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Archive for May, 2008

 

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

 

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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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Sorry

sorry copy

 

Dear Friends and Fellow Bloggers,

Please accept my sincere apologies for I have neglected this corner of mine for a very long time. Though I have no very good reasons to explain my long hiatus, I have been inundated with work and moving houses but will resume posting (hopefully regularly) from now on.

 

As many of you are aware, life as I knew it before has changed tremendously – The life I led as an unbound, young and vibrant man has now given way, justifiably some may say, to the perpetually petulant old bore that sits here guffawing. And in many ways too, that once spirited soul has now been replaced by its mature and more conscientious adult alter ego that is more concerned with fetching bread and milk from the newsagents than blogging.

 

Worry not though, there are many more interesting posts to come once the old bore gets his bearings right…

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