The Somal, Their Origin and Peculiarities.
Before leaving Zayla, I must not neglect a short description of its inhabitants, and the remarkable Somal races around it.
Eastern Africa, like Arabia, presents a population composed of three markedly distinct races.
1. The Aborigines or Hamites, such as the Negro Sawahili, the Bushmen, Hottentots, and other races, having such physiological peculiarities as the steatopyge, the tablier, and other developments described, in 1815, by the great Cuvier.
2. The almost pure Caucasian of the northern regions, west of Egypt: their immigration comes within the range of comparatively modern history.
3. The half-castes in Eastern Africa are represented principally by the Abyssinians, Gallas, Somals, and Kafirs. The first-named people derive their descent from Menelek, son of Solomon by the Queen of Sheba: it is evident from their features and figures,--too well known to require description,--that they are descended from Semitic as well as Hamitic progenitors. (116) About the origin of the Gallas there is a diversity of opinion. (117) Some declare them to be Meccan Arabs, who settled on the western coast of the Red Sea at a remote epoch: according to the Abyssinians, however, and there is little to find fault with in their theory, the Gallas are descended from a princess of their nation, who was given in marriage to a slave from the country south of Gurague. She bare seven sons, who became mighty robbers and founders of tribes: their progenitors obtained the name of Gallas, after the river Gala, in Gurague, where they gained a decisive victory our their kinsmen the Abyssins. (118) A variety of ethnologic and physiological reasons,--into which space and subject prevent my entering,--argue the Kafirs of the Cape to be a northern people, pushed southwards by some, to us, as yet, unknown cause. The origin of the Somal is a matter of modern history.
"Barbarah" (Berberah), (119) according to the Kamus, is "a well known town in El Maghrib, and a race located between El Zanj--Zanzibar and the Negrotic coast--and El Habash (120): they are descended from the Himyar chiefs Sanháj (Sinhagia)(<Arabic>) and Sumámah (<Arabic>), and they arrived at the epoch of the conquest of Africa by the king Afríkus (Scipio Africanus?)." A few details upon the subject of mutilation and excision prove these to have been the progenitors of the Somal, (121) who are nothing but a slice of the great Galla nation Islamised and Semiticised by repeated immigrations from Arabia. In the Kamus we also read that Samal (<Arabic>) is the name of the father of a tribe, so called because he thrust out (<Arabic>, samala) his brother's eye. (122) The Shaykh Jami, a celebrated genealogist, informed me that in A.H. 666 = A.D. 1266-7, the Sayyid Yusuf el Baghdadi visited the port of Siyaro near Berberah, then occupied by an infidel magician, who passed through mountains by the power of his gramarye: the saint summoned to his aid Mohammed bin Tunis el Siddiki, of Bayt el Fakih in Arabia, and by their united prayers a hill closed upon the pagan. Deformed by fable, the foundation of the tale is fact: the numerous descendants of the holy men still pay an annual fine, by way of blood-money to the family of the infidel chief. The last and most important Arab immigration took place about fifteen generations or 450 years ago, when the Sherif Ishak bin Ahmed (123) left his native country Hazramaut, and, with forty-four saints, before mentioned, landed on Makhar,--the windward coast extending from Karam Harbour to Cape Guardafui. At the town of Met, near Burnt Island, where his tomb still exists, he became the father of all the gentle blood and the only certain descent in the Somali country: by Magaden, a free woman, he had Gerhajis, Awal, and Arab; and by a slave or slaves, Jailah, Sambur, and Rambad. Hence the great clans, Habr Gerhajis and Awal, who prefer the matronymic-- Habr signifying a mother,--since, according to their dictum, no man knows who may be his sire. (124) These increased and multiplied by connection and affiliation to such an extent that about 300 years ago they drove their progenitors, the Galla, from Berberah, and gradually encroached upon them, till they intrenched themselves in the Highlands of Harar.
