Scramble for the land – Deconstruction of a poem by Faarax Nuur – Part 1

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  1. Ingiriis Axmaariyo Talyaani, wey akeekamiye[1] – The British, Ethiopians and Italians will quarrel.

  2. Arligaa[2] la kala boobayaa nin u itaal roone – There is a scramble for the land at the expense of the weak.

  3. Anse ila ah aakhiro sabaan iligyadiisiiye[3] – For me, these are the signs of the last days.

  4. Orgigaa[4] riyaha[5] taadaxoo oodda[6] faaliga’e[7] – It is the Buck that chases the does and tampers with the enclosure

  5. Waa duni hablihii loo ogaa aqalka diideene– It is a world in which the adolescent girls have refused to stay home.

  6. Anse ila ah aakhiro sabaan iligyadiisiiye– For me, these are the signs of the last days.

This poem covers many themes amongst them are: religion, the changing of the times, the forces of colonialism, power, gender roles, trust, and friendship.

The ‘refrain’ in this poem that is oft repeated is ‘Anse ila ah aakhiro sabaan iligyadiisiiye’. This line references the belief in the day of judgment which is an important concept in the Islamic faith. Faarax Nuur literally refers to the ‘the teeth’ of the last days which he uses as a metaphor to refer to the nearness of the day of judgment. He used ‘teeth’ to express this as they, grow in the mouth and can be felt long before they are physically seen. This deep belief that Faarax has in the last day can be encompassed in the following verse from the Holy Quran:

يَسْأَلُكَ النَّاسُ عَنِ السَّاعَةِ ۖ قُلْ إِنَّمَا عِلْمُهَا عِندَ اللَّهِ ۚ وَمَا يُدْرِيكَ لَعَلَّ السَّاعَةَ تَكُونُ قَرِيبًا 

People ask you concerning the Hour. Say,” Knowledge of it is only with Allah. And what may make you perceive? Perhaps the Hour is near.”[33:63]

The signs of the hour are a theme that is prevalent within the prophetic tradition. There are numerous Hadith referencing the various signs and Islamic scholars have dedicated whole books to this subject. There are two themes that are ever-present in hadith about the last days: Human conflict and an overall decline in moral values.

Verse 1-In the Somali territories you had four main players during this time in history. The first are the Ethiopians who due to their ‘Christianity’ were seen as being more civilized than other Africans. As a result, they were treated less aggressively and often they collaborated with the colonial powers. They also had their own imperialist aims towards the Somali coast. Ethiopia is a land locked nation has always had ambitions to incorporate the Somali regions into her empire.

The above plotting resulted in the 1951,Anglo-Ethiopian agreement that essentially gave Ethiopia the chance to annex western Somalia. As a result, we find the paradox that is the present day Ogaaden region, ‘officially’ Ethiopian but ‘ethnically’ Somali. The three other players are the French, Italians and The British, who carved up the land respectively.

Carving up the land is not as easy as cutting a cake. As a result, there were numerous conflicts of interest. This clash of interests led Faarax to believe that the imperial powers would quarrel amongst themselves. Perhaps Faarax is holding onto the universal law, that in the end, only the natives of the land will prevail. This inevitability of victory for the natives is what Albert Memi referred to when he said regarding the colonizers that ‘It is impossible for them not to be aware of the constant illegitimacy of their status’.[8]

Faarax does not attempt to blame the colonialists for all of the problems that exist in Africa. It is well documented that the imperialist would not have succeeded without the corporation of various tribal leaders who facilitated the process. There were trade agreements and payments made to these various leaders in return for selling their land and honor.

Verse 2- This can be understood to be a reference to the European scramble for Africa in which the colonial powers competed with each other in dominating geographical segments of Africa. This competition for land and resources culminated in the Berlin conference of 1884 in which the European powers sought to formalize their pillage of African land. This conference was a way of the imperialists agreeing to stay away from each other’s turf. Off course, the Berlin conference although essentially a colonial enterprise, was cloaked within the terminology of bringing civilization and justice. Thus, colonialism became a way of saving the African from his own ‘savage’ self.

The type of occupation that was pioneered during this time period became known as ‘effective occupation’. This occurs when a colonial entity justifies itself through individual treaties and agreements with various tribal and ethnic leaders in a particular region. They use these flimsy pieces of paper often signed through the barrel of the gun as a means to claim ‘governance’ over the ‘uncivilized’ masses.

In this verse, Faarax Nuur is also making a reference to the importance of political and economic ‘Power’. The weak are always susceptible to domination by foreign forces. The word ‘itaal’ is of importance as it does not negate the presence of resistance. It means one is trying but does not have the necessary power to defend or make an impact. This was the case when the forces of colonialism swept through the African continent.

This reality of weakness is perhaps best represented by the English poet Hillarie Belloc who stated: “Whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun and they have not”.

Verse 4– Before we understand the role of the male and female goat we must first examine what is meant by the enclosure. According to Somali pastoral tradition, the term ‘ooda’ is used to refer to an enclosure made up of cut up tree branches. This type of enclosure serves two primary purposes; 1) as a secure resting place for livestock. 2) to highlight the borders of a piece of land.

Faarax states that the ‘ood’ is being tampered with and moved by the one who has power. In the livestock context, it is the male goat that chases the female goats and tampers with the ‘ood’. In the colonial context, we find that the African borders became play things for those in the dominant position.

