, we finally managed to find the she-camel, among other camels. She wasn’t in a bad state, except for her rear which was bitten by a hyena. This explained the running tracks that Mohamed saw on the first day of his inspection of the surrounding areas – the trails of the camel being chased. And what a relief it was. Such a relief that the camels were immediately milked and we were served with fresh camel milk with Ruub.

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Milking a camel (haaneed)                                      suckling her mother, though she is a bit old for that now.

As the days progressed, I learnt more about the customs of the Nomadic tribes and soon started to admire them. Though living in the throes of water shortages and meagre resources (this is during the dry seasons or Jiilaal. When it rains and water is in abundance, the nomads live a luxuriant life for they don’t have to take the animals to far away watering places and traditional songs and folk dances are performed regularly in the open. There is always plenty of meat and milk to be consumed and it becomes a merry time for weddings, so young men go scouting for their brides in these dances), the nomads are perhaps the one group of people who have understood life’s fundamental lesson of simplicity. They care neither for the trials the barren land may unfold tomorrow, nor do they weigh themselves down with the burdens of yesterday. They live for today, with as little of life’s encumbrances as possible. In their secluded world, detached from all worldly lures, the present is all that matters – the past has no relevance and the future no certainty. Enjoying whatever the earth yields, they live a frugal lifestyle without extravagance. They wake up the morning, each person going about his assigned job. No worries or stress, for as long as they have their camels, life is jolly good (except for the dry seasons when they struggle hard to find grazing grounds and water for their livestock).

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Eating Ruub with camel milk. What the man is holding is called Hadhuub-gaal or Gaawe

Now that I have returned to London, I have become slightly disenchanted with all the superfluous material pleasures and their impermanent value. Life in Miyi has left upon me an indelible impression and my wish is to return there as soon as chance permits me. I now have a clearer insight into the nomadic lifestyle with all its perils and pleasures. I do not think I could live it through though (settling down there I mean), but try I will one day!

The Somali Nomadic lifestyle is what defines the Somali culture. It is from these dry plateaus, valleys and watering holes from which all Somali traditions spring, forming the bedrock of the Somali society and a rich cultural heritage handed down to generations of camel herders and pastoralists. The traditional dances and weddings in Miyi forms the basis of almost all Somali poetry and music. To understand the meaning and origins of Somali poetry, music and literature, one must be fairly informed about the pastoral lifestyle, for without that one looses majority of the meanings, metaphors, allusions and insinuations imbedded within them.

 

SOMALIA 235  

The camel, as I have mentioned in an earlier post as well, is the centre of hundreds of poems from the earliest poets to the ones of today. Here is a poem that summarizes the life of the she-camel in 5 lines, from birth to maturity (I’ve added the ages the poet talks about for your convenience) ;

 

gugey dhalatay geed lagu xiryoo xariga loo gaabi

guga xigana gaaleemadiyo* dhogorta qaar goyso (2 jir)

guga xigana uur-giringiri* geela ku hor meedho (Qaalin yar, 3 jir)

guga xigana awar garabsatoo gooja* la hudeecdo (hal, 4 jir)

guga xigana good* nirig dhashay gaawe* laga buuxi (5 jir)

 

The year she was born, she is tied to a tree and the noose loosened

The year after that, she peels off part of her fur (age = 2)

The year after that, with a round belly, she parades in front of the camels (age = 3)

The year after that, she mates, becomes pregnant and dawdles (age = 4)

The year after that, good has given birth and a gaawe is filled (age = 5)

 

*Gaaleemada  = the first fur the she-camel develops at a young age. this coat of fur stripped when the camel reaches about two years of age.

*uur-giringiri = by this time the calf develops a slightly big belly. She is neither suckling nor is she mature enough yet.

*Goojo = when the she-camel is pregnant the first sing is that as soon as someone approaches it, or a he-camel approaches it for mating, it spreads its hind legs and urinates. This is called Goojo and the camel-herder estimates a time when it would give birth.

*good = the she-camel is now called Good. As soon as she gives birth she is given a name, but before giving birth she is called “daughter of such and such” or “ina hebla”.

*Gaawe = Hadhuub gaal used for milking camels.

 

In another poem, Cumar Australia composed a brilliant poem about camels.