The old and pagan genealogies still known to the Somal, are Dirr, Aydur, Darud, and, according to some, Hawiyah. Dirr and Aydur, of whom nothing is certainly known but the name, (125) are the progenitors of the northern Somal, the Ísa, Gudabirsi, Ishak, and Bursuk tribes. Darud Jabarti (126) bin Ismail bin Akil (or Ukayl) is supposed by his descendants to have been a noble Arab from El Hejaz, who, obliged to flee his country, was wrecked on the north-east coast of Africa, where he married a daughter of the Hawiyah tribe: rival races declare him to have been a Galla slave, who, stealing the Prophet's slippers, (127) was dismissed with the words, Inná-tarad-ná-hu (verily we have rejected him): hence his name Tarud (<Arabic>) or Darud, the Rejected. (128) The etymological part of the story is, doubtless, fabulous; it expresses, however, the popular belief that the founder of the eastward or windward tribes, now extending over the seaboard from Bunder Jedid to Ras Hafun, and southward from the sea to the Webbes, (129) was a man of ignoble origin. The children of Darud are now divided into two great bodies: "Harti" is the family name of the Dulbahanta, Ogadayn, Warsangali and Mijjarthayn, who call themselves sons of Harti bin Kombo bin Kabl Ullah bin Darud: the other Darud tribes not included under that appellation are the Girhi, Berteri, Marayhan, and Bahabr Ali. The Hawiyah are doubtless of ancient and pagan origin; they call all Somal except themselves Hashiyah, and thus claim to be equivalent to the rest of the nation. Some attempt, as usual, to establish a holy origin, deriving themselves like the Shaykhash from the Caliph Abubekr: the antiquity, and consequently the Pagan origin of the Hawiyah are proved by its present widely scattered state; it is a powerful tribe in the Mijjarthayn country, and yet is found in the hills of Harar.
The Somal, therefore, by their own traditions, as well as their strongly marked physical peculiarities, their customs, and their geographical position, may be determined to be a half-caste tribe, an offshoot of the great Galla race, approximated, like the originally Negro-Egyptian, to the Caucasian type by a steady influx of pure Asiatic blood.
In personal appearance the race is not unprepossessing. The crinal hair is hard and wiry, growing, like that of a half-caste West Indian, in stiff ringlets which sprout in tufts from the scalp, and, attaining a moderate length, which they rarely surpass, bang down. A few elders, savans, and the wealthy, who can afford the luxury of a turban, shave the head. More generally, each filament is duly picked out with the comb or a wooden scratcher like a knitting-needle, and the mass made to resemble a child's "pudding," an old bob-wig, a mop, a counsellor's peruke, or an old- fashioned coachman's wig,--there are a hundred ways of dressing the head. The Bedouins, true specimens of the "greasy African race," wear locks dripping with rancid butter, and accuse their citizen brethren of being more like birds than men. The colouring matter of the hair, naturally a bluish-black, is removed by a mixture of quicklime and water, or in the desert by a lessive of ashes (130): this makes it a dull yellowish-white, which is converted into red permanently by henna, temporarily by ochreish earth kneaded with water. The ridiculous Somali peruke of crimsoned sheepskin,--almost as barbarous an article as the Welsh,--is apparently a foreign invention: I rarely saw one in the low country, although the hill tribes about Harar sometimes wear a black or white "scratch-wig." The head is rather long than round, and generally of the amiable variety, it is gracefully put on the shoulders, belongs equally to Africa and Arabia, and would be exceedingly weak but for the beauty of the brow. As far as the mouth, the face, with the exception of high cheek-bones, is good; the contour of the forehead ennobles it; the eyes are large and well-formed, and the upper features are frequently handsome and expressive. The jaw, however, is almost invariably prognathous and African; the broad, turned- out lips betray approximation to the Negro; and the chin projects to the detriment of the facial angle. The beard is represented by a few tufts; it is rare to see anything equal to even the Arab development: the long and ample eyebrows admired by the people are uncommon, and the mustachios are short and thin, often twisted outwards in two dwarf curls. The mouth is coarse as well as thick-lipped; the teeth rarely project as in the Negro, but they are not good; the habit of perpetually chewing coarse Surat tobacco stains them, (131) the gums become black and mottled, and the use of ashes with the quid discolours the lips. The skin, amongst the tribes inhabiting the hot regions, is smooth, black, and glossy; as the altitude increases it becomes lighter, and about Harar it is generally of a cafe au lait colour. The Bedouins are fond of raising beauty marks in the shape of ghastly seams, and the thickness of the epidermis favours the size of these stigmates. The male figure is tall and somewhat ungainly. In only one instance I observed an approach to the steatopyge, making the shape to resemble the letter S; but the shoulders are high, the trunk is straight, the thighs fall off, the shin bones bow slightly forwards, and the feet, like the hands, are coarse, large, and flat. Yet with their hair, of a light straw colour, decked with the light waving feather, and their coal-black complexions set off by that most graceful of garments the clean white Tobe, (132) the contrasts are decidedly effective.
