Reviewed by: Adan Makina
Author: Dr. Georgi Kapchits
Publisher: Hill Press
Editor’s Note: WardheerNews, the most scholarly and journalistic digitized online magazine in the Horn of Africa wishes to share with its readers a review of the recently published book Isha Cumar ka lulata/The Knocked-Out Eye of the Hyena: Somali Folk Tales by Author Georgi Kapchits. It is amazing that a man who has been to Somalia for a short visit of two-weeks in 1992 when the Horn of Africa nation was ablaze, has become a blessed individual worth celebrating for his eloquence in the Somali language that deserves total overhaul and resuscitation. A bilingual book, the author did his best to have it published as we approach to celebrate a new year. The bilingual book is a collection of Somali fairytales, mythological narrations and various types of tales that are unique to Somalis. I hope you will buy several copies for yourself and family, friends and relatives and to even libraries as a gesture of goodwill.
It is incredibly hair-raising and mindboggling that octogenarian Russian linguist and long-runner marathoner author, Dr. Georgi Kapchits, whose previous book ‘A Modern Dictionary of Somali Proverbs’ that I reviewed on December 6, 2020, jostled my nerves on October 24 after receiving an electronic correspondence message that he has again, released a new bi-lingual book written in Somali and English.
The new book, “Isha Cumar ka Lulata” Somali Folk Tales” that translates to “The Knocked-Out Eye of the Hyena”, is a collection of folktales that are exclusive to Somalis and their language. Published by Hill Press, the reviewer of Dr. Georgi’s book feels that the author is determined to safeguard the Somali folklore not only for the present but for posterity. One question I haven’t asked him is how he managed to collect such inspiring tales, the time spent on his computer while researching, and the methodical time management. Besides being a paremiologist, Georgi Kapchits has advanced knowledge of narrative mythography and thus, he is a mythologist.
Back in the olden days in school, our professors or lecturers often reminded us the significance of time management and the dangers associated with procrastinations. Surprisingly, while instability has become the norm in war-torn Somalia, though a genius literato, it seems to me that Dr. Georgi Kapchits has invisible creatures working with him, because, as Somalis, when someone is unproductive or absent-minded, are known to say: “Dheguhuu ku jiifaa.” When directly translated into English, it would mean ‘he is sleeping on his ears’ while in Russian, it would be он спит на ушах and pronounced ‘spit na ushakh’. In the Index, the author begins laying the groundwork for the first chapter. Divided into chapters–with each chapter having subsections that are quite appealing, the author writes with simplicity. Every subsection is dedicated to specific types of folktales, including hypothetical stories and tales that are related to animals such as the lion, hyena and the treacherous jackal, an ewe and a male-goat, a lion and a squirrel, nine hyenas and a single lion, seven monkeys and a lion, a raven and a locust, and the hyena and the revenge of the fox etc. There is something strange about the hyena having a short leg. The author’s use of waraabe and dhurwaa for hyena deserves the reader’s explanation. Are they different genera or one and the same? When I was a little boy, I used to hear all hyenas are hermaphrodites, however, that is not the case. Because the females are bigger than the males, they have pseudophallasus or pseudo-penises that are paired with testicles that are encased in fatty tissues. Therefore, it is common for the females to engage in female to female mounting although they are incapable of mating.
How the Crocodile Lost its Tongue
Whether it was a wolf, jackal or a fox, there is fairytale worth telling. Once upon a time, one of these three animals approached a crocodile that was sunbathing along the bank of a river. Attracted by the wide and open mouth of the crocodile and its long dangling tongue, the visitor spoke loudly to the crocodile to attract its attention. The crocodile responded in a meticulous manner. The treacherous visitor told the crocodile that it would like to borrow its tongue so she could use to ululate at her sister’s wedding that after and that it would keep her trust and return it before sunset. To attract the attention of the crocodile, the duplicitous animal guaranteed that the voice from his tongue would be high-pitched and instill extreme happiness in his inner soul. The crocodile felt so boisterous such that he handed the tongue over to the untrustworthy visitor. However, the crocodile could hear the unrestrained voice of his tongue from afar. Such types of uproarious voices that are common with Somali women during wedding ceremonies are either called ‘Alalaas’ or ‘Mashxarad’.
