The semi-arid plains of Somalia left its people no choice but to rear cattle. They had no skills such as carpentry or black smith welding so the nomadic lifestyle became their lifeline. Typical of dry climates, rain was a scarce and precious commodity upon which life depended upon. The grass needed water to grow, cattle needed grass, children needed milk, people needed meat. Rain, then, is a pivotal point in our culture denoting happiness and beauty. Even the Somali calendar revolves around the rain seasons. In Somali literature and poetry, rain is a favoured topic. Below you will find an excerpt from a lengthy tale about a sultan worried about the severe drought, sending his wise men to look for answers to rest the hearts, and finding assurance from the most unexpected of places.
Tell the sultan who sent you here
That the sky will bring back the clouds once more
For it is barren no longer, and carries the Dirir rains.
Tell him that soon, on a night half-spent,
Flashes of lightning will be seen,
And the bountiful plenty of the Daydo rains
Will fall, just as it used to do.
Tell him that showers will pass over the land
That had been laid bare by drought
Tell him that the herds will suffer no more
On their long treks to the water-holes.
Tell him that torrents will scurry like lizards
Through the dry scrub of arid valleys,
That fresh grass will spring up round the encampments
And that among the herds that have survived the drought
There will be beasts in milk.
Tell him that the wife who was banished from her husband’s side
In the rigorous months of the rainless season
Will soon build a hut as spacious as a house of stone
Now she can put off her workaday clothes
And dress herself anew in the silks
She had kept rolled up against this time.
Incense-burners appear from nooks and crannies
And a mat for sleeping is spread in a snug recess,
For her husband had had no thought of love
While the harsh dry season lasted,
But now that his flesh has lost its gauntness
He will come once more inside the hut.
Now he can choose what food he will eat-
No longer is he driven by hunger alone.
Over and over, with tender little words, he will be asked
To take more, and yet again more.
His wife will come and go, fetching this bowl or that,
And as she passes to and fro so close to him
The love that had grown old will become young again,
And in their revelry and play, sons of blessing will be conceived
Sons bright as thunderbolts.
Original poem by Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal ( 1915-1980)
Transcribed from “An Anthology of Somali Poetry” (1993) translated by B.W. Andrzejewski with Sheila Andrzejewski.
Indiana University Press
Andrzejewski was a professor of Cushitic languages and literature at the University of London 1952-1982. For more on this interesting professor, read here.