In mind the Somal are peculiar as in body. They are a people of most susceptible character, and withal uncommonly hard to please. They dislike the Arabs, fear and abhor the Turks, have a horror of Franks, and despise all other Asiatics who with them come under the general name of Hindi (Indians). The latter are abused on all occasions for cowardice, and a want of generosity, which has given rise to the following piquant epigram:"Ask not from the Hindi thy want:
They have all the levity and instability of the Negro character; light-minded as the Abyssinians,--described by Gobat as constant in nothing but inconstancy,--soft, merry, and affectionate souls, they pass without any apparent transition into a state of fury, when they are capable of terrible atrocities. At Aden they appear happier than in their native country. There I have often seen a man clapping his hands and dancing, childlike, alone to relieve the exuberance of his spirits: here they become, as the Mongols and other pastoral people, a melancholy race, who will sit for hours upon a bank gazing at the moon, or croning some old ditty under the trees. This state is doubtless increased by the perpetual presence of danger and the uncertainty of life, which make them think of other things but dancing and singing. Much learning seems to make them mad; like the half-crazy Fakihs of the Sahara in Northern Africa, the Widad, or priest, is generally unfitted for the affairs of this world, and the Hafiz or Koran-reciter, is almost idiotic. As regards courage, they are no exception to the generality of savage races. They have none of the recklessness standing in lieu of creed which characterises the civilised man. In their great battles a score is considered a heavy loss; usually they will run after the fall of half a dozen: amongst a Kraal full of braves who boast a hundred murders, not a single maimed or wounded man will be seen, whereas in an Arabian camp half the male population will bear the marks of lead and steel. The bravest will shirk fighting if he has forgotten his shield: the sight of a lion and the sound of a gun elicit screams of terror, and their Kaum or forays much resemble the style of tactics rendered obsolete by the Great Turenne, when the tactician's chief aim was not to fall in with his enemy. Yet they are by no means deficient in the wily valour of wild men: two or three will murder a sleeper bravely enough; and when the passions of rival tribes, between whom there has been a blood feud for ages, are violently excited, they will use with asperity the dagger and spear. Their massacres are fearful. In February, 1847, a small sept, the Ayyal Tunis, being expelled from Berberah, settled at the roadstead of Bulhar, where a few merchants, principally Indian and Arab, joined them. The men were in the habit of leaving their women and children, sick and aged, at the encampment inland, whilst, descending to the beach, they carried on their trade. One day, as they were thus employed, unsuspicious of danger, a foraging party of about 2500 Ísas attacked the camp: men, women, and children were indiscriminately put to the spear, and the plunderers returned to their villages in safety, laden with an immense amount of booty. At present, a man armed with a revolver would be a terror to the country; the day, however, will come when the matchlock will supersede the assegai, and then the harmless spearman in his strong mountains will become, like the Arab, a formidable foe. Travelling among the Bedouins, I found them kind and hospitable. A pinch of snuff or a handful of tobacco sufficed to win every heart, and a few yards of coarse cotton cloth supplied all our wants, I was petted like a child, forced to drink milk and to eat mutton; girls were offered to me in marriage; the people begged me to settle amongst them, to head their predatory expeditions, free them from lions, and kill their elephants; and often a man has exclaimed in pitying accents, "What hath brought thee, delicate as thou art, to sit with us on the cowhide in this cold under a tree?" Of course they were beggars, princes and paupers, lairds and loons, being all equally unfortunate; the Arabs have named the country Bilad Wa Issi,--the "Land of Give me Something;"--but their wants were easily satisfied, and the open hand always made a friend.
