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.