Archive for May, 2007


The strings are plucked. Gently. A rich, high-pitched tune resonates from its hollow chest. The pear shaped body releases a melodious sound upon plucking the strings. Regarded as the queen of instruments, the Oud, or Lute as it is generally known, is a non-fretted piece of highly ornate wood. Hadrawi’s Hooyoy La’aantaa, played on this instrument, strikes at the heart. It’s beat, rhythm and carefully chosen words bring it to life, breathing through the wind and pleasantly resting on your ears. I could almost feel the column of strings being plucked on the ivory Oud, as I repose in my cluttered room in some ravaged street in London, vibrating as they are struck and producing a resonating sound of great delight to the sensual ear. I pull the radio closer to my bed and wait patiently for the lyrics.

Hooyoy la’aantaa
Higgaad lama barteenoo

O’ mother without you
None would be lettered

As the music starts and the undulating melody is carried through the air, my mother whom I’ve left a long time ago comes to mind. Her ageing features and beautiful colour darkened by the sun into a chocolaty complexion are brought before me. Having been away from her for a very long time, this song reminds me of her and the time I spent in her company and the warmth of her care. The dark nights that we sat outside the tiny hut in Cal, talking, watching the brightly lit stars above as I lay in her lap came to mind. The sense of serenity and contentment I felt was without comparison. The vast territory of Cal consisted mostly of barren and desiccated terrain where nomadic settlers, like my family, dwelled.

Hooyoy la’aantaa
Hadal lama kareenoo

O’ mother without you
None would be able to speak

The smooth, mellifluous song of Hadraawi made the constraint of time and space disappear by propelling my mind at once, thousands of miles away from London, to the arid plains of Cal in search of a mother I had left behind a long time ago; and also to revisit past scenes of delight. I could almost feel the incense that hangs on the boughs of her tiny hut – the woven mats that made the roof, the comfy grass that carpeted the earth, the brushwood that held the wooden pillars, the flap of woven mat that made the entrance; I could smell the distinct dry-grass scent of her highly-decorated mats as I hear the song and the fragrance of the fertile earth and morning dew that envelops it. As night falls, and howling of the wind lessens, and darkness engulfs the surroundings, the family would form a circle around the burning logs of fire, gazing at the thick skewer that held the roasting lamb. And tales of our forefathers would be narrated before the meal.

Ruuxaanad habinoo
Kolba aanad hees iyo
Hoobey ku sabinoo
Hawshaada waayaa

Whom you haven’t nurtured
And at times with a song
And hoobey not chanted
And misses your diligence

I remember the bright flames of the fire dying and the rest of the family slowly recoiling back into the hut, except for me and my mother who would be sitting beside the smouldering embers.

Hanaqaadi maayee
Hoygii kalgacalkee
Naxariistu hadataay

He will reach nowhere
O’ provider of affection
And compassion abound

And then the strings are plucked again, and the music travels pleasantly and the sonorous voice of the singer wafts into the air. Then I’d remember the songs my mother used to sing whilst tending to the herds of goats and sheep. On that torrid heat of August, I would sometimes accompany my mother to the arid plains and keep her company. I was very young by then and my job within the family circle was to tend to the kids and lambs. My father, though feeble, tended to the camels along with my brother, whilst the flock of goats and sheep were in my mother’s guard. Tall Trees with withered leaves served as our shade from the sweltering heat and by evening when the sun started to plummet down the horizon, we would make our way back to the hut. The enchanting trails left behind by the setting sun guide us to our hut and the quietude of the countryside coupled with the stillness of the unvaried cycle of life was something wonderful.

Hooyoy la’aantaa
Higgaad lama barteenoo

O’ mother without you
None would be lettered

And then the strings are plucked again, and serenity descends upon me. I lie on my back in complete tranquillity; harmonious respiration, a detached body buoyantly reposed and a dreaming mind. And as the song evoked memories of my departed childhood, it also recalled the ethereal world I’d created through poetic imagination. And the following poem, which I wrote upon seeing my mother after several years of separation, vividly appeared before me:

Have you ever cried tears of happiness
That on the cheeks do gently flow
Upon the sight of a special someone
Whom your life and joy duly depend
But separated by need and necessity

Like a caged bird set free
Do your wings now feel the breeze
As they flap and flounder and finally fly
Chanting and chirruping for all years of solitude
Soaring and diving to your hearts delight

Like a blind man with his sigh regained
Does your heart convulse in rapturous merriment
Has the greenness of the grass blinded you
Or the splendour of a flowing stream
Whose roar you’ve always heard but never saw

And then the strings are plucked again in the background. The chest of the Oud resonates throughout the room, filled with melancholic reminiscences. And the hollowness of the abyss of the heart is recollected thus; a poem floating in mid-air before it is disassembled into words, syllables and letters and finally vanishing into thin air.

