Here’s something very unusual, a Somali Gabay that makes fun of the form. Specifically, this is a mock-heroic version of the poem The news to Rome, with its celebration of holy war and camel raiding. In this version, the “true men” launch an expedition to a brothel where they eat the addictive stimulant “qaat”. One thinks of parody as a written form, but here is an oral example (for another, see The Incompetent Hunter). Nothing, in fact, could illustrate how well these poems are known than the fact that they could be mocked in such detail – as described in the footnotes. Notice the reference to the “Allah-supported” poet in the brothel. Part of the satire’s point is that Somali poets no longer perform at meetings of the tribal elders but in public bars. The poet is Abdisalaam H. Aadan, famous for his satires on the older Dervish poets in these qaat-chewing forums. The poem was recorded in 1977.

By the Herer ravine, if at noon, you gulp down an unpalatable lunch (1)
Sleep you should not enjoy – you must wage a holy struggle for the soul. (2)
I and seven others raised the question of self-indulgence. (3)
It is the habit of true men to be ready. We exchanged counsel.
Then two we sent to ascertain the paths (4)
And they signalled news for us to go ahead.
And forward we rushed to select samples of Togwajaak Qaat (5)
And when the seller readied two bundles of ten shillings, in haste we departed.
Instantly, we took the essential taxi, and the driver sped us by the market
And straight away we departed to the Beauty’s place with whom we had made a promise (6)
And immediately, we placed a hundred shillings for her services in her bosom
And we leaned our elbows against the pillows lying about in piles
And every man reclined against the niche he had selected
And we passed around the tea in an overflowing thermos flask
And everyone wrapped up in a piece of paper
a sufficient amount to consume (7)
And humor without grace we exchanged
Then two plump beauties that seemed next of kin to the Turk (8)
And two who looked like the houris of heaven, (9)
And two who, to speak wisely, shone like fluorescent lights,
And the one who is mine when I am in a mood for self-gratification – (10)
These many, stately of gait and gracious of step
Wearing the loose tobe and brilliant sashes round their waists, (11)
And with hair just combed. They extended their hands
As for us, we shy not away from the maids
– we pressed on with Genash embraces. (12)
And with musical connoisseurs among us we had no difficulty
in sending promptly for the singers.
Then the A!lah-supported lad entertained us with his lecherous voice.
And in preparation for the tune, his hands caressed the instrument
And the twang of the lute and the rumble of the tam-tam was heard (13)
And in comradely etiquette, we supported him with clapping.
Then the band left, having entertained us to satisfaction
And in conversation we continued to court the girls.
Yes, in whispers, we shared silent words with them
And with groans as of torrential rain we moaned late into the night!
And some boys there were whose ways we did not approve
And, although the hem of the skirt was near enough and tempting,
we deferred to the dictates of courtesy
And there were our arms tightly locked up in passionate embrace
But against the fence we jabbed the hardened spears, (14)
Yet the touch of the plant renders me feeble (15)
That night he who had stamina gained his intent!

Here is the Somali version:

Duhurkii toggaa Herer haddaad qado ka soo tuurto
Hurdo laguma taamee naftaa !ala tacaalaaye
Anigiyo toddoba aan ku jirey tumasho soo qaadnay.
Rag tabaabushuu leeyahaye wax istusaalaynay;
Labo tubaha soo kala cayima hore u sii tuurray:
Ayaguna tusmada warkay sideen nooga tibixsiiye.
Togwajaale qaadkii ka yimid tacab u soo miirnay.
Markay laba tobnaad noo xireen toobiyaha qaadnay:
Tagsi lagama maarmee nin wadey suuqa nagu tooci.
Tilmaan-quruxsantii !ala ballamay saani ugu toosnay:
Tubtii horeba boqol jaa’ifaa teybalka u saarrav.
Barkimooyinkii teedsanaa suxul ku taageerray;
Nin waliba halkuu soo turqaday garabka soo tiiri.
Isagoo falaas laga tif tiray laysu tebi shaaha.
Nin waliba tankiisii haraaq tiilley ugu laabnay.
Kaftan aan turxaan lagu ogeyn Ia isku tuurtuurye.
Laba aad turkiga mooddid oo tikhilka naagooda,
Iyo laba tiftirihii jannada lagu tilmaamaayo,
Iyo laba wax layskama tirshee sida tiriiggaasa,
Iyo taan lahaan jirey markaan tumasho soo qaado,
lntaasoo xarrago tiicayoo temeshle luudaysa,
Oo toobab noo soo xidhay oo tal iyo xiisaan leh,
Oo timaha soo firay salaan gacanta soo taage!
Annaguna hablaha kama tagnee geerish ugu taagnay;
Heesaha rag baw tamar galee kuwii tiriyey soo qaadnay;
Alla-tiirigii heesi jirey noogu tacab sawdka;
Tiiraanyo qaylshihii rabaab faraha taabsiiye;
Kaman talalaxleeyiyo durbaan tininigtii yeedhay;
Annaguna tustuurtay lahayd sacabka tiitaynay.
Goortay cabbaar naga tumeen tegis u qoontayste ;
Sheekadu hablahay noo taxnayd togannay haasaawe:
Hada! tooxanoo hoos u teyan Ia isku taataabay;
Siduu teyse roob nagu onkoday taaha ku caweyney;
Rag takooran baa nagu jiree tabaha qaar diidnay:
In kastoy taftuba noo dhowcyd teedka sharaf eegnay.
Talantaalli labadii gacmood tahan isweydaarte;
Warmihii tumaatiga adkaa iirka qabadsiinnay:
Waan taag darreeyaa haddaan taabto geedkaba:
Habeenkaa ninkii tamar lahaa taxay murqaankiisa!

Poem by Abdisalaam H. Aadan (1977),
from “Gabay-Hayir: A Somali Mock-Heroic Song”,
by Said S. Samatar,
Research in African Literatures, II, 4 (winter 1980), 466-469.


Footnotes

  1. Herer, incontrast to Taleeh in the original poem. Both are valleys. but Taleeh runs east to the dervish capital while Herer runs north to the region where Qaat is grown.
  2. As compared to Holy War.
  3. Instead of the “seventy hundred” of the original poem.
  4. As in the original, scouts are sent out, identifying not camels to be seized but the house where Qaat may be consumed.
  5. Qaat is a stimulant herb, grown in Ethiopia. The twigs and leaves are exported to Somalia by lorry, fetching high prices. It is a social drug, being eaten by holy men and sufis in search of mystic union with Sallah, and by young men and women in public brothels. Togwajaale is a town on the Ethiopian border, and a source of high quality qaat.
  6. Beauty is the madam.
  7. That is, of quat.
  8. Meaning, light-skinned, short and plump, or to the Somalis Turkish looking.
  9. Heavenly maidens, the reward (in some Muslim traditions) for men who’ve lived an orthodox life. Here, they are merely courtesans.
  10. The poet’s reward, like the poet’s special camel in the original.
  11. Tobe, a loose transparent gown, popular with urban women in northern Somalia.
  12. In the ritual of Gayesh, qaat eaters pair off in couples, the girl placing her beloved between her thighs and feeding him with qaat leaves.
  13. As compared to the guns in the original.
  14. Referring to the men’s erotic excitement.
  15. Qaat is like “drink” in the porter’s speech in Macbeth: “it provokes desire but takes away performance.”