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After travelling for several hours, the family had just settled into their new location with ample grazing ground and access to water nearby. The mother was disassembling the hut, sticking the Dhigo and Udub firmly into the soil and in close proximity were the two young girls holding the harness of the camel on which their elderly grandmother sat. Just as the two girls approached the hut, they were ambushed by loud chanting and the cries of ululating women drifted along the cool breeze and landed on their ears.

This they realised was an emancipation of the soul (it is not very often that weddings take place in the nomadic settlements) and were quickly impassioned. Imbued with an intense passion to participate in that wedding, the girls exchanged giggles and elatedly talked of attending the dance session afterwards. And quite rightly so, for this was their chance to mingle with the locals and exchange some verses of poetry.

Their grand-mother who, due to infirmity of age was too weak to walk and had to travel on camel-back, heard all the girls’ excited wails from her resting point. She too, though, hears the voice of ululating women resonating from the dark plains, not far from where they were now settling. After the girls had discussed their plans to attend the wedding, the grand-mother interrupted them and said:

‘Girls, girls! Would you stop the camel so that I can dismount and join those ululating women…’

They girls were taken aback by this request and stared at each other in amazement, unable to decide whether the old woman meant what she said or merely spoke in jest. This feeble woman, they thought, could not stand the noise and the dancing that takes place.

‘O’ grandmother, are you joking or have you finally gone insane’ they said.

Their grandmother smiled and then laughed, shaking her head slightly. Little do the girls know about the feelings of the old woman and what she is going through! Little do they know that over half a century ago, in an evening very similar to this, the very place that they have now settled bore witness to their grandmother’s first wedding! And in a manner similar to this evening’s wedding that the girls were planning to attend, many people from all over the countryside attended her wedding too. It was even perhaps here where her firstborn’s umbilical chord was buried. But to all this they were unaware, over taken by the wails of the wedding nearby. Even before the start of their long journey to this place, the grandmother was well aware of where they were headed and the wedding taking place.

In a short, succinct poem, the old lady relates her complete life story to her adolescent grand-daughters, wistfully lamenting her ripeness of age and the different stages in her life. She said:

 

  • Beri baan, beri baan          
  • Wax la dhaloo dhulka jiifta ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Bilig bilig baraar celisa ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was newly born, lying on the ground

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I scuttled around tending to lambs

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Daba-jeex dabka qaada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Rukun rukun, reeraha u wareegto ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was entrusted to kindle the fire

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when aimlessly I ran around the huts

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Raamaley riyo raacda ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Habloweyn had hadaafta ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a juvenile guarding the goats

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a strolling mature girl

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Aroos indha-kuulan ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Mar curad marwo reerle ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a mascara-clad bride

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a first-time mother and a housewife

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Laba-dhal laafyoota ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Saddex-dhal sit sitaacda ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was an elegantly ambling mother of two

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a dazzling mother of three

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Afar-dhal afo aada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Shan-dhal sheekaysa ahaa 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was the finest mother of four

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a gossiping mother of five

  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Lix-dhal liibaantey ahaa
  • Goblan talo aduunyoy 
  • Ma hadaan gabooboo
  • Laygu qaaday guro awr. 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a triumphant mother of six

    Woe to you o’ world!

    did I now become old

    That I am carried on camel-back

 

Image by Photogenic. Story translated from Guri Waa Haween.

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old

time to rest

Everything in life has its peak then its glory fades. And we are no different. After a man’s life has reached its pinnacle, having attained all the sagacity and prudence it could, it starts to wane. Soon everything he possesses will start to either diminish or disappear. Whether he likes it or not, the dreaded wrinkles begin their assault on the once handsome face and the inevitability of age becomes certain. Then he starts to walk on threes, and finally on all fours. Like a toddler learning how to walk, the old man staggers and stumbles a multitude times. Hesitant and unable to walk long distances, he becomes confined to his resting place. Rendered immobile and almost out of touch with the community, he rests under the shade of his hut or a nearby tree and awaits any passerby to inform him of the events and news around him. Despite being hungry and weak, he is unable to eat and meals become almost unpalatable to him, except for whatever he could gulp down of camel milk.