Oh how this pains me mother!
This enduring absence from your eyes
And though dearly dissembled, this distress
Is easily discerned despite my disguise

And then the strings are plucked again. No chiming bells in the background, no excessive piano loops, no discordant drum beats, no cacophonous sounds; just simple, mellow rhythmic sounds deep from the chest of the Oud; the voice of the singer and the plucking of the strings in perfect harmony and the air gains a mildly gratifying feel as my heart, under the watchful eye of my mother, lies tranquil and my mind restful under the soft pillow as the shutters of my eyes slowly come together.

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The story of Calimaax and Cawrala is famous throughout Somalia, like any other great story for its great poems. It has been mentioned in many songs, plays and books – even though the latest film in the name of Cali & Cawrala has discredited the name and the story. Below is a little part of the history of Calimaax and Cawrala…

The first encounter between Cali-Maax and Cawrala occurred on a vessel that was transporting them from Eden to Maydh (some say Laasqoray). Calimaax was a resident of Laasqoray while Cawrala was from Xiis (and Maydh). During that time both these cities were of great importance to the to trade and transportation due to their locality and ports. When the vessel capsized, majority of the passengers drowned with it, except for the few who could swim to safety. Cali-maax was a good swimmer and when he spotted Cawrala struggling to stay afloat, he rescued her and swam with her ashore and they both departed on reaching ground.

Some time later, Cali-max received a letter from Cawrala. But he was unlearned and could not read or write, so he took the letter to his Soddog (father in law) and sought his assistance. During that time there was no Somali script and the language primarily spoken was Arabic (and, to a lesser degree, English). His Soddog glanced at the letter and upon reading it and acknowledging the amount of love expressed by Cawrala for the man whom his daughter was married to, the Soddog felt quite uncomfortable in explaining the content of the letter to his son-in-law. “I am not familiar with this script, Cali. Take it to him (his son), for he is more knowledgeable than I am”

Cali made his way to his Seedi (his wife’s brother) and asked him to read the letter for him. His Seedi, who was sitting in a gathering of the clan elders, took the letter from him and upon observing the what his father saw he asked Cali, “did you show this letter to anyone else?”

“Yes,” replied Cali, ” I showed it to your father and he said he couldn’t understand this script and suggested that I should bring it to you.”

His Seedi then read out the contents of the letter in front of the throng of his clansmen that surrounded him. Having been humiliated in front of his wife’s clansmen, cali vowed never to let anyone read anything to him again and from there on embarked on a long journey to gain knowledge and understanding of scripts. At that time Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan (whom the British called Mad Mullah) was running Qur’anic schools, so Cali joined the Sayyid’s school and later became a man of great knowledge.

The thing about this great story between Cali and Cawrala is that, unlike the typical love stories compiled into volumes of books, it had no happy ending and Cali-maax was at the time a married man with children. Cawrala was not aware of this of course, and loved him dearly as her letter reveals. Calimaax on the other hand was content with his family and children and went to seek knowledge. But when Cawrala died during his absense and he heard about her death, Cali-maax was devastated and related a Gabay (poem) in response.

I would love to read the entire Gabays between Cali and Cawrala, so if anyone has them please let me know. They have since then been mentioned in numerous books and have been the subject of many songs and poems. Their poetry, due to its value, has also been included in the school literatures. The best compilation of the story, however, comes from the great writer Faarax M. J. Cawl in his book Aqoondarro waa U nacab jacayl
(Ignorance is the enemy of love, translated by B.W. Andrzejewski)

Here is Cawrala’s letter. The letter was of course written in Arabic but was later translated in Somali. Unfortunately, translating is hard for me, as in finding the equivalent words in English, and would also discredit the poem so i will leave it as it is. Unless anyone can perform a good translating job. She said:

Calimaax sidii johoradeed, yaanan kuu jamane,
Jannadii sidaad tahay, yaanan jawda kugu hayne,
Dabadeed aan kala Jeensanee, mar ila soo joogso.

Magaalada Cadmeed maalintaan, casar ka soo dhoofnay,
Waxaan ahay middaad caawintood, cudud ku taageertay,
Waxaan ahay mid kuu cabatayo,. caashiaq dhibayaaye.