The tongue-borrower arrived along the river before sunset and inquired from the crocodile whether he heard his tongue’s blustery decibels of which he responded positively. However, the lender of the tongue got agitated when the borrower refused to return it. As a final warning, the crocodile told the borrower that “she was persona non grata in all rivers and that she would die of thirst.” In response, the borrower responded “xareeddii Eebbe iyo bilbilkii Abbaay yaa kaa badan.” With xareed being the blessed rain driven by fecundating winds, bilbil refers to a small water container for soaking yarns and strands when the saintly Abbaay is engaged in the making of ropes and cordages.
The author did not forget the famous Somali woman who is generally known as Carraweelo. The altercations between Carraweelo and Odey Biiqe deserve the reader’s attention. Likewise, there is a fascinating story between Carraweelo and her daughter. My condolences to the passing away of Carraweelo which is the end of the first chapter. On page 66, the story is about Caraweello’s castration of men, that translates to Carraweelo iyo Dhuufaaniddii Ragga in Somali. Whether true or mythological, it would be wise for our current and future Somali generations to know about the stout Carraweelo and her diminishing tales that have been resuscitated by our living Somali language legend, Dr. Georgi Kapchits. The astuteness of Carraweelo who is also called Cebla’, in Somali, ceeb means ‘shame’ while ‘la’ is ‘without’ and so, when put together, Cebla’ could mean ‘the gentle one, the kind one or the humble one’, ’It is amazing that there is a skin that has fur on both sides in the historical tales of the chapter on Carraweelo on page 69.
Collection of stories, mythological or ancient tales have been common among all nations and societies of the world. Leading in mythological tales were the ancient Greeks. One example is that of Zeus–an unknown god who sent a box to Lady Pandora with the message that she must not open the box. Out of curiosity–like the curiosity that killed the cat, Pandora, who was married to Prometheus, finally opened the box. What came out of the box included physical and emotional factors such as Wrath, Gluttony, Greed, Envy, Sloth, Pride and Lust.
The Two Giants
Included in the book on page 54 is a story that I admire most and it about ‘Xabbad Ina Kamas iyo Birir Ina Barwaaqo’. In ancient Somalia. these were two giants, with one, Xabbad Ina Kamas noted for cruelty while ruling almost half of Somalia. Despite Xabbad Ina Kamas’s savagery or viciousness of decimating other Somalis,it was the heroic Birir Ina Barwaaqo who defeated him using his power based on honesty and the pursuit of justice. Somalis are known for strange stories that cover every aspect of life. There was a lady who was nicknamed “Dadqalato.” Her story is covered on pages 50 to 53. Whether she is Dhegdheer, the female killer cannibal who used to hide in the forests or a different one, requires deeper mythological scrutiny. As for the “Dadqalato”, I can still recall the fairytales our parents used to narrate to us when we were young. There was a woman of cannibalistic character who would hunt children only when darkness fell across the land. She was known to apply onto her body a special specimen from a tree that was specific to her. The book is a Thriller and taking a leaf from Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller”, his terrifying words that terrifically terrify my terror-stricken Medulla oblongata reminds me of Africa’s venomous scorpion Heterometrus swammerdami and South America’s world’s largest spider known as Tarantula–the Arthropoda phylum of the Arachnid class that I feared most when our dad narrated to us when we were growing up and fond of listening attentively to everything that attracted our attentions.
Michael Jackson sang:
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’all’s neighborhood
As the world has transformed differently due to globalization, modern Somali parents deserve to reflect the past Somali tales and transfer them to their children.