The Somal hold mainly to the Shafei school of El Islam: their principal peculiarity is that of not reciting prayers over the dead even in the towns. The marriage ceremony is simple: the price of the bride and the feast being duly arranged, the formula is recited by some priest or pilgrim. I have often been requested to officiate on these occasions, and the End of Time has done it by irreverently reciting the Fatihah over the happy pair. (133) The Somal, as usual amongst the heterogeneous mass amalgamated by El Islam, have a diversity of superstitions attesting their Pagan origin. Such for instance are their oaths by stones, their reverence of cairns and holy trees, and their ordeals of fire and water, the Bolungo of Western Africa. A man accused of murder or theft walks down a trench full of live charcoal and about a spear's length, or he draws out of the flames a smith's anvil heated to redness: some prefer picking four or five cowries from a large pot full of boiling water. The member used is at once rolled up in the intestines of a sheep and not inspected for a whole day. They have traditionary seers called Tawuli, like the Greegree-men of Western Africa, who, by inspecting the fat and bones of slaughtered cattle, "do medicine," predict rains, battles, and diseases of animals. This class is of both sexes: they never pray or bathe, and are therefore considered always impure; thus, being feared, they are greatly respected by the vulgar. Their predictions are delivered in a rude rhyme, often put for importance into the mouth of some deceased seer. During the three months called Rajalo (134) the Koran is not read over graves, and no marriage ever takes place. The reason of this peculiarity is stated to be imitation of their ancestor Ishak, who happened not to contract a matrimonial alliance at such epoch: it is, however, a manifest remnant of the Pagan's auspicious and inauspicious months. Thus they sacrifice she- camels in the month Sabuh, and keep holy with feasts and bonfires the Dubshid or New Year's Day. (135) At certain unlucky periods when the moon is in ill-omened Asterisms those who die are placed in bundles of matting upon a tree, the idea being that if buried a loss would result to the tribe. (136)
Though superstitious, the Somal are not bigoted like the Arabs, with the exception of those who, wishing to become learned, visit Yemen or El Hejaz, and catch the complaint. Nominal Mohammedans, El Islam hangs so lightly upon them, that apparently they care little for making it binding upon others.
The Somali language is no longer unknown to Europe. It is strange that a dialect which has no written character should so abound in poetry and eloquence. There are thousands of songs, some local, others general, upon all conceivable subjects, such as camel loading, drawing water, and elephant hunting; every man of education knows a variety of them. The rhyme is imperfect, being generally formed by the syllable "ay" (pronounced as in our word "hay"), which gives the verse a monotonous regularity; but, assisted by a tolerably regular alliteration and cadence, it can never be mistaken for prose, even without the song which invariably accompanies it. The country teems with "poets, poetasters, poetitos, and poetaccios:" every man has his recognised position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines,--the fine ear of this people (137) causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetical expressions, whereas a false quantity or a prosaic phrase excite their violent indignation. Many of these compositions are so idiomatic that Arabs settled for years amongst the Somal cannot understand them, though perfectly acquainted with the conversational style. Every chief in the country must have a panegyric to be sung by his clan, and the great patronise light literature by keeping a poet. The amatory is of course the favourite theme: sometimes it appears in dialogue, the rudest form, we are told, of the Drama. The subjects are frequently pastoral: the lover for instance invites his mistress to walk with him towards the well in Lahelo, the Arcadia of the land; he compares her legs to the tall straight Libi tree, and imprecates the direst curses on her head if she refuse to drink with him the milk of his favourite camel. There are a few celebrated ethical compositions, in which the father lavishes upon his son all the treasures of Somali good advice, long as the somniferous sermons of Mentor to the insipid son of Ulysses. Sometimes a black Tyrtaeus breaks into a wild lament for the loss of warriors or territory; he taunts the clan with cowardice, reminds them of their slain kindred, better men than themselves, whose spirits cannot rest unavenged in their gory graves, and urges a furious onslaught upon the exulting victor.
And now, dear L., I will attempt to gratify your just curiosity concerning the sex in Eastern Africa.