War cilmigiyo haasaawihii, lagu caweynaayey,
Waxaan ahay codkaad tiri miduu, cudur geyeysiiyey,
Waxaan ahay mid kuu cabatayoo caashaq dhibayaaye

Baddoo caratay mayeygaad ogayd, calool xumaantiisa,
Waxaan ahay cadraddaad siddoo, calaf u laabnaaye,
Waxaan ahay mid kuu cabatayoo caashaq dhibayaaye,

Waxaan ahay cirkoo hooray, iyo caadka oo kale?e,
Waxaan ahay casaan raaca iyo, midab casaawiira,
Waxaan ahay canabkii ka baxay, Calihi doognaaye,

Waxaan ahay carfoon iyo udgoon, iyo cadarki Baariise,
Waxaan ahay mid kuu cabatayoo, caashaq dhibayaaye.
Waxaan ahay midaan cunin cuntada, calafka sooreede,

Waxaan ahay mid cadanyootayoo, cidihi dayrsheene,
Waxaan ahay mid caynkaaga iyo, caaqil mehershaaye,
Casarkii haddaan weel la culay, caano kugu siiyo,

Cishihii haddaan sarar cusba leh, kugu cashaysiiyo,
Oo waa caafimaad rage haddaan, cagaha kuu duu go,
Asaadan caloosha igu hayn, Caligaan calmadow yeelkaaye.

Ogoobey haddaan dayaxu jirin, dirir ma nuureene,
Ogoobey haddaan daaqu bixin, duunyo ma foofteene,
Ogoobey haddaad diiddo, waan degel baxaayaaye,

Oo hal iga dardaarana Caliyoow, debinta maan saaro,
War diifta aan qabo hadday, digasho ii raacdo,
Waynoo daartii aakhiro, iyadaan cidina deyneyne.

thanks to Sanaaghome

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We’ve had some rather interesting customs in Somalia at one time, though most of these customs have gradually died out with the advance of Islam. I’ll start with some hairdos.


A young girl’s hair was shaved in such a way that a ring of hair was left to encircle the smooth scalp. Sometimes it was shaved so that in addition to the ring of hair that surrounds the head, a line of hair also goes through the centre of the head just as in the picture above.

Upon reaching maturity or reaching a certain age, she was then circumcised. Once circumcised, it was customary that the girl’s head is completely shaven off. This was a must. When the hair grew back it was left to grow and never to be cut back again. A band of beads was rested on her head and her hair, once it became long enough, was braided. This denoted that she was ready to engage in acts of courtship and choose a husband.

Once she found someone appealing to her and they were engaged, the girl would be required to cover her hair. If at anytime she covered her hair before she was engaged, she would be taunted with remarks such as;

“Ma jinni baa ku guursadey, iska siib gambada”
Were you wed by a Jinn, get rid of this gambo.

Gambo being a small embroidered cloth that women use to cover their hair.

Upon accepting the proposal of her partner, as well as a generous provision of camles, she was then expected to wear a Garbasaar – a three/four yard cloth draped around the shoulders – as a sign of her engagement, which if she didn’t people would remark;

Meher baad qabtaaye timahagaa qari
you have dowry now, cover your hair

or sometimes, being superstitious, they would say;

Cirku noo soo di’i maayee timahaaga naga qari
the sky would not pour down, cover your hair

Once the official wedding ceremony took place and the girl moved in with her new husband, it was expected that she must fully cover her hair and drape her Garbasaar around her as a sign of modest clothing.

As for young boys, the head was shaved so that no hair was left on the sides of his head until he reaches puberty. Something similar what most people do nowadays by shaving the sides of their head and leaving the top untouched. Upon reaching puberty the young man can scout for his bride and once married can let his hair even on all sides – an Afro. In the initial stage where his hair was shaven on the sides, he would have been known as a Taabog.

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What you see above is a Somali hut or Aqal Soomaali in construction. The particular one above is from the Southern parts of Somalia. Though the ways of construction are similar in both the Northern and Southern parts of the country, the materials used for construction are different due to the locality. In the above picture, the structure the women have erected forms the roof of the hut. The things that you see on the floor in bundles are called Lool, usually made of flexible twigs from the Murcanyo tree, and are used to plaster all over the crisscrossing wooden branches. The Lool forms a cover of the roof, and on top of them goes the large woven mats, fastened with ropes to the ground. During rainy seasons something called a Shiraac, a waterproof plastic sheet, is covered on top of the mats.

