Another Somali Gabay (see Bitter & Sweet: a Somali Gabay for details of the form). This one was composed by chieftain belonging to the Ogaden clan, living in eastern Somalia, and his dispute is with the Isaaq clan, living to the north-west. His son has been killed in a skirmish with the Isaaq, and he has demanded 200 camels in compensation. He has been offered 100 and, rejecting that, chants this war song composed of a single long and alliterative sentence, ostensibly addressed to his horse ‘Aynabo, but in fact to the enemy. This gabay was recorded in 1951 by Margaret Lawrence, whose husband Jack was a civil engineer in what was then British Somaliland.

If you, oh ‘Aynabo, my fleet and fiery horse,
Do not grow battle-worn, and slow of foot, and weak;
And if your shining flanks and finely arching neck
Do not grow gaunt and thin as the branch on the toothbrush thorn; (1)
And if your frenzied hooves do not flail through the dead,
The bodies piled as high as ever grew the grass;
And if a man among us can draw the name of peace
Forth from the deepest well where I have flung it down;
And if the strong-limbed spearmen of all the Bahawadleh (2)
Do not now fight in fury and fight unto the death;
And if our enemy’s food is not scant meat alone,
With milk gone from the land, and their camels seized as loot; (3)
And if my dead son, Ali, is not greater in their eyes
Than his craven murderers thought when they stabbed away his life;
And if the sky in future does not its colour change,
Filled with the dust of death, reflecting the flare of the fray;
And if all that I swear does not, as I swear it, come to pass –
Then the warrior son of my father has become a witless fool. (4)

A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry & Prose,
M.A. Lawrence,
Nairobi, 1954.


Footnotes

  1. A type of thin branch used by the Somalis for cleaning their teeth.
  2. The sub-group to which the speaker belongs.
  3. Meat and milk are the staple foods for Somalis living away from the coast, and to be deprived of camels is a disaster.
  4. That is, the speaker himself.