Jan. 20, 2014
“ALLA BISADU BASAR XUMAA, MA SOOMAALI BAA?”« ALAS, WHY IS THE CAT SO ILL-MANNERED, IS SHE NEXT OF KIN TO SOMALIS!? » By Dr. Said S. Samatar
DISCLOSURE: The above was imparted to me by the late and much-lamented Abdullahi Haaji Abdurahman, better known by his nickname of Abdullahi Suuryaan, the ROVER. In Abdullahi’s telling, this is the title of a play penned by a Somali dramatist who had done a surprisingly un-Somali thing: he spent months of patient labor studying cat habits before embarking on his dramatic work. If a play of this name and a playwright exist, would he, please, make contact so that his amazing effort can be translated into English and placed ON-LINE. His patience in cat work, especially, stands out in marked contrast to the notoriously impatient and unstable Somali personality.
According to the late eminent Somali psychologist, Daud H. Ali, who I referenced in an earlier piece(Wardheernews, July, 2013), “The average Somali wakes up in the morning and inevitably asks two questions:” 1. “Maanta maxaan cunaa?, “How do I eat today?”, 2. Dooda socotana, see baan la iiga rayn?” “How do I prevail in the raging argument of the day?” “Barri, sidoo kale,” “Tomorrow, likewise.” “Saa dembe, si doo kale,” “Day after tomorrow, likewise,” “Saakuun, si doo kale,” “Day after, likewise.” Each day, in Daud’s rendering, the average Somali takes a new position diametrically opposed to the one he had taken the day before. “And nobody,” said Daud, “calls him on it.” Undoubtedly, Daud put his finger on our tragedy as a nation: a total absence of individual responsibility, except “tolla’ayeey,” “O, Kinsmen, help,” when he gets in trouble.
Back to the cat: no language I know of, has a richer treasure trove of cat-names than Somali. Consider this: 1. Mukulaal, Benaadiri word for cat, probably of Indian origin. 2. Yaanyuuro, an onomatopoetic loan word from Swahili, 3. Dummad, Arabic loan word for cat. 4. Finally, Bisad, a corrupted mispronunciation of the ancient Egyptian “bistait.” The bistait was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians as the goddess of music, dancing and partying, most likely a reference to the athletic nature of cat sex!. And I learned today from Abdelkarim of Wardheernes that the Somalis of Jigjiga call the Cat “Basho.” If so, a fifth Somali word for this mysterious animal. Maybe more names will pop out when the article hits the Internet!
Unlike the dog, who quietly sits in a designated corner, faithfully serving his master by obeying each and every command, the cat is congenitally and fatally disloyal and pays his/her master no attention, except when howling for food. Further, also unlike the dog, the cat absconds herself in the best possible niche in the house, usually the bed in the bedroom. Moreover, she is sexually the most promiscuous of beings, animal or human, forever frolicking with a tomcat, thereby saddling her master with a houseful of kittens perhaps every couple of months. Indeed, the cat stands out as the very personification of sexual immorality. Thus, the unusually sexually loose person is anathematized as having the manners of “an alley cat!”
Clearly like the cat, Somali men are incorrigible baby generators, leaving a brood of offspring in every town, country, or continent they set foot on. I could cite my Old Man, the venerable Sheikh Samatar, as an example of reckless baby-making. He—this is getting uncomfortably close; I’d better cease and desist. As for “basar-xumo,” or “ill-manners,” we Somalis invented the art of bad manners in league, as it were, with the cat in creative unruliness. The subject of Somali basar-xomu is too vast to do justice to in the limited space of this piece. I will therefore content myself with two remarkable vignettes. 1. In the late 1960s I was returning from Ethiopia, where I completed high school education in the town of Adama, then called Nazareth, right in the depths of the Rift Valley. (To engage in an aside, the Oromo word Adama shares a kinship affinity with the Somali Haadaan, or a deep precipice.) At the Mogadishu airport, I chanced, to my delight, upon that noblest of all noble men, former president, Aadan Abdulle Ismaan. I had no idea whether he was leaving or arriving. He had no bodyguard or an assistant of any sort. (Such was the simplicity of this great man.) He was shepherding his luggage through the baggage area when two thugs belonging to a clan that was then riding high—I am reluctant to name names for reasons of charity, perhaps of self-interest—began to crowd him, shoving and almost pushing him.