In the typical Northern huts, things are slightly different. First very small brushwood, called Yacay and made from the Higlo tree or other trees with no prickly thorns, is spread to form a ring to outline the shape of the hut. Then several branches, called Udbo (singular – Udud) and made from Dhamas or Dayyib trees and sometimes even Gob tree, are erected from all the edges of the circle leaving a small opening for the entrance. The first two trees are usually much preferred as their wood is very strong and firm. The Gob branches are bendable and cannot do much to underpin the erected structure.

Once this is done, two or sometimes three long pairs of flexible wood obtained from the Gob tree are erected to form two semi-cricles around the hut. These are called Dhigo (singular – Dhig). The four pieces of wood would be wrapped altogether with dried hide. One pair would be running across from one end of the hut to the other forming a semi-circle, and the other pair forms another semi-circle intersecting the first pair in the middle to form a round hut. Now you have the outer structure of the hut formed and it needs to be strengthened on the inside.

A long piece of wood with a V-shaped head is then erected right in the middle of the hut, the v-shaped head holding the former two pairs of wood (Dhig) where they intersect. This piece of wood is called Udub Dhexaad, made from the same trees as the Udbo, and it holds the building upright by providing a central support on the inside. Now the structure of the hut, both on the inside and outside is completed.

Lool, as I mentioned earlier, is then used to cover the outer branches of the hut and then covered with nicely decorated mats. For the inside, heaps of dried grass is spread on the floor of the hut to form a soft cushion of earth. Then mats are laid on the floor and what you now have is a comfy sitting area shaded from the scorching heat. And the result is what you see below…


In whatever way it is made, the intricacy and magnificence of the Somali Aqal is a testament to the ingenuity and handicraft of the Somali nomads, or Somali women I should say. The huts are made entirely by young girls and their mothers and the involvement of a man is very little, limited to just collecting the wood needed for the construction. For their mats, the Somali women still weave brilliant artefacts dating back to the early times of nomadic life.

The learning process of making Aqal Soomaali is passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter and sleeping inside one of these huts is a truly wonderful experience.

Click here for a detailed post on how Somali Aqals are made.

1st image
2nd image

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Nearly a year ago, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) have ignited a flame so powerful in Somalia that it’s impacts are still being felt by those in power today. With the help of America and Ethiopia, the government troops are, to this day, hosing down the dying embers of that fire. Having been re-united by the collective call to Islam, many Somalis supported the ICU and saw it as the movement that would unite Somalis far and wide. They had raised the banner of Islam, however ill-prepared or ill-judged their actions might have been. Within the six months of their imprudent but somehow effective rule, a gigantic wave of optimism, and in no less measure pessimism, had captured the hearts of many and thus the ICU gained prominence.

Those impoverished and anguished souls whose minds have been severely debilitated by the anarchy and constant fear wished for a reprieve from the brutal war and therefore supported the ICU. They have had enough and resorted to the notion that any sort of governance ought to be better than non-governance and the spark ignited by the ICU had brought about a wave of nationalism to redeem the years lost in civil war. Immediately the few degenerates whose blinkered minds forbade them seeing past their tribal allegiances and borders leapt in hue and cry. Having been incensed by the support given to the ICU and the way they were frequently lauded, they became resolute in their opposition. A tribe other than theirs in power was something inconceivable to their tiny obstinate minds.

But the ICU, despite all their flaws, had brought about a short period of stability. A brief interval from the war, perhaps to reflect at it, ensued as a sense of relative calm hovered over the city of Mogadishu. And for the first time in more than a decade, people went out of their bullet-ridden houses without worrying about their return. The tribes that were once expelled from the hierarchy chain and cast as subordinates in the eyes of many have finally been accepted as men and women of equal worth. Women went outdoors without fear of rape or kidnapping, and mothers gained a resounding hope of seeing their children making it past adolescence and not loosing them to the war or stray bullets.

Hope had impregnated many hearts; hope for a better future, for change, for long lasting stability, for peace, for reconciliation, and hope for a nation. But sadly that hope was short-lived, for soon enough the fire was wildly spreading and America, upon hearing the trumpet of Islam and fearing the governance of Somalia, whom it has yet to reap its resources, by Shari’ah law quickly responded with fighter jets and covert surveillance operations. They had formulated a plan to wipe out any rise of Islam and together with Meles Zenawi, who was, with a handsome pay, appointed as their mission commander in Eastern Africa turned their attention to the new movement in Mogadishu.

