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Issue 495 -- 23rd - 29th July 2011
Col Iyo Abaar - War & Drought
By: Bashir Goth
Col iyo Abaar, war and drought, were the historical enemies of the Somali people; the two disasters that played havoc with their nomadic life.
The fear of these combined calamities was so engraved in the Somali psyche that it manifests itself in their prayers; Ilaahow Col Iyo Abaarba Naga Hay (O’ God spare us from both war and drought). There was also no ills worse to invoke when cursing an enemy than to curse them with war and drought; Col iyo Abaari ku Qaadday or Col iyo Abaari Kula Tagtay are both curses that bid you to be taken away or snatched away by the twin terrors.
Nabad iyo Caano (Peace and Milk) was the antidote to Col iyo Abaar. And if the rainy season was exceptionally good and the pasture was abundant, then it was a time of Bashbash iyo Barwaaqo”; a time of splash and abundance or prosperity”.
For Somali nomads, therefore, Nabad iyo Caano was their best time, it was for them a time of Nimco Ilaah (God’s bounty). It was when both people and their livestock and in fact all plants and creatures on earth had Biyo iyo Baad (water and food). Without rain, Somalis live on dead earth.
When I met my wife for the first time many years ago, all she knew about Somalia other than a story she heard as a child about the Mad Mullah was that: “It was a dry land that came to life after rain.” Surprisingly, this was the first time in my life that I took note of my country described in such a graphic and indeed a realistic way. Sometimes, we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others.
It is no wonder that fatalism holds sway over the Somali people as their life hangs on the forces of nature and the Will of God, for who else but: “Allah sends down water from the sky and by it brings the dead earth back to life. (Surat an-Nahl, 65).
The Somali farmer can throw seeds to the ground, but he knows that without rain he should not expect to harvest them. If rain fails to come, then there is nothing he can do but look to the sky and pray. It was at a moment like this that a Somali farmer expressed his plight in the following biting lines:
“Illayn laguma doog dhabo hadhuud
Roob an kugu daadan
Cirka meel dushaada ah illayn
Dooxid lama gaadhid…”
Today, the Somali people, as in many times in the past, face the apocalyptic double hit of Col iyo Abaar.
Of the two, however, it is the Abaar that devastates the lives of the nomad. It is referred to as Abaar iyo Oodo Lulul, drought and tree shaking, as Somali nomads shake trees with their traditional hangools – a kind of a stick with a hook- to fall dry leaves for their livestock). One can run away from an enemy and avoid the areas of hostilities, but one cannot escape drought, particularly when it hits across traditional grazing areas. This is why the collective memory of the Somali people records the worst droughts that devastated the people through history.
Known by their telltale names that give graphic description of their catastrophic impacts on people’s lives and livelihood, some of the best memorized droughts include: Abaalees, the one that overran everyone and everywhere; Liqa iyo Qutura, the one that swallowed and stayed unyielding; Arbacadii, the one that started on the year that began on Wednesday; Xaaraamo Cune, the one during which people were forced to eat the inedible or legally prohibited food; Hawa Rida, the one that humiliated every proud person; and Jaahweyn, the one that stared at people in the face for a long time.
Also remembered are Maadh Gambiya, the one that devoured all wealth; Hayaan Dheer, the one that forced people to travel long distances; Siigacase the one with red sandstorms; Jaan Ma Reeba, the one that didn’t spare a single shoe as even shoes were boiled and eaten for food; Haarriya, the slow moving and grinding one; Bariis Guradkii, when the people were forced to eat rice which was an alien grain to the Somali people at the time; Sima, the equalizer as it made all people equal in misery and penury; Dooryaanle, the one that was characterized by the enormous quantity of worms it produced due to the enormous number of carcasses of dead animals around; and Daba Dheer, the long tailed – the never ending one.
When droughts last long and people and livestock perish, the only option the surviving people have is to seek refuge in a place which is mostly far and alien. In the old days the name for this torturous journey was Daaduun (escaping from famine and poverty). The word Qaxooti which is today’s parlance for refugees was used in the old days for people running from war and hostility but not from famine. Just like we see them doing today, the people on Daaduun would travel as far as their weak legs could take them, as far as their last drop of water could last them, and as far as the famished, haggard and malnourished children could make to the nearest graveyard or the nearest help whichever came first. But today, Somalis are running for Qax iyo Daaduun -both running from war and from drought’s famine).
Watching the news with my son and hearing that each day around 1500 people arrive in Kenya, he quipped: “Aabbo, if the Somalis leave the country in this rate and I know your population is small, I wonder, if anyone will remain in it.” He is a college student now and I remember addressing him in a poem I wrote when he was yet unborn telling him about the misery of the Somali people:
“…Insha Allaahu dhib yari iyo caafimaad
Waad ku soo dhalane
Ilmayohow la wada dhawraya
Bal an war kuu dhiibo
Hadday adiga nabadi kuu dhantahay
Dheregna aad hayso
Ood caalamkaba dhexdaa hooyadaa
Adduunyada dhib baa joogta iyo
Dhiilo iyo ciile
Dhawrtay isku laayeen tolkay
Dhiigna loo qubaye
Waxa dhagarta loo galay anaan
Dhiilka la ii shubine
Gobannimadii loo dhaxay runtii
Gaalka lagu dhoofshay
Haweenkiiba kama dhaashadaan
Dhul aan kuugu faaniyo ma lihi
Dhoobo iyo ciide
Dhagax buu Ilaahay ka dhigay
Dhawrkii bilood buu habeen
Dhibic ku tiixaaye
Dhuuni baan ka raadcaynayaa
Awr baaban weli dhaansadaa
Dhallaankii harraad bay dhugteen
Ceelkii dhicirta weynaa beryahan
Dadkaygii dhammaayo ma hadhin
Ruux ad dhugataaye
Iskadaa qabiil nin u dhintuu
Dhilmaanyaaba weli laysa iyo
Dhaxanta dayreede…” (Laba Dhuux, 1989)
Since then the world has changed beyond recognition. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union had collapsed the cold war had come to an end; the information technology has made the world a global village. But even after two decades, just like the many decades before, the conditions remain the same for Africa. Nothing changes in Africa. It is either war, brother killing a brother, or drought, or both of them. Daaduun and Qaxooti all along. It is as if time stands still as I referred to it in the following stanzs:
“…Afrikay dhagax dixeed
Miyaad sidii dheri jajabay
Duleedka u dhooban tahay
Dharaartii soo baxdiyo
Habeenkii loo dhaxaba
Waqtigu ku dul dhereran yahay ?