Fellow Somalis—ruminate, if you are capable of ruminating: such discourteous , nay, ugly treatment of a former president who made history by relinquishing power after losing an election, instead of doing the African Thing: calling in the troops to stage a coup, thereby making mockery of fair play and the democratic process. Such dissing of, surely, the greatest Somali that ever lived. Few species of the human race are capable of such galloping basar-xumo.
The second vignette: in the 1980s a group of Leelkase youths were visiting my home in South Orange, New Jersey. The ubiquitous sugary and Hayl(ed) Somali tea was served and the inevitable banter ensued—typically Somali—with no deference to age, achievement or ability, just fast and furious banter. Then a callow youth, a seventeen-year old, as I guessed, sallied forth and reported, puffed up with pride, how he ran into former prime minister Abdirizak H. Hussein(in New York?) and, provoked by thoughts of the memory of the great Leelkase-Umar Mahamuud/Majeerteen feud in the early 1960s, began to verbally assault Mr. Rizak, spewing out at him the ugliest of vituperation. “Shocking” would not do justice to the outrage that blazed through my body. Astonishing! This illiterate youth was boasting in my house, right in front of me, how he had insulted a former prime minister and one of the ablest of Somali leaders! He was thrown out of the house in quick order for his pains.
Mr. Rizak, as I stated in an autograph in my first book to him, ran the cleanest and most well-oiled administration in Somali history (1965-68?). Does anybody remember the legendary “Busto Roso,” or the “Red Envelope,” with which his administration became synonymous? When Rizak assumed premiership, he began at once to clean the Augean Stables of Government, by mass-firing hordes of his own Majeerteen kin, including a brother, leeches who, in the corrupt patronage network of the previous administration, battened on state coffers without responsibility. They were issued red envelopes which informed of their sacking. Hence “Busto Roso.”
THE SHABBY STIFFING OF M. S. TOGANE
The third vignette with which I conclude: this is red-hot off the iron, as I learned of it today. According to the information that came my way, a crew of Daaroods, largely Majeerteen, were having a gathering in Toronto, Canada, to celebrate the election of a new president in Puntland, and to hail the outgoing president for the dignity with which he accepted his electoral defeat. I have heard several versions of what transpired at the meeting. Version 1: Trusting to his misplaced faith in the natural goodness of the Daarood, especially Majeerteen, whose praise songs he has been singing of late, Togane showed up uninvited at the meeting. Hence, he was blackballed. Version 2: The meeting was almost wrecked on account of schismatic battles between two factions – a faction that supported Mr. Faroole, notably the Iisa-Mahamuud; the other, namely, the Umar-Mahamuud who were rooting for Mr. Abdi-Walle, the new president; and Version 3: the new president ordered, through his agents at the meeting, the stiffing of Togane. Whatever version, this was no honorable moment for the Daarood. Whatever happened to intellectual/professional independence!?
In any society other than Somalis’, Togane’s family name alone should have earned him participation in the meeting. Remember the exploits of the elder Togane in colonial times. In the 1950s Italians in Somalia were bent on re-tribalizing the Somalis, who were beginning to develop some measure of national consciousness. The Italian political officer, aided by a cadre of fascist gendarmerie, rounded up droves of Somalis, requiring them to quit this “nationalist nonsense” and return to their clan allegiance by identifying themselves by their respective clan names. Any Somali who refused to do so was roughed up by the gendarmerie. When the elder Togane’s turn came up, he was asked “Yaad Tahay?” Instead of saying, “I am Abgaal,” as the political officer expected him to do, the brave Togane said, “I am a Somali.” The gendarmerie proceeded to work him—well, work him real good, as the colloquialism has it. Again, “Yaad Tahay?” Togane, “I am a Somali.” This time he was badly pommeled, “Yaad Tahay?” Togane: “Caawa Jow Abgaal!” Translation: “Only tonight am I an Abgaal.” The phrase stuck, becoming a popularly quoted line throughout the then Italian Somalia.
Meantime, in the projected summer meeting in Minnesota, I suggest that, in a bid to redeem their lost honor, that particular group of Daaroods invite Togane as a keynote speaker. Otherwise, the Cat Basar-Xumo is bound to haunt them.