Literature of Somali Onomastics and Proverbs
‘With Comparison of Foreign Saying’

Anwar Maxamed Diiriye

Reviewed by
Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

Feb. 01, 2007
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In 1994, Dr. Mohamed-Rashid Sheik Hassan dared to ask a very deserving question of whether the legendary Abdullahi Qarshe fathered the Somali music, in what possibly was one of the best and rare interviews of the hero, in which he responded with an emphatic “no” and went on to say: “There was always music: for weddings, lullabies, water [feeding] animals, working, dancing (shurbo), night dancing (sacab habeenkii la tumo), exorcism (saar). All these existed, so one can only say that there were no music instruments to accompany them. One cannot say, therefore, that I am the ‘Father of Somali Music.’ Even moderate music was in the air at the time of Abdi Sinimo, who is widely regarded as the genius who formulated and organized it into belwo and thus took well deserving credit and honor for it. Perhaps, I am the first Somali to set Somali songs to the music of the lute (Kaman).” See Bildhaan, Volume II, 2002.


Literature of Somali Onomastics and Proverbs
‘With Comparison of Foreign Sayings’232 pp. Gobaad Communications and Press

What is so remarkable about this quote is that the legendary Abdullahi Qarshe did not only leave us with what we call Somali modern music of today of which he definitely was the father of (along with an unadulterated patriotic sense of Soomaalinimo songs, that we listen to even today in every region and everywhere that Somali is spoken, including the BBC, that are pregnant with a pride that we once Somalis shared), but also humility: humility to honor his colleagues as well as the people of his nation.

Thus, I was surprised to read a reference book, authored by a Somali (Anwar Maxamed Diiriye), published independently but attempted enlisting, though not all, great number of those who had made giant strides advancing our mother tongue, Somalis or none-Somalis of whom due respect is due. Yet this recognition would have been perfect had there been Muuse X. Ismaaciil Galaal, whose name is synonymous with the Somali orthography, in the honored list and a few others who also had been pillars in this ”troubled” tongue of ours! It would have been better as well, in terms of definition accuracy, if the author had the opportunity to reference another admirably authority figure in the Somali language, Cabdiraxmaan Faarax Barwaaqo and his book “Macag Bilaash Uma Baxo,” but the books is out of print and unavailable! And most important of all, it should be noted again and again that though this book is not written in Somali, the author is undoubtedly indebted to Somali language experts and the Somali language itself.

Thus it is apparent that the author, Anwar Maxamed Diiriye had tried to make sure that he does not follow the same path that has been wide open to many of self-published ‘writers’ mostly in the Somali language who as they had received a revelation from God, begin to pontificate but ended up barking. In another words, their whole claim comes a point: that they know it and know it all, yet learn from no one. Their mistakes however, pile up high, and their “books” contribute nothing to the preservations of the Somali language or its sole value. So in the process they (the so-called authors) not only dishonored their fellow country men/women and their nation but also themselves. Obviously Anwar Maxamed Diiriye avoided this treacherous water waste!

The book, “Literature of Somali Onomastics and Proverbs” though in a multiple facet (with also Somali proverbs as well as foreign ones) begins to tackle a topic that has been in-need of hospitalization for so long, possibly since the dawn day of the Somali orthography but most definitely from the day we all declared our motherland dead. The topic is the names that we Somali use. Somali names are soon going to be in the list of the endangered languages, now with a new title that will say, “Endangered Names!” Preferring Arabic ones, thinking that they are more sanctimonious than Somali origin names, was the problem we have known but ironically writing them nowadays, both the Arabic and the Somali origins, has become one of the newest enemies. Thus Anwar Maxamed Diiriye is trying to shut light on all the names Somalis use for preservation. So as you may already gather from this tread ‘onomastics’ means knowledge based on names.

Anwar spells all Somali use names as they sound and a Somali would correctly write it in Somali language. For example Anwar writes Cali, not Ali, Caraale, not Arale, Bootaan not Botan.

What is so significance about this, if you missed it, is that Somalis, particularly those claiming that they are writing in Somali are abusing their names, for one, not spelling it right. Either the double vowels are missing or the first letter is not capitalized. Or worse at times, you would see a first name Anglicized (written in English) but next the last name is in Somali, such as “Ali Cabdi.” Just take a look at any so-called Somali language websites, even those that brag about their prowess in Somali literature, trying to showcase everything in Somali, would at times offend you by misspelling the name Somali itself, as “Somali or soomaali.” What is wrong with that, one may asked?

Well, if you can’t tell, Somali is not Somali language when one is writing in Somali but Soomaali is (see the capital “S” as well as the double vowels of “oo”s and “aa”s). So if you are writing in Somali I expected you to spell it in Somali which means that you have to write “Soomaali,” as you pronounce it. Not “soomaali” or “Somali” but simply “Soomaali.” Like ways, when one is writing a regular name, such as Caraale or Axmed in Somali, I expected you to exactly spell it Caraale, Axmed, not Arale and not Ahmed.

The message in this book is loud and clear: that names Somalis use have integrity in both writing and root meaning. Thus it should be respected.

Another point of benefit in this book is that those young Somalis, who were raised or born in a foreign land, will be able to find their ancestral names, Arabic or Somali, in a universal language (English).

On the other hand, it’s definite for those who are versed in the Somali language to disagree with some of the name definitions in the book. And there are but a very few, minor errors in the introduction that could have been easily tackled by a diligent proofreader that would have as well purged minute name definition disharmonies. I hope the next edition will take care of that.

Be aware however, is Anwar Maxamed Diiriye warning us: that it’s advisable to write Diiriye or Caraale or Axmed as it sounds to you as a Somali even in English, but absolutely not Diriye or Arale or Ahmed when one is writing in Somali language. Where are the “ii”s, “x” and “aa”s? In other words Diriye, Somali, Ahmed, Arale are all Anglicized. Please be aware that there is no diriye, somali, ahmed, arale in the Latin alphabets as well. Capitalizing the first word of every name is sacred when one is using Latin alphabets. Therefore, in Somali language there should not be soomaali or soomaalia/ya. It should be Soomaali/Soomaaliya with a capital letter to start and double vowels to fortify. Please know the difference and again, again be aware that a Somali name has a meaning, history, integrity and attached sentimentality in writing, the author urges you to know!

Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

(1) Literally name is not given without a purpose. It is also  the title the first book on Somali Onomatsics by the linguist and lexicographer Abdirahman Farah Barwaaqo.
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