As the sun sets everyday, his uncertainties grow – unsure whether he would be fit enough to see the break of dawn. And if he makes it to the daybreak, he becomes even more uncertain of its dusk! He starts to realise that soon, like his friends, he too will share a dark and dismal pit with the insects while the soil gnaws away at his fragile bones. If he was a poet it dawns on him that his friends with whom he would have exchanged banter with are long gone, as Dharbaaxo Jin said:

  • Raggiise aan la maansoon lahaa aakhiro u meerye
  • Raagihii mudnaa iyo Qamaan mawdkii baa helaye
  • Sayyidkii murtida sheegi jirey meel fog buu tegaye

 

  • The men I would’ve versed with have left for the hereafter
  • Death has caught up with the venerable Raage and Qamaan
  • The sagacious Sayyid too has departed to a far away place

In his feeble state, the old man become slightly petulant and develops an unpleasant disposition. The strident wails and laughter of frolicking kids annoys him. He is perturbed by loud noises and disturbances of any kind. Being in an isolated state, he often requires a constant companion to tend to his needs. And if not for a dutiful son or grandson or an unusually compassionate young man or woman to look after him, the old man if often left in his lonesome state.

When the poet Faarax Xasan Cali (farax Afcad) was in a ripe old age, he recited a poem describing the sort of woman he would marry, if he were to do so. He said:

  • Caanaha cidey kama bogto oo badey gugeygiiye
  • Hadba balaq midaan ii shubeyn waan ka boobsanahay

 

  • Cidey’s milks I am not satiated with as my years have increased
  • And she who wouldn’t readily pour me [milk] then I am wary of

It is also usual for an old Nomad in this decrepit state to completely lose his eye sight and/or become deaf or become partially sighted or partially deaf. When night falls and others are in deep slumber, he lies awake in his lonesome place twisting and turning, his groans and grunts filling the dark space. he is rendered sleepless at night and restless during the day, waiting for the angel of death to cast a shadow of gloom on his sombre existence.

Sheikh Axmad Gole was an erudite scholar, renowned throughout the Somali lands, particularly Western Somalia, for his understanding of religion. But when old age got to him, he was asked about his state and he replied thus:

 

  • Indhihii mid waa jaw                  the eyes, one is completely gone
  • Midna jeex yar baa haray           and a portion is left of the other
  • Jaaha iyo gacantii                      the face and the hands
  • waa wada jirkoodaas                  are but that mere skin
  • Dhegihii waxbaa jooga               a fraction is left of the ears
  • Waase sii jufmahayaan               But they are deteriorating
  • Ushaa ii jifada dheer                  that stick with the steel end
  • Waa jimicsigaygii                        is my tool for my exercise
  • Gol hadaan ku joogsado             if one a hill is step
  • Waan luqun jubaarmaa               I lose my footing and tumble
  • Dhul hadaan jadi maago             if on land I decided to walk
  • Waa badi jugleeyaa                    I stagger and fall on my bottom
  • Jidba geeljireentana                  if on my back I lie
  • Dhabarkaa I kala jaba                 my back would break
  • Hadaan jimicsi doonana             if I decide to stretch & exercise
  • Jiliftaa I kala baxa                      my spine splits into two
  • Hadaan jeenan waayana            if nourishment I don’t get
  • Sidii inan yar baan jalan            like a toddler I’d whine
  • Jil hadii aan qaatana                 and if I swallow a little
  • Waa jululuqeeyaaye                 my stomach starts to rumble
  • Jirkaygii hufnaanjirey              my once beautiful skin
  • Waa meela joolla ah                 is decrepit and old
  • Jismigii madoobaa                    my once dark hair
  • Hadmaa jookh cad lagu rogey   when was it encased in black?
  • Naagihii aan jeelkeenay            the women that I married
  • Way I jidi necbaadeen              have started to despise me
  • Wiilashaan jeclaan jirey            the sons that I used to love
  • Jawaab igama qaadaan             take no response from me
  • Odaygu waa jinoobaa               that the old man is possessed
  • Waaba lagu jalbeebtaa             they say and secretly gossip
  • Jiriidow Allahayow                   Oh Allah, you are Omnipresent
  • Kolba joogi meynee                 and we won’t last for eternity
  • Jidkii nebig na qaadsiiyoo       guide us to the path of our prophet
  • Jahanama hanoo geyn            and keep us away from hellfire

 

….To be continued

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drum

 

Once the drumming starts and the Gaaf is initiated, silence fills the air. Every ear is tuned towards the person reciting the poetry or singing, in order to assess and judge the worth of his/her words. Addressing everyone present, the young girl starts the ceremony with these lines:

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

Salaamu calaykum safiya iyo daahirow

Salaama calaykum safkan meesha joogayow

Salaama calaykum soomaaliyey dhamaan

 

Hoobe hobaala hoobala hoobalow

Ee hoobe hobaala hoobalayey hadaba

Peace be upon you O’ Safiya and Daahir

Peace be upon you O’ who have assembled here

Peace be upon you Somalis in your entirety

 

