Women and singing in Somali culture

Singing is not only an integral part of daily life for Somali women but also a medium through which they can express their grievances and criticise paternalistic social norms that have solidified men’s hegemony over women and limited their social participation to certain stereotyped roles. From a mother’s lullabies to work songs, folkloric dance lyrics and the famous buraanbur genre, Somali women’s sung poetry conveys messages and stories about their status in society.[1]

When looking at the below folkloric lyrics[2], one can see that Somali women refused to be bystanders in the debate for social change. They led an awareness campaign through their sung poetry to engender the kind of social reform they aspired to achieve.

In the following example, which scorns the expected role of a bride, a woman warns her female friend, geelo in Somali, about the predicaments she would face on the first night of her marriage.

Haddaba geeladaydii (Oh, my dear geelo)

Ila garan ogtaydii (My graceful dancing partner)

Caawaba dirqaad geli (Tonight, you will enter a forced bondage)

Dirqi wiil yar baad geli (The bondage of a young boy)

Dabka iga shid baad geli (Who will command you to make the fire for him).

To which her friend replies:

 Hadaba qayradaydii (Oh my dear geelo)

Caawa qaday Alla I qaad (Tonight I will abstain from eating)

Qabri la igu duuduub (A doomed one, I am hurled into a grave).

Polygamy is another topic that Somali women frequently crticise in their sung poetry, as reflected by the following well-known lines of the ‘Godadle’ song, which women sing when pounding grain with a mortar and pestle:

Godadle godadleeyow godadle (Oh, you man with many hovels)

Godadle xiisaalow godadle (Oh, you with a fickle desire, you with many hovels)

Kii garreey gubayow (Oh, you who tortured Garreey)

Kii gadh ceesaanlow (Oh, you with a goatee beard)

Kii gafuur dibilow (Oh, you with a frowned face like an ox)

Gabadh yar uu gabayuu (Oh, you man who after neglecting his young wife)

Uu guduudiyayuu (And beaten her red)

Uu gogosha ku cunayuu (And killed her with nagging in bed)

Way gabtaa yidhiyee godadle (Then accused her of ignoring him).

The poetry of Somali women does not spare young single men of what some see as mischievous behavior and an indifferent attitude towards women. The following lines accuse young single men of being only concerned about their bellies and not taking part in domestic chores that women usually attend to.

Doobow dibiro aylow (Oh, single man, all you care about is filling your belly like a dog)

Diixaax waraasaalow (Oh, how content you are with your life)

Dibi ceel ka soo fulayow (Like a bull just returning from its watering hole)

Waxa doob iyaa rara (Oh, how I wish that the single man was loaded like a camel)

Rara oo rakaabiya (Loaded with full water containers)

Dhanba laba sideedaad (Two loads of eight containers on one side)

Dhanba laba sagaalaad (Two loads of nine containers on the other)

Suudiga dharaareed (And then drive him through the hot, harsh desert)

Soddohdiina daba dhiga (With his mother-in-law walking behind him prodding him to speed up).

The plight that befalls women who give birth to girls rather than boys is another topic that Somali women address. In a paternalistic society, Somali people tend to value boys over girls, with men often being angered when their partners give birth to girls. There are also instances where men leave their wives if they bear girls.

In one widely-known folk song, the character Qaladla Nur, who gave birth to only girls one pregnancy after another, sees her husband mount his horse and depart in the early morning, after she delivered another girl. Lamenting the actions of her husband, Qaladla seeks comfort by talking to her new baby girl, Hubeeya, about her plight:

 Hubeeyaay aabahaa

Hubka qaadayoo

Heensaha duleedka dhigay (Oh Hubeeya, your father has taken his weapons and saddled his horse outside the homestead)

Ee awal ayaa uumayeen

Ilaah ahayn (But who created her but God?)

Hubeeya Allaa uumayee ayaa

Loogu umal qabaa (Allah alone has created Hubeeya. So why blame anyone else?)

Qaladla then turns to her eldest daughter to tell her that since her husband has abandoned her, she also intends to leave her family and return to her parents.

Wallee Qaafo Rooxaay (Oh, my daughter Qafo Roxa)

Haddaan aabbahaa i rabin (If your father doesn’t love me)

Wallee ruuxayga ruuxaaga uma daayacoo (Then in the name of God, I will not sacrifice my life for you)

Wallee reerahayagii ramado wawgu tegi (I will join my father’s family in their homestead in Ramado).

But when on another occasion Qaladla gives birth to a baby boy, her husband becomes intoxicated with happiness, and, being a man of little wealth, he raids the camels of another clan to host a feast and celebrate the arrival of his first son. Deriding the action of raiding and looting to celebrate the birth of a son, Qaladla addresses her baby boy with sarcasm:

Maxaan rayayeey (Oh, how fortunate we have become)

Maxaa reer la ii rokolay (How much misery have we caused other families?)

Maxaan awrtii ogaadeen

Aamin cunay. (Oh, Amin, my son, how many of the Ogaden clan’s camels have we consumed?)

Bashir Goth