From page 73 to 89, Wiil-Waal, the man whose stories Somalis have known for generations, remains a force to reckon with. Starting with Hunguri, meaning greed, the subsection relates the stories of the humorous Wiil-Waal. The section that touches on Wiil-Waal and his youngest wife is really fantasizing. Wiil-Waal, before embarking on an adventurously prolonged journey, gave a dire warning to his wife. Before climbing astride his horse that galloped faster than the combined speeds of Xiin Faniin of Sayid Muhammad Abdille Hassan and Bucephalus of Alexander the Great, he told her that when he returns from his journey, he’d like to see her cuddling their own baby and caressing a foal from her mare and his stallion. Upon returning from his strenuous journey that took a couple of years, Wiil-Waal was astonished to find his younger wife had a child on her lap –a first sight grimace that left him suspicious. Assuming that she had committed adultery with another man while he was away, upon questioning her, she threw at him his most cherished wedding finger ring. Unknown to Wiil-Waal, immediately after he left home for the journey his wife assumed to take longer, she climbed her famous speedy horse retracing his tracks. It was common for Wiil-Waal to be hosted with dignity anywhere he set foot. Apart from being fed to satisfaction, Wiil-Waal was brought a female partner to rejoice with overnight. One night, as darkness fell across the land, he was brought a beautiful female partner who was in fact his own wife– the wife he left behind with the dire warning of cuddling a child and a foal as earlier mentioned. Since it was common for Somalis of old to romance in the dark, Wiil-Waal was not fortunate enough to see the physical features of his partner. At night, before romancing, she pleaded with him to handover the finger nail he was wearing to which he removed and handed over to her. Before day break, the lady jumped on her horse and disappeared without trace.
Known as Garaad Faarax Garaad Xirsi, Wiil-Waal, was a man of wisdom and the altercations between him and Raage Ugaas will be a good read. After untying a horse that belonged to someone else to use for eloping a young beautiful girl whose name was Faadumo Nuur, the incident as it transpired will leave the reader all agog. In the end, what ensued between Wiil-Waal and Raage Ugaas could be described as two-men Armageddon. While Wiil-Waal and Raage Ugaas were no yahoos, but two courageous, humorous, and herculean men who fought and struggled in life to achieve their worldly needs, on the other hand, there was Cigaal Shidaad whose narratorial preponderances are absolutely wisdomatic and hard to cover in detail.
When it comes to the art of cowardice and intrigues, there is a man every Somali clan claims to be part and parcel of their ethnographic descent. He is none other than Cigaal Shidaad. The recorded fairytales of Cigaal Shidaad are so enticing that even to be nicknamed after him resembles a mark of prestige and honor but the truth of the matter is whether he really existed in the first place or not is a matter of concern. Once in his lifetime, knowing that there was an anticipated war and that he could have been targeted, he told his wife that should people searching for him arrive at their homestead unexpectedly, the best she could do was to conceal him by covering him with kebed or duful and if they inquired about his whereabouts, she was obliged to pronounce him dead. Kebed or duful are two articulately crafted top coverings of the Somali aqal hoori house used as shades or as roofs. Made from sisal, making the two coverings could take several months depending on the artistry of the female maker. They first begin with tiny yarns and then change them into bigger strands. Anyone who has a good grasp of seamanship may understand how making a rope from yarns and strands is mind teasing. Finally, the warriors arrived and inquired from his wife about her husband to which she responded “he passed away.” The most alarming question she failed to answer is when he died or passed away. The notorious Cigaal Shidaad, unable to hold himself for failing to tell his wife earlier about his sudden death, while hiding under the kebed or duful, responded in a loud voice “tell them he died yesterday.” Amused and full of laughter, one of the warriors shouted in response, “let’s leave him alone for he is not different from a dead man.”