One she has passed her greetings to everyone in the room, then she explains her reason for travelling so many nights to attend this grand occasion:

 

Beryaan soo dhaxayoo bogoxaa shishaan ka imid

Calaf ma dooneyn cagahana ma daalineyn

Oo soor ma dooneyn saaxiibna uma gudeyn

Boqorada iyo boqorka soo booqo baan is idhi

Ciyaarta ka tiiri oo caawi baan is idhi

 

For nights I have been travelling, coming from distant lands

Neither was I in search of my destined partner nor was I tiring my legs

I wasn’t in search of food and for a friend I did not travel

To visit the Queen and the King was my intention

To perfect their dance ceremony and help them was my intention

 

Then a few words of the merriment of the occasion and the Gaaf:

 

Oo wiilka guurkiisu gacaleeye waalanaa

Afartaa geesoodba gurmad baanu kaaga nahay

Oo gaafka kuu taagney wiilal iyo gabdhaba

Oo ku guulayso anna iga uga gudoon salaam

 

O’ how dear is the man’s wedding to us

From the four corners arrives you an entourage

And at your Gaaf we assembled both boys and girls

May this be a triumph for you and I bid you peace

 

Then she would praise the girl:

 

Gabadhu waa ubax la beeroo uroon indhaha

Waa iftiin belelayoo waa ilays la shiday

Ragbaa u janaaney jaaheeda inay arkaan

Badda kuwaa jiiray Beledweyne orod ku tegey

Kuwaa ka sahwiyey salaadii Ilaahigay

Kuwaa riyo moodey oo aan rumaysan weli

Kuwaa dhuuniga la quutaa dhunkaal ka yahay

Oo walaal Dhooley nimaad dhaaftay dhimasha gaar

 

The girl is pleasing to the eyes like a flower sown

She is a glaring beam; she is that kindled light

Many men have gone mad for a glimpse of her sight

The ocean many have stormed and reached Beledweyne in a sprint

Some have blundered and mistaken the prayers of Allah

Some thinking it a dream have not believed it yet

For some all things edible have become but poison

O’ dear Dhool, he whom you have missed has reached his death

 

Further praising the girl, she says:

 

Shan iyo toban geela niman baa ka shubi lahaa

Kun baa loo diidey boqolbaa berriga fadhiya

Adaase lagu qaadi waayee qalbiga ku hay

Oo gabadhu caynkay tahaan kuu cadaynayaa

Casaan weeyaanoo midabkeedu waa cajiib

Casarkii ma wareegto oo waaberi lama celcelin

Timaha ma casaysan oo baarra kama cashayn

Kuwa cishaha dheelmadana caado uma lahayn

Waxaa dhalay reera dhiirdhiiran oo kulkulul

Dheregna ma ay waayin guri dheelan bay ka timi

 

15 camels some men would have paid to have her

A thousand have been rejected; a hundred lie wretched on land

You were too worthy to let go, so that you should know

And now I will shed light on the type that the girl is

She is fair in complexion and her tone is astonishing

She neither roams in the evening nor restrained in the morning

She hasn’t dyed her hair and from bars did not eat

And those who travel at night, she isn’t among them

She is born to a family hot-blooded and passionate

And provisions she lacks not, coming from a wealthy house

 

Then, praising the man (I haven’t got many poems praising the man) she says:

 

Markuu lebisto markuu laamiyada marmaro

La wada damacyee ma dumar buu u qaybsamaa

 

When immaculately dressed and strolling the streets

Though desired by all, is he divisible amongst women?

 

Then giving advice to the man she says:

 

Gabadhu waa hogol guyoo waa hilaac mar baxay

Hadba ninbaa haybinaayoo adaa hantiyey

Harraad iyo gaajo midna yaaney halis u noqon

Oo yaaney saxar taabanoo siigo yaaney qaban

Minaad la qosleyso mooyee qallooc ka dhawr

 

A girl is like thunderous rain; she is a flash of lighting

Every now and again a man sought her but you won her

To thirst and hunger may she not succumb

May not a speck of dirt touch her, or dust stick to her body

Except that you’re laughing with her, protect her from evil

 

Giving a classification of men and women and praising the newly-weds, the young girl adds:

 

Nimanku ma gudboona guntigay ka siman yihiin

Garkaa wada marayoo garashey is dheeryihiin

Midbaa is garaadiyoo geesi loo filaa

Midbaa gurigii lasoo goodey kala gilgila

Midbaa garanwaaya hawshiisa gaar ahaan

Adiga guulaystow kuuma qabo gedaa

 