The Somali matron is distinguished--externally--from the maiden by a fillet of blue network or indigo-dyed cotton, which, covering the head and containing the hair, hangs down to the neck. Virgins wear their locks long, parted in the middle, and plaited in a multitude of hard thin pigtails: on certain festivals they twine flowers and plaster the head like Kafir women with a red ochre,--the coiffure has the merit of originality. With massive rounded features, large flat craniums, long big eyes, broad brows, heavy chins, rich brown complexions, and round faces, they greatly resemble the stony beauties of Egypt--the models of the land ere Persia, Greece, and Rome reformed the profile and bleached the skin. They are of the Venus Kallipyga order of beauty: the feature is scarcely ever seen amongst young girls, but after the first child it becomes remarkable to a stranger. The Arabs have not failed to make it a matter of jibe."'Tis a wonderful fact that your hips swell
sings a satirical Yemeni: the Somal retort by comparing the lank haunches of their neighbours to those of tadpoles or young frogs. One of their peculiar charms is a soft, low, and plaintive voice, derived from their African progenitors. Always an excellent thing in woman, here it has an undefinable charm. I have often lain awake for hours listening to the conversation of the Bedouin girls, whose accents sounded in my ears rather like music than mere utterance.
In muscular strength and endurance the women of the Somal are far superior to their lords: at home they are engaged all day in domestic affairs, and tending the cattle; on journeys their manifold duties are to load and drive the camels, to look after the ropes, and, if necessary, to make them; to pitch the hut, to bring water and firewood, and to cook. Both sexes are equally temperate from necessity; the mead and the millet-beer, so common among the Abyssinians and the Danakil, are entirely unknown to the Somal of the plains. As regards their morals, I regret to say that the traveller does not find them in the golden state which Teetotal doctrines lead him to expect. After much wandering, we are almost tempted to believe the bad doctrine that morality is a matter of geography; that nations and races have, like individuals, a pet vice, and that by restraining one you only exasperate another. As a general rule Somali women prefer amourettes with strangers, following the well-known Arab proverb, "The new comer filleth the eye." In cases of scandal, the woman's tribe revenges its honour upon the man. Should a wife disappear with a fellow-clansman, and her husband accord divorce, no penal measures are taken, but she suffers in reputation, and her female friends do not spare her. Generally, the Somali women are of cold temperament, the result of artificial as well as natural causes: like the Kafirs, they are very prolific, but peculiarly bad mothers, neither loved nor respected by their children. The fair sex lasts longer in Eastern Africa than in India and Arabia: at thirty, however, charms are on the wane, and when old age comes on they are no exceptions to the hideous decrepitude of the East.
The Somal, when they can afford it, marry between the ages of fifteen and twenty. Connections between tribes are common, and entitle the stranger to immunity from the blood-feud: men of family refuse, however, to ally themselves with the servile castes. Contrary to the Arab custom, none of these people will marry cousins; at the same time a man will give his daughter to his uncle, and take to wife, like the Jews and Gallas, a brother's relict. Some clans, the Habr Yunis for instance, refuse maidens of the same or even of a consanguineous family. This is probably a political device to preserve nationality and provide against a common enemy. The bride, as usual in the East, is rarely consulted, but frequent tête à têtes at the well and in the bush when tending cattle effectually obviate this inconvenience: her relatives settle the marriage portion, which varies from a cloth and a bead necklace to fifty sheep or thirty dollars, and dowries are unknown. In the towns marriage ceremonies are celebrated with feasting and music. On first entering the nuptial hut, the bridegroom draws forth his horsewhip and inflicts memorable chastisement upon the fair person of his bride, with the view of taming any lurking propensity to shrewishness. (138) This is carrying out with a will the Arab proverb,"The slave girl from her capture, the wife from her wedding."
