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.
The following is a transcription from an anthology of translated Somali poetry¹. Being a translation of an eloquent language that only had mouths and minds as mode of transmission,as books and ink,as a legacy – it goes without saying that the intricate beauty cannot be transported to another country,another language. One particular poem that soothed me was preceded by this short commentary :
It was the custom that when a man was seeking a girl in marriage and her family looked on him with favour, he would pay a visit to her homestead,bringing gifts. With him would come some of his kinsmen, to add solemnity to the visit and protect him, and the gifts, on the journey. In his youth, Cumar Ostreeliya accompanied his cousin Maxamed on such a journey to the home of Weris, Maxamed’s bride-to-be, and he composed this poem in her honour.
If in these verses, linked by the sound of ‘S’
I were to give a true account, O Weris, of your qualities
Unlocking the coffers of my skill
And opening my breast where clocklike beats my heart,
And were I to describe your appearance
Just as it was first created-
Why,the men who dwell in distant Sirow
Would all come here to seek you out!
But since the evil eye of jealousy
Is not wont to miss its aim,
I shall instead speak simply
Listen, then, to my words tonight,
For this is no time to sleep-
See,we have brought fire and pulled aside
The barrier gate of the thorny fence!