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.
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 drumming, clapping and ululating (mashxarad) loudly. They sing;
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
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…