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By. Said Jama Hussein
April 13, 2010

 “Food, glorious food there is nothing like it”
“What is patriotism but the love of the food
   one ate as a child”
Lin Tuang

A Somali Nomad's Hamlet


The Somali Nomadic Hamlet- a very large circular wooden fence comprising of a makeshift family hut, a camp for the camels and another for the sheep and goats, and a spacious compound with only one entrance for all.


A dreary dry autumn day


The Gurhan family:
The father
The mother
Two sisters
Twin brothers aged 13

All members of the family wake up very early in the morning.  They have just moved to the hamlet and there is a lot of work to be done.

The father takes an axe and a hook stick and goes to the nearby woods to fetch branches of trees in order to fortify the camp fences against marauding wild beasts, mainly lions.

A Somali nomad woman constructing a portable hut

The mother is the busiest of all the members of the household.  She takes care of domestic matters such as making mats, mending clothes, looking after the kids and calves – newly born ones left behind at the hamlet.

The two sisters take the sheep and the goats for grazing not that far from their home.  Their task of looking after the sheep and goats is not at all laborious.  However, it is the inclement autumn weather that has rendered the land to be dry and the grass pale yellow and withered which is the cause of their wretchedness and dissatisfaction.

The two brothers take the camels for pasture to a distant place quite far from the camp.  It is a weird sultry autumn day.  Just before noon and the brothers feel the spell of it.  They remember with deep lamentation how in bygone days of the rainy season of spring they used to merrily run around and enjoy themselves.

With their camels grazing at close by trees, never out of their sight, while they would spend their time gossiping, cracking jokes and playing their favourite games under the shades of the leafy acacia trees.

Now what a contrast!  Here they are with their eyes gazing at the hot blazing sun overhead and pondering when, if ever at all, it is going to set.  Moreover, they even cannot enjoy the pleasure of being together because the camels they are looking after are spread over an extensive area due to poor pasture; so they have to watch the camels from different positions distant apart.

The sun is about to set.

Adhi daaqaya

The sisters return with their flocks of sheep and goats to the hamlet earlier than their brothers to help their mother with the preparation of the evening meal.  While the mother is lighting the fire, the sisters do the work of pounding the sorghum before being cooked.  In this process, the sisters get hold of two strong wooden pestles (tib) and alternatively, while standing, pound the sorghum in the specially made wooden mortar (mooye) placed between them..  Here they start singing to ease the tedium of their task.

                ‘ Ma caddee…ha caddaado
                   Caana geel… haw ekaado
                   Curad baa …cuni doona
                    Iyo caalin…wadaad ah’

‘ Let us pound the sorghum hard, very hard and make it
   powdery white like camel milk fit for the eldest son  
    and the village priest to eat with relish’

A Somali nomad milking his camel

After sun-set, the brothers return with their camels to the camp.  On their way home and amidst the quietude of the atmosphere, the camel bells could be heard ringing loud from a long distance.  These bells make a highly vibrant sound because they are made from special hard wood called ‘Yucub’ in Somali.  Exhausted and feeling very thirsty, the brothers, on arrival home, are served hot tea with milk.  This is a tested traditional golden rule among the nomads in such an unfavourable season when water is scarce to give the thirsty cups of tea for the dual purpose of quenching their thirst and giving them fresh energy.

Back at the hamlet, the camels are herded into their camp.  It is the time of the day when all members of the family are together again.  Eagerly awaited camel milk is served.  All the family members are gathered around the fire place talking about how they had spent the day.  The main evening meal of sorghum flavoured with milk and ghee comes next.  It is served in bowls.  According to custom, meals are prepared by women. And males and females eat separately.  So, the mother and the daughters eat from the same bowl, while the father and the sons eat from a different bowl.

Dinner over, they all retire to sleep waiting for the dawn of yet another relentless autumn day.

Said Jama Husein


The author is the vice chairman of Somali Pen and a writer who is based in London, UK.

Mr. Said J. Hussein has also published the following articles @ WardheerNews:

* Awoodda Ereyga Qoran
* Memories of my trip on the Britannia
* Dhaqankii dib ha loogu noqdo
* Suugaanta Dalmareenka: Safar Dayuuradeed
* Dr. Kaynaan
* Tiirar Xididadda Loo Siibay & Hambalyo ku Socota Maxamed Hirad


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