During the space of a week the spouse remains with his espoused, scarcely ever venturing out of the hut; his friends avoid him, and no lesser event than a plundering party or dollars to gain, would justify any intrusion. If the correctness of the wife be doubted, the husband on the morning after marriage digs a hole before his door and veils it with matting, or he rends the skirt of his Tobe, or he tears open some new hut-covering: this disgraces the woman's family. Polygamy is indispensable in a country where children are the principal wealth. (139) The chiefs, arrived at manhood, immediately marry four wives: they divorce the old and unfruitful, and, as amongst the Kafirs, allow themselves an unlimited number in peculiar cases, especially when many of the sons have fallen. Daughters, as usual in Oriental countries, do not "count" as part of the family: they are, however, utilised by the father, who disposes of them to those who can increase his wealth and importance. Divorce is exceedingly common, for the men are liable to sudden fits of disgust. There is little ceremony in contracting marriage with any but maidens. I have heard a man propose after half an hour's acquaintance, and the fair one's reply was generally the question direct concerning "settlements." Old men frequently marry young girls, but then the portion is high and the ménage à trois common.
The Somal know none of the exaggerated and chivalrous ideas by which passion becomes refined affection amongst the Arab Bedouins and the sons of civilisation, nor did I ever hear of an African abandoning the spear and the sex to become a Darwaysh. Their "Hudhudu," however, reminds the traveller of the Abyssinian "eye-love," the Afghan's "Namzad-bazi," and the Semite's "Ishkuzri," which for want of a better expression we translate "Platonic love." (140) This meeting of the sexes, however, is allowed in Africa by male relatives; in Arabia and Central Asia it provokes their direst indignation. Curious to say, throughout the Somali country, kissing is entirely unknown.
Children are carried on their mothers' backs or laid sprawling upon the ground for the first two years (141): they are circumcised at the age of seven or eight, provided with a small spear, and allowed to run about naked till the age of puberty. They learn by conversation, not books, eat as much as they can beg, borrow and steal, and grow up healthy, strong, and well proportioned according to their race.
As in El Islam generally, so here, a man cannot make a will. The property of the deceased is divided amongst his children,--the daughters receiving a small portion, if any of it. When a man dies without issue, his goods and chattels are seized upon by his nearest male relatives; one of them generally marries the widow, or she is sent back to her family. Relicts, as a rule, receive no legacies.
You will have remarked, dear L., that the people of Zayla are by no means industrious. They depend for support upon the Desert: the Bedouin becomes the Nazil or guest of the townsman, and he is bound to receive a little tobacco, a few beads, a bit of coarse cotton cloth, or, on great occasions, a penny looking-glass and a cheap German razor, in return for his slaves, ivories, hides, gums, milk, and grain. Any violation of the tie is severely punished by the Governor, and it can be dissolved only by the formula of triple divorce: of course the wild men are hopelessly cheated, (142) and their citizen brethren live in plenty and indolence. After the early breakfast, the male portion of the community leave their houses on business, that is to say, to chat, visit, and flaner about the streets and mosques. (143) They return to dinner and the siesta, after which they issue forth again, and do not come home till night. Friday is always an idle day, festivals are frequent, and there is no work during weddings and mournings. The women begin after dawn to plait mats and superintend the slaves, who are sprinkling the house with water, grinding grain for breakfast, cooking, and breaking up firewood: to judge, however, from the amount of chatting and laughter, there appears to be far less work than play.
In these small places it is easy to observe the mechanism of a government which, en grand, becomes that of Delhi, Teheran, and Constantinople. The Governor farms the place from the Porte: he may do what he pleases as long as he pays his rent with punctuality and provides presents and douceurs for the Pasha of Mocha. He punishes the petty offences of theft, quarrels, and arson by fines, the bastinado, the stocks, or confinement in an Arish or thatch-hut: the latter is a severe penalty, as the prisoner must provide himself with food. In cases of murder, he either refers to Mocha or he carries out the Kisas--lex talionis--by delivering the slayer to the relatives of the slain. The Kazi has the administration of the Shariat or religious law: he cannot, however, pronounce sentence without the Governor's permission; and generally his powers are confined to questions of divorce, alimony, manumission, the wound-mulct, and similar cases which come within Koranic jurisdiction. Thus the religious code is ancillary and often opposed to "El Jabr,"--"the tyranny,"--the popular designation of what we call Civil Law. (144) Yet is El Jabr, despite its name, generally preferred by the worldly wise. The Governor contents himself with a moderate bribe, the Kazi is insatiable: the former may possibly allow you to escape unplundered, the latter assuredly will not. This I believe to be the history of religious jurisdiction in most parts of the world.