Ragga laxaha sii dhawrayow dhaqasho waa geele

Dhibaatiyo adoo gaajo qaba dhaxanta jiilaalka

Dhoor* caano laga soo lisoo yara dhanaanaaday

 

O’ you men who tend to sheep, rearing is camels

when adversity and hunger finds you in the winds of Jiilaal

The milk obtained from Dhoor with its sharp taste

 

Nin dhadhamiyey wuu garanayaa dhul ay qaboojaane

Goortaad dhantaa baa jidhkaba dhididku qooyaaye

Ragga laxaha sii dhawrayoow dhaqasho waa geele

 

A man who tasted them knows where they cool down

as soon as you drink it, does sweat drench the body

O’ you men who tend to sheep, rearing is camels

 

Waxa dhaba habeenkaa ninkii dhama galxoodkeeda*

Dhallaanimo qodxihii kugu mudnaa kaaga soo dhaca e

Ragga laxaha sii dhawrayoow dhaqasho waa geele.

 

Guaranteed it is that a man who drinks its (camels) Galax*

In childhood the thorns that pricked you would be discharged 

O’ you men who tend to sheep, rearing is camels

 

 *Galxood = comes from the word Galax. When a camel is milked, the fresh milk is initially hot and forms a lot of froth on the surface. The milk is left to settle down and the froth disappears. Once it disappears, very cold, pure milk is what remains. This is called Galax.

*Dhoor – Mane. Also known as Baar. A camel with a mane has not been used for carrying water or disassembled huts. Dhoor is also sometimes used as a name for a she-camel.

 

Cumar Australia also goes on to say that;

 

Inkastood adduun badan dhaqdo dheemman iyo daaro

Inkastood dhar wada suufa iyo dhag iyo laas qaaddo

Dhaxal male nin Soomaaliyoon dhaqannin koorreey*

 

despite having a world of diamond and dwellings

despite you having luxuriant clothes of cotton

Inheritence he has not, a Somali who doesn’t rear a camel

 

*koorreey = comes from the word Koor which means a wooden bell – the one tied around the camel’s neck. Here Koorey refers to camels.

For centuries the Somali Nomadic lifestyle had existed, people have endured the worst of droughts and famine and were content with their herd of camels, and though that lifestyle is now somewhat sluggishly diminishing, pastoralists will continue to exist despite the growing number of villages and urbanisation of Miyi.

 

cp.s I have attended a wedding in Miyi and will give you the details about the customs along with some pictures soon Insha-Allah.

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Damal – plenty of Mayrax is gathered from this tree. Mayrax is obtained by a long process of separating very thin threads from the bark and branches of the trees. It is used making Kebdaha (sing. Kebed) - which has various uses but is widely used for loading camels or building houses.

 

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GaloolMayrax is obtained from this tree and it is used as ood – an enclosure for animals. Walking sticks and Hangools are usually preferred to be obtained from the branches of this tree and it is also widely used for building huts.

 

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Dhirindhir – a white liquidy gum substance used as glue is obtained from this shrub. It is also widely used for making enclosures for animals and around the huts.

 

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This tree is widely used for stopping bleeding. I’ve forgotten the name unfortunately. It is used widely by women after birth to stop post natal bleeding.

 

 

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Bilcil – The bark of this tree is used as Culay to clean the utensils such as Haan, Hadhuub, etc. Goats prefer this tree, for when the leaves fall off, the earth becomes decorated with plenty of them and a feast for goats.

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Higlo - This tree’s leaves never fall off come rain or shine. It stays green throughout and lives for a very long time – staying the same throughout. if I were to go to this place in Manshax twenty years later, this tree would still be as in this picture. Camels love eating the leaves of this tree.

 

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Meygaag – This tree is present everywhere in Sool. The dried twigs of this tree are put in the fire for a while and then inserted in the Hadhuub and shaken vigorously – this is called Culay. It is also used to obtain tooth brushes.

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Qudhac – An omnipresent tree as the Meygaag. Mayrax is also obtained from this tree. It also bears small fruits known as Qubca which animals love. The Mayrax is made into Kebdo for decorating huts. It is also used to make ood.

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In an earlier post I’d explained the construction of a Somali hut. But when I was passing by this place – Goob Ramaas – I noticed a small Somali hut being built and brought you some images. The above picture of Goob Ramaas, near Ceelbuh, clearly illustrates the vast open terrain called Sool. Like a giant carpet spread upon the earth, it rolls for miles and miles in every direction – as far as your eye can see!

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This is the Somali hut being constructed – and as I mentioned before, you’d notice that it is only women who build the huts. The men usually gather the wood from the Galool, Dhumay trees etc, and then the women get to work. The above hut being constructed is called Saddex-dhigood, meaning it is made out of three arched Gob branches as you can see above. This is the smallest hut constructed and the largest is made out of Seven. The most common huts though are made out of either three or four Dhigood.