The imperial regimes of France, Britain, Italy, and Ethiopia have all taken their turn in playing with the ‘ood’. Faarax Nuur could be referring to what is known as ooda Soomaliyeed, the Somali enclosure. Somali pastoralists often say ‘geeyiga Soomaliyeed’ which refers to the land in which Somali people live and their animals graze. What has occurred here is a change, in reality, Somalis who were once comfortable and content within their land have had their ‘ood’ disturbed by an external aggressor.

Verse 5– This line perhaps signals that Faarax was ahead of his time. In this verse, it could be said that Faarax is alluding to the relationship between colonialism and globalization. In many ways, the colonial experience laid the foundations for globalization by destroying entire fabrics of societies. Faarax can see first-hand these changes in the roles of women, who due to observing the changes around them may no longer be content with the pastoral life. Although adolescent girls are singled out in the verse, what Faarax is alluding to is far broader in scope.

Frantz Fanon[9] refers to this change in reality as ‘compartmentalization’. This occurs when the colonial administration creates departments in what was a uniform land. This divide is emphasized by the habit of these administrators to build up the colonial headquarters in order to effectively administer resources. This creates a ‘false’ economy in these cities and jobs are created for the benefit the colonial system. This colonial tactic creates a segmented society constantly in a battle with itself, instead of uniting against a common enemy. This is true of Somalia and is true up to the present day. Thus, a clear divide is made between ‘miyi’ and ‘magaalo’, between the city and the pastoral dwellers.

An example of this ‘compartmentalization’ in play is the example of the pastoralist who was content for generations in his environment, suddenly, upon seeing the ‘splendour’ of the city, feels compelled to go there. Thus, he diverts from his traditional life in which he was self-sufficient living off the land and his livestock. He now finds himself dependent on others, at first, he only travels to the city for small items but later these short trips transform into dependency.

As the dependency increases, he finds himself more and more attached to the way of the ‘city’. In the present day, you will find the traditional Somali huts that the pastoral people lived in are largely constructed from items procured from the city. The roof is often constructed with a mish mash of plastic bags and other non-bio degradable items. This not only harms the environment but makes the pastoral life hard to maintain. A large percentage of pastoral people are dependent on relatives from the city to bail them out constantly. They only remain living this type of life because they do not know any other way. What they knew has been destroyed and this has a profound psychological effect on their offspring.

The offspring who grew up in this state see no benefit in living a pastoral life. This is especially true for the majority of the inhabitants who do not possess hundreds of camels or an abundance of livestock. This leads to a situation in which the youth growing up in these circumstances yearn for the so-called riches of the ‘city’. This feeling is exasperated upon hearing examples of people like themselves, who escaped the misery of the semi-arid land to make riches in the city

This yearning is not exclusive to women but equally, affects men and even young children. Even the most ardent pastoralists were once tempted by the ‘magaalo’. The sad reality is that for many upon arriving in the city, they soon find that they are ill-equipped to deal with such a reality.

This is best described in some verses from the famous Dervish warrior Ismaacil Miire. He mentions that he once embarked on a short trip to Burco to engage in trade. Upon reaching the city he soon realized that he was out of his depth. Some of the most notable verses include:

Nimanyohow awow iyo awow iyo abkaan sheegto[10]Ow men from generation to generation and all that I claim (in terms of lineage)

Iyo anigu, abidkay[11] ma arag iibsi lacageede- and I included, all have never dealt in trade.

At the beginning, he explains that neither he nor his forefathers were people that engaged in trade. He is in a way excusing himself from the mistakes he makes when in Burco. He then narrates to us that he went to the animal market to sell some livestock. Upon entering the market, he is bombarded with sales men, who use every trick in the book to relieve him of his stock. In particular, he is dismayed by the way they handle the livestock, as a pastoralist Ismaacil Miire sees what they are doing as tantamount to abuse.

Amankaagay[12] goortay wankii adhaxda[13] tuujeene- Imagine the shock, when they squeezed the back of the ram.

Another problem Ismaciil faced in Burco was the issue of ‘language’. Although everyone was speaking the same language, Ismaciil was not used to the speech of the city dwellers. Ismaciil being a pastoralist is used to frank and forthright speech, in the market he encountered extreme haggling and alien terminologies. These issues coupled with the fact he didn’t understand the nuances of trade, led him to pronounce:

Afka reer maqaaluhu yaqaan waan ka oodnahaye[14]I am ignorant of the speech of the city dwellers.

In the end, the traders succeeded in buying all of his livestock while Ismaacil Miire was left motionless. He concludes with two verses mixed with humor and resignation. He takes time to laugh at himself and how they only left him the clothes on his back. Ismaacil returns to his land after realizing trade and business in the city is not for him.

Usha, jeedal[15] iyo suufaf[16] bay igu illaaweene- They forgot to take my walking stick, whip, and my modest clothes.

Ashcaartaba[17] rag baa iga badshee idiinku weydiiya-In transactions, There are men better than I, so ask them!

[1] Murmi- argue, quarrel

[2] The land

[3] The teeth of the last days. Faarax is placing Emphasis on the closeness of such a day.

[4] Male goat

[5] Female goat

[6] Enclosure

[7] To tamper with

[8] The Colonizer and the Colonized- Albert Memi

[9] The Wretched of the Earth- Frantz Fanon

[10] Who I am – Who I claim to descend from.

[11] Weligay (Never have I) (Never before).

[12] Yaabnay (state of shock)

[13] The back

[14] Enclosed from-To be restricted from- lack knowledge of something.

[15] Whip- Used to round up livestock.

[16] Plain white clothing made primarily from cotton.

[17] Transactions-trade.

Original Qudhac Team content  Copyright © 2017

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