Ten separate love songs from Somalia. Balwo means ‘sorrow’, and the subject of this type of song is invariably unhappy love which is described briefly in striking and unusual images. These songs are immensely popular in Somalia and are regarded by some as blasphemous.

No. VIII, for example, refers to the Moslem practice of burying a corpse with its head pointing towards Mecca. On No. IX, there is a poem by Sheik Mahammed Hasan called The Evils of the Balwo which contains these lines:

Oh my God, my God, have mercy on us and save us from the balwo:
The monarchs of old reigned and built their palaces …
The evil balwo songs came, bringing corruption and spreading sin!

I

Woman, lovely as lightning at dawn,
Speak to me once even.

II

A flash of lightning does not satisfy thirst,
What then is it to me if you just pass by?

III

It is the custom of the Somali
To mock a man who has fallen in love.

IV

Like a motorcycle passing in the distance,
My cries are heard.

V

Like a sailing vessel pulled by a storm,
I set my compass towards a place empty of people.

VI

You are like a place with fresh grass after a downpour of rain
On which the sun now shines.

VII

O Eyes! While she is far away,
Why do you weep as if you were seeing her?

VIII

When I die – one is born to die –
May my grave face in her direction.

IX

When you die you will enter the earth:
Let not the preacher then turn you from your love-song.

X

Is it lightning far distant from me
That I have strained for vainly?

from Somali Poetry,
by Bogumil M. Andrzejewski,
Oxford 1969