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Though not of the same hut, this is how the inside of some huts looks like. In this picture, the thin branches that run somewhat perpendicular to the three Dhigo, along the entire hut, are called lool. These lool form a spread above the Dhigo so that the woven mats can be fastened onto the hut.

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And this is how the mats are then fastened to the hut. What you see in the picture on the left is Udub-Dhexaad – the middle, or sometimes on either sides of the hut, wood made usually out of Dayyib tree that fortifies the hut and keeps it erect.

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And this is how the inside looks like when it is finally built, with a small branch for hanging clothes as an extra.

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Now that the hut is almost complete with all the pillars of wood erected and the hut standing firmly, the only thing left to do is fasten the skilfully woven mats onto the pillars wood. The mats too though, have to be made by hand. First the Caw (above left) is gathered from the woodland after days of scouting, then after getting rid of the impurities, it is assembled as above and the interlacing or plaiting of the Caw begins (above right). This process of interlacing the Caw is called Falag and is usually done over drinks when women gather for conversations late in the afternoon.

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After interlacing the Caw, a single long sheet of Caw is made. This sheet is called Gadaan (above left). The name is derived from the meaning of the word Gadaan which is “round” – and because the Caw, after each plait, is rounded up as in the above picture, it is given such a name. Hundreds of single plaits of Caw are then interweaved to form a large mat called Dermo (Plural – Dermooyin). The picture on the right shows the Dermooyin on top of the hut.

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And here is the final result… As for the time it takes – well I passed by the hut being built (top) on my way to Ceelbuh. By the time I came back, about and hour and a half later, the hut was completed! Kudos to the female Somali nomads I say!

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We left Bosaaso just before twilight set upon us. Accompanied by my brothers, we left my hotel at Al-Rowda, passed by Bosaaso Hospital, a thousand and one restaurants at the edge of the main road, countless hawkers by, cars, lorries heading out and entering the city, people, goats, sheep, soldiers, more hotels, carts and finally silence. Except for our short stay at Xalwo Kismaayo whilst we bought some sweets and mineral water, there was no commotion-filled, busy and eventful streets to be heard, no clamour of voices, no obnoxious Qat sellers, no loud conductors pulling you into their buses, just the noise of rubber eating away the tarmac. Arid, dry land occupied either sides of the road as far as the eyes caught. Further ahead, great mountains towered above the levelled ground. The enormity of such mountains loomed over the vast barren earth and formed a somewhat pleasing sight. By then I was all expectations. Every minute that passed brought me closer to an emotional reunion with a family I’ve left a long time ago and filled my heart with anticipation. I was starting to feel the goosebumps appearing.

The long stretch of road led us past the city control limits where the cars are checked for weapons, then past the villages of Laag, Karin, Kalabaydh, and several other tiny ones along the roadside and then just after we passed the dangerously serpentine road of Alxamdullilah, the driver came off the asphalted road and took a narrow rough path, through the arid land formed by the tyre tracks of cars and constant usage . The rough road rapidly rolled in front of us and the car bounced up and down at great speeds. We followed that route through an immense dark terrain, through Ballibusle, through Laag Xaariseed and after a gruelling five-hour journey set foot in the wilderness of Sanaag at 2 AM. A small hut erected in the middle of no where greeted us and adjacent to it, two thick fences made from the thorny branches of Galool trees formed two large rings. Inside the rings, animal dung had plastered the earth, covering the thin layer of soil. This is where the sheep and goats along with their lambs and kids come to rest after a day of traversing the plains of Sanaag.   

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From the hut exited my young brothers and sisters and my step mother and from there started the emotional reunion. It was an occasion worthy of a celebration and fresh meat was immediately served. We stayed that night or whatever was left of it and slept in the open, watching the millions of glittery stars that decorated the sky and danced around the vivid moon to form an enchanting display. What a pleasant night that was!

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Waking up early that morning, I observed my surroundings. I noticed with enthusiasm the extent to which my vision was restricted to – as far as my eyes could see. With trees such as Qudhac, Meygaag, Galool, Damal, bilcil and Higlo along with some Dhirindhir spread sporadically along a vast flat land, the wilderness was as open as the sea and stretched out for perhaps hundreds of kilometres. Such a vast area of land is called Sool (not to be confused with the region of Sool). Sool means an area that comprises of mainly the trees I mentioned above covering acres of land. It was the Xagaa season and the land, being slightly sterile was rainless and dry. Small bushes, usually a few centimetres off the earth, known as Dureemo and others slightly bigger, known as Duur, covered the earth. Duur is used extensively for building huts and enclosures for animals. All this I observed whilst on my way to where my mother lived – a small village called Habarshiro, right in the heart of Sanaag.

