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.