On the pretext of war on terror, America waged war on the world. But I had always had my misgivings about Ethiopian involvement in the governance of Somalia. During the time of Siyaad Barre, Ethiopian generals and high ranking officials were usually seen tending to the vegetation or irrigating the soil and ploughing the fields in the vicinity of Afgooye. They were serving time in some of the toughest underground jails in Afgooye such as Labaatanjir or Laanta Buro for their attempts to lay claim on Jubba, Shabeele and Somali coastal lines. But today their army, consisting of emaciated debauchees scathed by the scorching heat whilst AIDS gnaws away at their insides, tread on the Somali soil with malicious intent. Their landlocked country, unable to gain access the vast coastal line of Somalia is now attempting to do so by force, surreptitiously. They have, perhaps, been plotting their schemes for quite some time to get their hands on Somali soil and water to wash away their non-coastal cesspit. For long though, the indomitability of the Somalis and their valour had stopped them at the borders, but now it seems that their opportunity, however gaunt and grey they are, had finally come. Today they rule much of Southern Somalia and any intentions of withdrawing have been dwarfed by their determination to make Somalia a culvert from their disease-infested cesspit to the coast.

And of course, being the feeble-hearted vultures they are, they never would have set a foot on Somali soil, had it not been for the repulsive schisms they’d seen between the tribes. They waited for long for Qabiil to sap all energy from its prey. Malevolently used, Qabiil is the evil that mars the dignity of the entire nation. And it is sad to see that, to this day, the iniquities of tribalism and the old established forms of bigotry are the order of the day. And i doubt qabiilism will allow us a chance to progress and save our country from being turned into another sewer. Unless reconciliation procedures start now and Somalis learn to settle their differences, I am afraid by the time they conceive the notion in their minds it would have been too late.

The fire kindled by the ICU and the wave of optimism it brought has been thoroughly extinguished. But sometimes, they say, bushfires need to burn for fresh grass to grow in their place. And that new grass or Cosob, as it is called in Somali, is rapidly beginning to grow.

p.s My tirade against Ethiopia is not a personal attack on it’s people, but is directed solely at the so-called government. Apologies to my Ethiopian friends. I am sure you would understand

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They have done it too , though long awaited it has been. After Ethiopian soldiers were approved for a carte blanche to do as they pleased inside Somalia, this should have come across as something that was somewhat expected, yet it did not. It astounded me to hear that in a country where almost 100% of the population is Muslim, this deliberate transgression would have been allowed to take place.

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A book I read stated that the internal mechanisms in our body that control our faculty of consciousness are directly linked to the external environment. It is a responsive mechanism and adapts to changes within our environment and surroundings. I am conscious, alive, awake, and feeling. I experience the world by being conscious. I am conscious because I feel it; feelings that correspond to certain situations in the external environment that prompt me to a reaction. I am conscious because I feel, with a contemptuous glare, the pain that death brings, that amputation brings, that the loss of dignity brings. I am conscious because I feel the fondness that a mother brings, the feeling that freedom brings, the freedom that motherland has.

I am percipient, I am conscious, but my country is suffering long lasting bouts of concussions at the hands of unconscious people with no conception of common sense. At times I assume that these “unconscious” people are conscious. And I assume so because their perception of the outside world prompts them to react. But my reason for concluding that they are conscious is simply on the merits of their outward reaction to surrounding circumstances – the death of thousands of people ate their hands, the denigration of millions, the indiscriminate slaughter, the rape of a nation and so on. Of course they too react to it, but in their own way which at times means advancement of earlier processes and killing rituals. And then it hits me, do they not perceive the consequences of their actions? Do they not feel?

The people that they indiscriminately kill are conscious. They feel. They feel pain. They feel the fear that is ominously approaching them as they hear the sound of the gun; every minute the rapid gun fire becomes louder and the soldiers closer, their heart pounds in their chest faster. They anticipate it and their adrenaline rushes. But the torturers feel not. And that’s why I say they are unconscious. Unconscious for they feel not. Unless they feel the pain that kills the conscious people they murder, their consciousness will be kept at bay, roaming in far away territories.

Unless we have grounds for believing that those who govern us are conscious and are forming conscious decisions, any attempts towards compromise and peace in Somalia are impracticable. And since consciousness has a major role in communication between humans, how can we communicate with unconscious individuals?

I am percipient, I am conscious. Are you conscious?

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