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Habarshiro, a tiny village lying at the foot of a small hill has Ceelbuuh as its nearest neighbour. Here, the vast land was, for the most part, unoccupied except for a few houses that conspicuously took up their rightful places in the middle of no-where. Barren and dry as it was, there were hardly any trees either, apart from the few dry trunks that stood like solitary soldiers assigned to keep watch and guard the village. Several wells surrounds the city known as Berkedo (sing. Berked). These serve as watering grounds for more than two thousand heads of camels, sheep and goats almost every day.

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As the car closed the distance between me and Habarshiro, my heart hammered heavily in her chest, threatening to crack my ribcage open. I even thought I heard its pulsating beats. A reservoir of tears gathered at the brim of my eyes, ready to gush out at the very mention of the word “hooyo” – mother! The car had not even come fully to a halt when I pushed the door open, jumped out, flung my arms around my mother and silently sobbed tears (though strongly repressed ) of delight, relief and excitement. A graceful woman with finely tuned features she was, though baked by the sun into a dark chocolaty complexion, and must have been without comparison in beauty in her glory days.

Gradually my heart came to rest and the thudding was replaced by a wave of comfort. The warmth of my mother’s embrace disposed of the inner restlessness, evaporating all concerns and worries into thin air and putting my troubled heart to rest. Everything else seemed insignificant then, my mind was for the first time completely free of thought! This was where I wanted to be and this was how I wanted to feel. At that very instant my life had changed and without regard for what perils and tribulations lay ahead, I’ve decided that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my stay – under the shelter of my mother’s hut. The rest of my siblings were away, dispersed into the immense terrain, so whilst my father and relatives sat under the shade of the Higlo tree, I grabbed my younger sisters and mother and went inside the hut.

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After a few days stay in Habarshiro, it was time to discover the customs of the nomadic tribes. I set out early in the morning towards the Berked to water and load the camels my brother had brought from his hut in Manshax – three hour’s journey away from the village. Every two to three days he makes the same journey and loading his camels with water, returns to his house. This is called Dhaan. So that particular morning, with a strong desire to walk the plains of Sool and discover the land by foot, I volunteered to accompany my sister Seytun who was to take the dhaan back to my brother’s house. Being the first time I have seen her in her 20 years of living, I wanted to be very much with her all the time. Little did I know what lay ahead and how much trekking I would have to do.

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We set out with five camels loaded with water for two families. As soon as we disappeared from the sight of Habarshiro, I stopped and looked around. Not another single soul in sight, except for me and my sister and not another living thing except for our five camels. The immensity of the terrain simply astonished me; you could be walking for miles and not come in contact with a human being. We strolled along at leisurely pace, talking passionately about our lives through all the years of separation. An expert trekker, having traversed the entire terrain in every direction perhaps a thousand time, she knows the location of almost every tree in the area.

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The evergreen Higlo tree.

We were walking for only about an hour and I could feel that my body was spewing out sweat in excessive amounts and my feet begged for some rest. That I gladly welcomed and sought the shelter of a Higlo tree at which point my sister teased me for being unhealthy. That is how I completed my journey – walking for about an hour in the open and then finding some shelter under a tree. We finally reached our destination by noon – two small huts, intricate in their design, in the middle of a vast open space – and unloaded the water. There I sat, fatigued and panting for breath, and accepted a fresh cup of camel milk from my sister-in-law. I dreaded the journey back to the village and wished for once that I hadn’t been so impulsive. A three hour journey awaited me and I had to make it before darkness envelops the land, for then hyenas own the night.

Luckily I did manage, greatly exerting myself, to return to Habarshiro as soon as the rays of the sun plummeted down the horizon. After a few days rest and the pain in my feet subsided, I was ready for another ‘excursion’ – a painful excursion.

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to be continued…

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You are instantly accosted by the clouds of smoke on entering through the grubby door; rings of white puffs sail along the faded walls of the corridor and softly circle up to embrace the moist ceiling. The strumming of the Oud, with Axmed Mooge’s voice floating through the thick air, can be heard coming from a broken tape recorder in some corner. And as you walk in to the shabby room, the clamour of slurred voices deafen the atmosphere. The walls inside the room, sweating with humidity, are usually of green or blue in colour with mismatching yellow patterns at times and the windows, misty with condensed air and water drizzling down to the window sill, always seem to be locked. Several stained Arabic cushions lie on the floor, going along the walls of the room to serve as the seating area and a carpet, decorated with ashes, cigarette butts and burns occupies the middle of the floor, covering a washed-out wooden flooring.