Waa kani dhiigii qulqulay
Haraha dhacadiida ee
Sidii durdur loo dhurtee
Miyaan ciiduba dhergeyn ?
Miyaanuu ubad dhallaan
Dhirif li’i seexanayan ?
Awrtani dhoomaha sidee
Miyaan dhaankuba degayn ?
Samada aan dheehdayeen
Quraanka u dheelmiyiyo
Miyaan ducaduba dhalayn ?… (Dhuxusha Ka Madoobiyaa, 1999)
Even long before that I was, like many of my country people, lamenting the centuries old misfortune of my country and Africa; a misfortune that has become an everlasting viscous circle where the agony and distress expressed in a poem stands vividly valid over nearly 30 years as the day it was penned down. It gives me no comfort to read the following poem Qiiro that I wrote in December 1984 and was listened by many people back then in audio cassettes to be shocked that the conditions stand the same.
Wanaagga la qoomay
Abaarta la qiiqay
Ilmaha ka qandhaysan
Qareena u weyday
Ilmada ku qubaysa
Hashuu u quminaayey
Abaari ka qaaday
Ku beer qadhqadhaysa
Ka qoonsan lahaa
Miyuu shir qabiilo
Qalqaashay dadkaygu- (Qiiro, December 10, 1984). You can the full poem at my blog.
So is this the destiny of the Somali people, one may ask? To which I could give a resounding NO; simply because as Somalis we are not less than other human beings in the world. In fact the Somali people are a very industrious race with great resilience. Their survival skills and entrepreneurship are proverbial. We are not also less patriotic than any other race in the world. On the contrary, one can argue that the root cause of the current debacle of the Somali people is patriotism went awry. They are the victims of their own nationhood and their legitimate dream and struggle to unite their race in one state and under one flag. An unlucky nation in hostile surroundings, they found themselves like a lone wolf in an unfriendly environment and a world dumb to their cries for justice.
As frustration breeds desperation and helplessness, it is natural in such a situation for brothers-in-arms to turn against one another and descend into a macabre condition of absurd proportions. The situation turns hellish also when the nature itself plays its hand.
No one can doubt also the hospitality and the generosity of the Somali people, a character that is deep-rooted in their nomadic culture. One thing we Somalis lack however is a sense of community and cultural cohesiveness. Just like our nomadic life when families moved together, settled together, fought together, died together and survived together in bloodlines, we still do the same and segregate ourselves in bloodlines even when we migrated to distant lands.
Visit any metropolitan in the world such as Nairobi, Dubai, Riyadh, London, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Ottawa, Minneapolis and Washington D.C and it will take you no time to find where your clan members gather. You may stay as long as you wish and unless you deliberately go out of your way to search for old classmates and old friends who may not be related to you by blood, you may end up not seeing any Somali per se but your own clan members. We do this while we see other African brothers such as Ethiopians, Sudanese, Kenyans and others making their own communities despite their differences in ethnicity, culture, religion and language.
If our brothers from the Horn of Africa can do, there is no reason why we cannot also do it. But only if we learn that our short term political differences and interests should not impede our long term goals to prosper and work together as a community. Only then we will be able to feel our collective pain, we will be able to lean on each other, and by pooling the few bucks that each one of us can afford we can make a difference. One can easily fall, but to rise needs an effort and sometimes a help and I am sure as Somalis in the Diaspora, we have the capacity and I am sure the desire to do it, if we appeal to our sense of community and put our political differences aside.
Being in every corner of the world, I am sure as Somalis we are today stronger and more resourceful than we have been at earlier times. All we need is an organized effort to lift the misery of our people back home with the help of the international community. The misery is not eternal and the day will come when the media of the world will talk about our fortunes to the world instead of our misfortunes. And as I sang about the suffering of our nation, I also sang about my dreams of good days to come. And come they will if we all adopt and internalize the passion and optimism that exudes from the following stanzas of the following poem Walbahaarku Wuu Tegi ( the misery will go).
Cidna lama walaaloo
Qofna weerka dhiilada
Wehel looma siiyoo
Kuma waaro ciilkee
Waxad wayda haysaba
Walaacani ku haystiyo
Walbahaarku wuu tegi.
Wallee maalin dhow waqal
Weelka loo dareershiyo
War caloosha deeqoo
Gaajada badh wiiqoo
Wadnaha ii qaboojiyo
Weedh aan ku diirsado
Waayaha ka weyneen
Weligii go’ayn iyo
Waddankii ku dhaafteen
BBCiisdu way werin…” (Walbahaarku Wuu Tegi, 1999)
By: Bashir Goth
N/B At times like this it may also be healing to listen to the sad mother’s lullaby “Ha iga ooyine aamu”