Not all men are of the same calibre though equal of the girdle

The beard runs along them all but wisdom, one another they excel

There is one that professes nobility and perceived to be brave

There is one that shakes and disassembles the assembled hut

There is one that is oblivious to his duty as a whole

You, o’ victor, among them I count you not

 

And the women:

 

Dumarku ma gudboona gambadey ka siman yihiin

Midbaa is guduudisoo gaarri loo filaa

Midbaa garanweyda hawsheeda gaar ahaan

Adiga guuleysatoy kuuma qabo gedaa

 

Not all women are of the same calibre though equal of the scarf

There is the one that brightens herself and perceived to be obedient

There is the one that is oblivious to her duty as a whole

You, O’ victor, among them I count you not

 

And she ends with a general advice for the girl:

 

Laba nin oo haybta sare ka siman

Naa hooda guur iyo haween bey ku kala hadhaan

Haweeyoy inanka hano hilib hadeynu nahay

 

Two men, though equal on the outer appearance

It is through marriage and women that they each other surpass

Look after your man, O woman, if we are of the same meat

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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.

SOMALIA2 035 SOMALIA2 042

 

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.

 

SOMALIA2 098 SOMALIA2 132

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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On the wall behind the woman is Salli or Derin. It is mainly used as a prayer mat, but it is also used to sleep on and sometimes it is spread out for the guests to sit on when they arrive. Notice that the man is sitting on one. The object on the wall where the man is leaning on is called Masarafad or sometimes called Masarafad Hilbood. Its main use was to take the large amounts of meat to the guests. The nomads often have many guests and huge quantities of meat is eaten. Receiving a guest with such generosity is often praise worthy and the theme of many verses of poetry. In the Somali culture, where families are judged by their hospitality, Sooryo (receiving guests well) is very important and so is Sagootin (seeing them off well). Now both these items are used for decoration purposes.

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This woman is weaving baskets known as Dambiilo (single – Dambiil). Behind her on the wall is Kebed made from threads obtained from trees and strings. The object on her right handside with the blue and white patterns is called a Masaf or Xaarin and is used to separate soil and the impure particles from maize – a process called Haadin.

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The mysterious containers (on the left) wrapped in a white cloth and laced by a red rope in the middle are called Xeedhooyin or a Xeedho for a single one and are carved out of wood. Though they are used to store food, they are also used mainly for wedding purposes and this is usually in the Northern regions. I will explain this in more detail in another post.

The other two similar containers (on the right) with the one single lace running across the top part are Dhiilo. This is just one of the many types of Dhiil and it is made from Caw. It is usually used in the Northern parts of Somalia.

Between these two sets of containers is a small object. This is called Dabqaad and is carved out of a special stone primarily found in Ceelbuur, in the South and many other Somali regions. It is used for burning Frankincense, Myrrh and other kinds of incense. The coloured object standing on the far wall facing you is called Alool, the other two facing each other are Kebdo (Single – kebed). They are all now used for decoration purposes. The Kebed is primarily used for building and a protection against the strong Jiilaal winds.

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These brilliantly patterned objects are also Dhiilo (single – Dhiil). The object at the forefront, however, is not a Dhiil but a Mooye and is used for grounding spices. These Dhiilo are used throughout Somalia but the methods of making them slightly differ in North and South. The ones above are carved out of wood and are particularly used in the Southern regions of Somalia.

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This is the Dhiil used in the Central and Northern regions of Somalia. Notice the difference between the two. This Dhiil is made out of the Qabo tree and the thin fibres of the Booc tree which are then skilfully interwoven. Both types of Dhiilo are used for storing milk and water.

giraangir.jpg

Whoever spent some of his childhood years in Somalia would automatically recognise this thing. It is called Garaangar and every child makes his own by hand. I remember running around all day behind my Garaangar knowing that I had the best toy in the world.

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These are the traditional clothes worn by the Somali women. Known as Subeeciyad, it is a one single long cloth draped around the waist and over the shoulders.

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The man you see above is being drenched in milk. A rather strange thing to be doing when you consider that that milk is much needed and many children sleep hungry at night. This is called Caana Shub and the man being treated in such a manner is the Sultan, Ugaas, Caaqil, Nabadoon, a sage or a leader of a certain tribe or region.

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This is how older generations of Somalis dressed and kept their hair. While travelling men usually carry a Barkin to rest their head on and keep their hair from touching the ground.

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Barkin

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This is what a Somali spoon or a Fandhaal looks like. I am sure you can guess what its uses are. It is also carved out of wood.

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Dabqaad.

Note that all these items may have several name variation in different regions of Somalia.

Images

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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…

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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.

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