A group of about 20-30 men in dowdy garments, grinding mouthfuls of leaves with their stained teeth and a green paste of saliva dribbling from the corners of their mouths as they speak, sit huddled together on the cushions as if clustering for warmth. In front of each of them lies a blue plastic bag with his treasure in it – several small greenish-brown twigs, each with a few leaves at the top, all assembled into fine rows and ready for consumption. Beside the plastic bags, lies a waste bucket, covered in a plastic bag, a thermos flask, some bottles of still water, Shani drinks, and a hubbly-bubbly.

In the far corner, a wooden desk stands, enclosing the dealer or owner of the Marfish. Underneath the desk lies bags of Qat, clustered in bundles for sale at about £5 each. Beside the dealer’s desk is a small refrigerator, containing some more boxes of Qat and bottles of drinks. A small television set is mounted atop a desk with Sky sports channels but the sound is muted.

These men, grandfathers, fathers, sons, uncles and brothers, coteries of pitiable simpletons, of whom half rely on the dole, have neglected families and friends for these leaves. And as you stand in the room, a strange mixture of smell seeps out of it and into the corridor. One can not be sure as to what it is – the cigarette smoke, the hubbly-bubbly, or the perspiring bodies. The health and safety auditors must have neglected these premises, but the evening here is the grandest, or such a feeling their minds are imbued with, and any other sort of leisure activity to match this is deemed futile. The lavish supply of leaves and the effect they induce is simply unmatched.

Welcome to the Marfish!

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War horta ninyahaw anigu waan jeclaadaye
Gabadhbaan jeclahay oo i jecel, mana jeclaadeene
Haddii ay i jeclaatana ma rabo inaan jeclaadaaye
Ninkii ay jeclaatana la waa inuu jeclaadaaye
Kii aan jeclayn waa iyadu inay jeclaataaye
Jacaylkagya iyo keedu waa laba jeclaadoone

Gabadh jinaha dhuudhuuban waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Tu naasuhu janjeedhaan waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Middii jeer la moodoo dhan waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Garoobtii i soo jiidha waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Islaan baradho jiidaysa waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Duqdii jaadka gadaneysay waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Habar jeenyo buurbuuran waa inaan jeclaadaaye
Wadaaddaanse jeclaadee dharraar macawsta i siisay
Gurigeeda waagaan tegee ay shaaha ii karisay
Haasawaheedii kolkuu sooba madhan waayey
Feedhka iyo tantoomada sideer uguma boobeene
Kolkay qaad i siinweydey ayuu mawdku ka adeegay.

Ninkii dumar jeclaadaase wuu yara ammaantaaye
Adna waxaaban kuu soo fekeray hadallo dhaadheere
Midabka iyo quruxdaadan ayaan yarahe faalleyne
Gabadhyahay casaantaadu waa dhuxullo meygaage
Afkaagana madowgiisu waa nuuraddoo kale e
Sidaa aawadeed baan jacayl kuugu soo kacaye
Guurna waaban kaa doonaya sidaa dharraatiiye
Timahaygu siday yihiin eed cirrada moodo
Duqdnimiyo gabow igama aha oo wayska dhalankaye
Adiguna carruurbaad tihiyo sida dhallaankiiye
Isku qayrna waa nahay anuun baa laba Gu! kaa weeyne
Sanadkii Daraawiishtii baan dhoocillo ahayne

Dhallinyaro inaan nahay dadkuba waa ogsoonyahaye
Inan iyo barbaar baan nahaye waan lagaranayne
Raggaa kale juuq ha u odhan aniga mooyaane
Kii kula hadlana waa inaan feedh ka badiyaaye
Haddii layga kaa dhaco waxbaan sahayan doonaaye
Dameer dhagaxa waa inaan gurtoo qaylo kiciyaaye
Naagtana ka iga qaada waa inaan ka dhuuntaaye
Ninuu ciil lafaha buuxiyoo dibinta ruugaaya
Oo luqanta hoogaamiyo gegi xarriiqaaya
Haddii kii xumaantaa ku falay weliba maad maagtid
Sidii laba digaag sow ilkaa layska cuni maayo.

;)

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