A young Somali northerner in Toronto, who was born and raised in Mogadishu, has become a fervent supporter of Somaliland and its causes. In other words, as it is said in left-wing parlance, he became “more Marxist than Marx.” He hangs out with die-hard Somalilanders and attends their political and social events. However, the young man has never been to Somaliland and, in fact, has never traveled beyond the city of Jowhar, which is 100 km north of Mogadishu.
One day, an elderly man new to the group approached the ‘funny’-speaking young man and asked him:
“Who are you?”
“I am Isaaq,” responded the young man.
“Isaaq is a big tribe; what is your sub-clan?”
“Habar Yonis is a large sub-clan.”
The young man was baffled and, in a sign of desperation, asked the men if they could, perhaps, name for him some of the sub-clans of Habar Yonis.” “Ii soo yeeriya,” he said. The men consented.
The young man jumped from his chair and screamed, “Barobiyo!” (The actual word ‘proprio’ is Italian and means ‘definitely.’)
The young man, after that true incident, was dubbed “Barobiyo.”
Being given an unwanted nickname can be frustrating.
The first time I heard the word “Faqash” was in May 1991 in Djibouti. I was there to collect my mother and cousin, who were arriving from Mogadishu. I stayed in Hotel De Djibouti, which was owned and operated by an Isaaq man named Sa'eed. Because many people were fleeing Somalia, the hotel was fully booked. I roomed with an elderly Isaaq man, Jama, who had been wounded in the leg. He had a good business in Mogadishu and owned big tractors. In the mayhem of the civil war, Jama was shot by an unidentified bandit. He grilled me about who I was and where I had come from, and I took no offense to his line of questioning. Once he realized that I was visiting from the US and that I originally hailed from Afgooye, he became more relaxed.
When I returned to California, some of my friends from the north asked me about my brief trip to Djibouti. I told them that I had actually stayed in a hotel owned by a Qaldaan, (northerner) and had another Qaldaan, as a roommate. Then I cursorily added, “But they kept calling me “Faqash.” My friends burst out laughing and, since that day, they have called me “Hassan Faqash.” They did, however, tell me the origin of the word “Faqash.” During the civil war in the north, the soldiers of the Somali government were called “Faqash.” The word means “the noise boots/shoes make or the way they rattle.” The fleeing soldiers, who had committed a litany of horrible acts in the north, hence, were dubbed “Faqash.”
Then, as years passed, the word started to take on a life of its own.
Some people refer to anyone who worked for the Siad Barre regime or supported his government as Faqash. Oddly, the Isaaq government officials who remained in Barre’s regime until his fall fit into that category too.
Some people have started using it exclusively to refer to the Darod (Barre’s clan) and others to all southerners.
Then in 2011, I had an encounter with an Isaaq teen that was born and raised in California. This young man is Sacad Muuse, but his mother is Harti (a Darod sub clan). For the first time in his life, he ventured out of the US and visited Hargeisa. He was excited to be among his kith and kin and began mastering Somali, of course with a distinct northern accent.
When he came back to the US, the first question he asked me was “Adeer, qolamaa tahay?” (Uncle, what is your clan?”)
I have known this young man since his infancy, and he has known me merely as a Somali man and a friend of his parents. However, this time, he wanted to get to know me even better and I felt honored.
“Uncle, I will never marry an Isaaq woman.”
“My aunts in Hargeisa were always badmouthing my mother.”
I told the young man about my story in Djibouti and appealed to him not to reach foregone conclusions.
He was somewhat pleased to hear my explanation of the word ‘Faqash’ because the term was not yet pejorative.
After the young man left, I kept questioning whether my assessment was actually right.
My Isaaq friends call me Faqash from time to time, even though I am not Darod nor have I ever worked for the government of Siad Barre, yet I am never offended by it.
Do some people use the word to discriminate against others or deride an entire tribe?
There is a great deal of sensitivity among some people regarding the word. The fact that the word is loosely used against all kinds of people today does not in itself make it pejorative.
Perhaps, the word is in the midst of a natural evolution.
Yesterday, it was Siad Barre’s soldiers!
Today, it is refereed to all southerners and whoever is being teased.
Tomorrow, it might be used against someone else.
However, the fact is, it is not specific to one group.
Hassan M. Abukar
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