Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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Gabay versus Guurow

By Mohamed Abdikadir (Stanza)


The gabay which is the most significant kind of Somali classical literature consists of two parts separated by coma, when written, and they are known as: hoojis (rising) and hooris (falling).  If there are 20 syllabic vowels in the line, the coma occurs in each line of the gabay after 12 syllabic vowels. If there are 21 syllabic vowels in the line, the coma is placed after 13 syllabic vowels. The initial part of the line (hoojis) which consists of either 12 or 13 vowels depends on the end part (hooris) of the line which consists of either 8 or 9 syllabic vowels that is, for its full meaning.

The hooris depends on the hoojis like the way the English grammar subordinate clause depends on the main clause for its full sense. In the metre and foot of the Somali poetry, it has got maximum of 21 syllabic vowels and minimum of 18 vowels in each line, with stressed and unstressed syllables. If there is the semi-vowel ‘Y’ in either part of the line and there are 17 vowels in the line, it is acceptable because the ‘Y’ phoneme can represent a vowel under such situation, because it plays the role of the missing 18th syllabic vowel in the line. The phoneme ‘w’ can also be counted as a vowel. The alliterative phoneme mostly falls at the initial of the hoojis by acting as initial rhyme or in the centre by becoming central rhyme.

The poetic line of the Somali language by professional poet has to end in vowel letter than ending in consonant letter. If the end rhyme becomes consonant, the poem won’t be breath-taking. In order to examine this scientific creative knowledge, let us take some lines from a romantic gabay by the author of this article – Mohamed Abdikadir (Stanza), who himself is a published Somali poet in both English and Somali.

Adigaan salaan kuu baxshaa, sida saraakiile            (20 vowels)
Adaan siinki ii soo dhacaba, sugi codkaagiiye          (21 vowels)
Adigaan sidii kuu jeclahay, oon ku sugayaaye          (20 vowels)
Adaa dhiigga siiyaa wadnaha, Saharadhooleeye.    (21 vowels).

English Translation  

It is you that I salute like army officers
It is your voice that I expect of all incoming calls
It is you that I love and wait for, with all my soul,
It is you that pump the blood into my heart.

Invention of the Somali poetry Scansion

Rage Ugas Warfa (from Ogaden Somali clan) is believed to be the first poet that orally set the preliminary scansion of the Somali poetry. Due to that, the late Rage Ugas is said to be the amateur father of ‘the Somali poetical scansion.’ Many Somali creative figures believe that he is the inventor of the famous rhythm ‘Hooyaalayeey, hooyaalayeey, hooyaalayeey, hooye.’ As history records, when he was asked for the meaning of this rhythm, he said, ‘Hooyaalayeey gabayga wey ugu horreysaaye, halla uma tartee maansadaa lagu hagaajaaye.’ It translates as, ‘We start poetry with hooyaalayeey, though it adds no meanings to it, but enriches its scansion.’ Among the Somali literati who believe that Rage Ugas is the father of Somali poetry scansion is the Somali linguist, poet, and writer, Abdulkadir F. Botan. This author states in his book ‘Mahuraan’ the same above claim. There is an historical oral narration which contends the above Ragerian rhythm was based on the ambling of a camel, but we have no reliable source for this mere claim.

In addition to the said invention and contribution, the late famous Somali poet and academician, Mohamed Hashi Dama (Gaarriye), who hailed from the Isak Somali clan, academically contributed to the literary development of the feet and metres of the contemporary Somali poetry. This is one of his creative legacies he left for the Somali people.

Standardised Writing Style of the Somali poetry

When writing Somali poetry, it is used ‘alliteration’ that means if the poem starts with one of the Somali alphabets it has to continue with that letter, therefore, Somali is an alliterative language. The alliterative word has to be put in the hoojis (the rising part of the poem) as well as in the hooris (the falling part of the poem) in every line of the gabay. As for the other branches of the Somali creative works such as the jiifto, the alliterative word has to fall in every line only once, but, if the alliterative word is used in the same line more than once it adds to the creative aesthetics of the work.

In Somali poetry, all the vowels become one family, but consonants not. For example, if the poem begins with a vowel letter such as ‘A’ the poet can mix with it e, i, o and u, because this is acceptable in the rules of the Somali poetry. When writing Somali poetry of any branch, one has to capitalise the first word of every line and separate the lines by dividing them into stanzas, according to their arrangements. The poetical work has to have introduction, body and conclusion, as any other expression writing. If a poet is writing a romantic song for his darling, he has to choose the chronological order of his song carefully. For example, he should start with the depths of his love for her and after that describe her physical beauty and personality. After finishing these two stages, he should tell her that he won’t break the romantic agreement, which he ratified with her and advise her to do the same, as him. The fourth stage can be his post marital ambition by equipping with it some retrospective events of their love. The fifth stage can be his optimistic prediction about her in their marital lives and why he specifically selected her from all the other girls in his home area. By ending in the specifications of a good wife and a good husband beautifies the theme, of the song.

Unfortunately, the untrained day today young Somali poets grossly violate these rules and land into trouble with the beauty of their creative works, by becoming victims of their own style and initiating the character assassination of the young poor singers, who sing with their songs by mistake. Studying these rules would help all the novice poets and singers, in terms of their academic professionalism. Ignoring them can be waiting to watch and watching to wait.


The guurow is a crucial branch of Somali poetry and it is mostly written or recited in the southern regions of Somalia. The Abgal clan in the Central Shebelle Region and the Galje’el clan in the Lower Juba Province of Somalia are famous for this kind of poetry. It is equivalent to the gabay, in both foot and metre, because it has hoojis (rising) and hooris (falling) parts which are separated by coma that is put after 12 syllabic vowels if the total vowels in the line are 20, but falls after 13 syllabic vowels, if the total vowels in the line are 21 syllabic vowels.

The miracle of the term Guurow is that it has only one form which is proper base noun that doesn’t change into any other parts of speech. For example, the termgabay is a proper base noun and it means poem. Gabyaa is a common noun and it means poet, whilegabya/o with the help of ‘wuu’ is a verb and it means poeticise. For instance, wuu gabyaa means he poeticises. This case doesn’t apply to the guurow because it, the guurow, has got only one form – the noun. This can give the guurow unique poetical appreciation. One can also realise that the gabay and the guurow are one and the same, in all aspects, other than the slight phonetic pronunciation resulting from the influence of the Somali regional vernaculars.

The etymology of the term guurow is not known, but I think, it originates from the term ‘guureyn’ which means midnight migration, because the guurow is more nocturnal of a poem than diurnal. It is performed by both novice and veteran male poets for all the purposes that the other Somali branches of poetry are written and recited for. Here, I quote the below three lines from a guurowic ode composed by the late Somali poet, Jimale Asir Einte, (From Abgal Somali clan):

Aqallada waxaa loo dhistaa, waa in lagu dhuunta            (20 vowels)
Dharkaagana waxaa loo hugtaa, yaadan dhaxamoonin   (21 vowels)
Hablahana waxaa loo dhistaa, aad ka dhaxal reebtid.      (20 vowels)

English Translation

 Houses are built as to cover you from being seen
Your clothes are used for protection from the cold
Women are married for leaving children behind.

Mohamed Abdikadir (Stanza)
Email:  [email protected]

The Author is a published Somali poet and novelist. He is also a lecturer at Nugaal University and  WardheerNews contributor.

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