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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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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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  • 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.

 

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  • 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.

 

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  • 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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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SOMALIA 211

             

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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