The Yibir of a Las Burgabo is a Tale of Gender, Genealogy and Generational Curse and must impact our national discourse.
Gunder Myrdal, a left-leaning economist from Sweden , surprised America and the entire Western world after he published his seminal book, “The American Dilemma,” in the middle of the turbulent and troublesome years of pre-civil rights era. The book told the hitherto untold tale of oppression and deprivation of America 's unfortunate Negro population in the antebellum south. Writing from a leftist perspective, Myrdal was more appreciative of the pain of the Negro at the time. Since the book hit the racks of bookstores, both the Negro and the white man changed their views on their respective relationships.
Likewise, Mohamood Gaildon's book on the Yibir of Las Burgabo hits hard where it matters most. For a nation that still hangs on its most primitive and primordial social system of clan and genealogy, as though this type of associational system is harmless, Gaildon's novel is definitely a strong and a timely reminder of the negative impacts that building a tribal society has. After reading the book, one comes out with a full sense of indignation and a total condemnation of the Somali cast system. One cannot help but ask: Why a Muslim Somali discriminates against his own Muslim Somali in the way Gaildon describes? How many of us really and deeply believe in the Somali cast system? Almost all of us? If so, are we really true Muslims, or just social Muslims? Is it our Muslim religion that sanctions our own cast system? If yes, what can we do to change it?
All these questions would stay as one painfully reads this painful account of our own fallibility. Constant reminders of the Yibir oppression are the derelict neighborhoods to which they are segregated, the menial jobs reserved for them and the constant degradation imposed on the entire Yibir community. The book in a way repudiates Somali culture in general and the newly established clan based (4 and 1/2) Somali social contract.
Written with a sense of abrogation of the cast system, the story of the Yibir of Las Burgabo has two protagonists. The more obvious one is Ali, the teenager whose parents die when he was only 11years old without any one to care for him, except his sister, Amina. And here is where the second hero of the story comes in. It is Amina, Ali's sister who starts to mother her juvenile bother in her youth life. Like millions of Somali women and those who are featured in Nuradin Farah's novels, another Somali novelist, Amina's mission in life is to raise a hero out of Ali, although she is aware of the ultimate price she has to pay towards that goal. In her unwavering struggle to protect and shield Ali from a cruel and calculating Aji dominated world, she forfeits her marriage and resigns to be a black woman without a man, money or other means of life.
Amina early on decides to not give a shocking truth to a young boy who may not properly handle the bitter truth of death in the family, hence putting unwanted truth, a la death of Ali's parents in her secret compartments. She also early on learns to fend off for Ali and protect him from the knowledge that their family's social status in the Somali society is a lower cast. She would tell her fragile brother that they are of the Yibir genealogy only when he is man enough to handle the pain that comes when one learns that one belongs to the despised class. Or, may we say it, cast.
Through her daily menial jobs in Aji homes, she feeds, clothes and puts a roof over her hero, her brother man hero, Ali. Ali in the end grows to a healthy young man who becomes more famous than those sliver spoon-fed Ajites, especially when all are at the Soccer field. As Ali proves, at the soccer fields, one's skills, strength and sportsmanship are the only things at ones disposal, and Ali dominates, earns the respect reserved for the male man of the soccer games in Las Burgabo.
In Las Burgabo, marriage is predetermined and as such the type of girls Ali can marry are limited. There are a whole lot of families from whom he can't marry, not due to any of his fault, but simply because God made him to be born into a cast group of Yibir. And that is exactly what he is told when Ali tries to tell to his sister that he loves a beautiful Aji (noble) girl. The harsh response he got from his sister was that an attempt to marry an Aji girl would result in Ali's death. Who would kill Ali, if he marries the one girl that his soul fell for? The Aji vigilante in Las Burgabo who thinks that intermarriages across cast lines is an act of blasphemy, just as similar acts were condemned in the America that Toni Morrison writes about in her book, “Beloved.” Many things are off limits to Ali in Las Burgabo. This is one of the darkest portions of the story that Gaildon carefully crafted to show us how dark and dim our own back yard is.
What is not off limits to Ali and his sister, though, is the national repository of poetry and Somali folktales. Knowing how appealing Somali literature is, Gaildon takes us to a terrain where Ali feels comfortable; telling Somali stories, and he in return derives from them an unmatched satisfaction in a world that is otherwise hostile and discomforting. Even the tales of the noble Wilwaal (Garaad Xirsi of Jigjiga) were within his reach, as he liked the hereosm that is told in the tales of Wilwaal. It is only in the mutual enjoyment of Somali poetry and folktales that the different casts of Las Burgabo find a temporary unity.
Gaildon, a terrific short story writer and a political activist, feels comfortable to fully understand what goes in his character's mind and as such does not refrain from foraying into the mind of Ali. The writer is at his best when he is dealing with the philosophical/political questions about the cast system that bedevils the Yibir. “Ali always looked forward to nightfall because he preferred the dark to day light.” Why? Because, “day light gave him an uneasy sense of exposure to a mysterious world he could not understand or was hostile.” A daylight is cruel lest it shades light on the labels that Ali is a Yibir and an orphan, two characteristics that made him feel belittled and less than.
Ali does not stop there! He asks more vexing questions about his relationship with the Aji community. In the tradition of Ralph Ellison's “The Invisible Man.” Gaildon gets deeper into Ali's mind about his own place in the society” “I have always asked myself why people are so cruel to us.” And that is the question the writer skillfully wants us to confront. Each one of us should face this question. Why are we so cruel to our own?
But, Ali in his adult years in life were impacted by the revolutionary thinking that has swept all of the horn of Africa, and here is where Ali picks up Marxism-Leninism to find answers to the wrenching questions emanating from oppression and cast system. Again in Ellison's tradition, if one refuses to see you, you have to in return not see them. Gaildon at this juncture is ready to unleash what Ali has reserved for all of us when he writes: “I have always asked myself why people are so cruel to us. I should, instead, ask why we want to be part of them.” With this, Gaildon traps all of us in a noose and shames our national psyche. Indeed, why do Yibirs want to be part of a community that does not want them? Why should they protect and defend a society that despises them? No one should blame Ali for asking that question. Hence, this is the beginning of the undoing of the old oppressive social order.
Although the book is feeding its readers with melancholic reality about oppression and deprivation, it at times is descriptive and imaginative and entertaining. Gaildon writes about a world that is so Somali that we in the Diaspora would kill for it. When he describes the assembling of Lohoh, or Kibis on a uniquilly Somali Girgire in a serene afternoon is quite a treat and reconnects the Somali reader to an innocent time we lost. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the unique aroma coming from the preparation of Kibis, especially after playing soccer for several hours in the afternoon, would comfortably travel the memory lane where the author intends to take us.
One suspects that the Gaildon's descriptive and imaginative ability at times compromises for space and compactness. He could have treated us with more scenes like the one when Amina, weak, sickly and aged, and subdued meets with Ali at the gate of the prison and the two ceaselessly touch, kiss and talk in an environment shadowed by a familial love to each other. A highly emotional moment, in deed! Gaildon has what it takes to be a great novelist and needs to comfortably release that energy. Otherwise, the book is a supper, bold and blasting piece of work. At minimum, it will spur a heated discourse in our public domain; reverse our generational curse and the way we think about our outdated cast system. It is a great and critical contribution to Somali Studies.
By Faisal A.. Roble
Other Reviews of Las Burgabo:* The Yibir of Las Burgabo Reviewed by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf
We welcome the submission of all articles for possible publication on WardheerNews.com
Copyright © 2010 WardheerNews.com