On pages 98 and 99, the author has a special narration on the benefits of goats. Unlike the sheep that Somalis give much credit such that when there are altercations between clans or subclans on matters pertaining to reconciliations, they have what is called Sabeen-Xir, I’ve often asked myself why not substitute it with Orgi-Xir. There’s no doubt goats have special place in Somalia, while India, prides to have the best goats in the world that were taken from Berbera in Somalia a thousand years ago. A mature he-goat or Billy-goat is known to have a ‘goatee’ and that’s why ancient pharaohs of Egypt wore goatees regardless of whether they were male or female leaders. The term “leading the flock” is the prerogative of the he-goat or Billy-goat. Nevertheless, the author has a different story to tell the reader.
Just like we have Anglo-English, English-English or British-English and American-English, Canadian-English or African-English and even Carribean-English, the author at times writes in the northern Somali dialect and other times in southern Somali dialect. By doing so, it allows the reader to learn the differences of Somali dialects. One impossible heading or topic is about a psychotic camel that swallowed an axe. Perhaps, on page 100, “Ma masaar bay laqday?” refers to the camel that I earlier mentioned. As I understand, masaar could also mean godin for as much as I can recall, there was a poem that started with “Godintaan qaatay yaan weli gawda ku hayaaye.”
Having “Isha Cumar ka lulata–The Knocked-Out Eye of the Hyena” is delightful to read and full of merriment and amusement. For the readers of the Somali language, the topic “Isha Cumar ka lulata” is itself eye-catching, enticing, and reminiscing of what the reader came across in the past. In case of the need for referencing and quoting when embarking on writing an essay or article, a research paper or when giving a speech, the bilingual this book will obviously reduce your struggle towards successful penmanship.
The author who is fond of calling me “Walaalkeyga iga yar”, while, as mark of respect I do respond to him “Walaalkeyga iga weyn”, deserves to be awarded a Medal of Honor by the Federal Government of Somalia. Georgi Kapchits’ books would also benefit Somali public and private schools.
Finally, these are my final words of praise for the author:
Af Soomaali ma goblamin haddii weli Joorji noo joogo
Waa kii weligii ciyaayey sidii Guuguulihii hawdka Soomaali
Waa kii ka dhawaajin jiray dhigaalka afkeena hooyo har iyo habeen ba
Waa kii dhan kasto la eegaba heegan noo ahaa in uu noo gargaaro ee
Waa kii afkeena hooyo leyliyay sidii libaax dhalay
Waa kii dhawaaqa tareenka Vladivostok illaa Moosko dhegihiisa ka jeediyay
Waa kii 70 mayl uga guuray Moosko tixgelinta afkeena hooyo awgeed
Waa kan maanta nala wadaagayo waxaan maqalnay iyo waxaynan maqal ee
Email: [email protected]
Buugaagta uu hore u qoray Dr Kapchits:
1. Somali proverbs and sayings in Somali and Russian with Russian equivalents. Compilation, translation, introduction and commentary. Moscow, 1983.
2. Waxaa la yidhi – sheekooyin hidde ah. Compilation, introduction and commentary. Cologne, 1996.
3. Folktales of the Somali people (in Russian). Compilation, translation from Somali, introduction, glossary, commentary and appendices. Moscow, 1997.
4. Qaamuuska maamaahyada soomaaliyeed – The Dictionary of Somali Proverbs (in Somali with introductions in Somali and English). Collected and arranged. Moscow, 1998.
5. Hubsiimo hal baa la siistaa/To know something for sure one would even part with a she-camel. Somali Proverbs: A Study in Popularity. Moscow, 2002/Riga, 2016.
6. Sentence particles in the Somali language and their usage in proverbs. Aachen, 2005.
7. Faaliyihii la bilkeyday: Sheekaxariirooyin Soomaaliyeed – A Soothsayer Tested: Somali Folktales. Compiled and translated by G.L. Kapchits. Moscow, 2006.
8. Soomaali been ma maahmaahdo – Somalis do not lie in proverbs). Piza, 2012
9. Four Hyenas – Afar waraabe. Compiled and translated by G.L. Kapchits. Moscow. 2015.
10. Qaamuuska Casriga ah ee Maahmaahda Soomaaliyeed – A Modern Dictionary of Somali Proverbs. Katrineholm. 2020.
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