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SOMALI LEGENDS

I. FALL FROM PARADISE


II. GOG AND MAGOG
III. NEBI KHADAR - THE ITINERANT PROPHET
COMMENTARY: COMPARISON WITH
GILGAMESH
IV. ARAWEELO
V. END OF TIME
VI. BEAUTY OF JOSEPH
VII. ETIOLOGICAL STORIES
VIII. ANNIMAL LEGENDS (BURTON)
I. FALL FROM PARADISE

1. Creation
At the beginning God created the world, the
paradise, the hell and the angels. Later God
wanted to create Adam having in mind to put the
arrangement of the world into his hands. However,
the angels suggested to God that Adam would
bring a lot of trouble. In spite of this warning God
created Adam, he created him from clay. After that
he ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam.
All of them accepted to do so except the devil who
refused to execute the order of God. Instead of
saying: "I who has been created from the light of
God, how can I prostrate before a man created
from clay?" he said: "I who has been made from
hell-fire, how can I prostrate before a man created
from clay"?

2. Fall of the devil


The devil begged God to forgive him to have been
disobediant towards him. But God refused and took
away from him the rank of an angel. He expelled
him from heaven and told him that he would go to
hell. After that the devil implored God to let him
live until the day of resurrection. Again God
refused but he agreed to let him live until the day
of the blowing of the trumpet. At that time all
human beings will be disappearing except a few.
As for the devil he swore that between him and
Adam and his descendants there would be
animosity and fighting for ever. He would divert as
many as he could from the straight path.

3. Adam and Eve in Paradise


Meanwhile Adam felt lonely in Paradise, therefore
he implored God to give him a mate. God fulfilled
his wish by creating Eve from his left rib so that he
might not feel lonely and that they might multiply.
God said to Adam and Eve: "Live in Paradise
wherever you want, eat whatever you like, but do
not eat from that tree". The particular tree was one
of the many fruit bearing trees in Paradise. After
that God said also: "Beware of the devil, do not
listen to what he says, do not obey to him because
he is your enemy." Some times later the devil saw
Eve. When he saw that she was alone and that she
was not afraid of him he told her to come close to
him and to look at that well in front of them. Eve
looked into the well and saw the image of two
persons. The devil told her that the two persons
were Adam and another woman. Forgetting that
there were only two human beings in existence she
believed him. The devil went one step further and
said: "If you want that Adam loves only you, then
give him a fruit from that particular tree to eat". It
was the tree which God had instructed them not to
eat its fruit. Eve convinced Adam to eat a fruit from
that tree. By doing so Adam inadvertently
disobeyed God and succumbed to the trick of the
devil. This was the first time that the devil
succeeded to divert Adam and Eve from the
straight path.

4. Fall of Adam and Eve


God punished Adam and Eve by expelling them
from paradise. Adam was deeply penitent and
asked God to forgive him. God pardoned him but
instructed him and Eve to go to earth where they
should be responsible for all their dealings. From
that time onward they would have to account for
their sins.

5. Adam and Eve searching for each other When


Adam and Eve came down to earth they lost sight
of each other for one hundred years. Eve was
looking for Adam day and night without respite.
Adam however was looking for Eve only in day
time, while in the night he rested and relaxed.
When Eve finally found him she pretended that she
was not seriously searching for him. Adam instead
claimed that he was all the time looking for her.
This behaviour is characteristic for women who do
not like to show their feelings, while men are
outspoken about them.

6. Cain and Abel


Shortly after that Eve delivered Cain and a twin
sister. Later on she gave birth to Abel and also to
a twin sister. There was a divine law that a twin
boy should not marry his twin sister. Indeed, the
earliest inhabitants had no choice but to marry
their brothers and sisters in order to fulfil the divine
command und to populate the earth. Therefore
Cain was supposed to marry Abel's twin sister.
However, he preferred to marry his own twin sister
because she was more beautiful. Abel refused this
transgression of the order. This was the first
temptation of greediness that ever happened to
human beings and this happened between two
brothers. Cain considered his brother to be an
obstacle to his desire. Therefore in order to
achieve his purpose he killed his brother. Again,
this was the first murder that ever happened in
human history. For many years Cain carried the
dead body of his brother on his shoulders. Finally
God sent a raven which carried another dead bird
and which then scratched the earth in order to bury
that other bird. Cain saw what happened and he
imitated the raven's behaviour by burying his
brother.

7. Adam's gift to his descendants According to


what we were told, Adam was promised by God
that he would live for one thousand years, while
his descendents would not reach more than sixty
years. However, Adam donated sixty of his one
thousand years to his descendents, so that they
could reach one hundred and twenty years, while
he himself would only live up to nine hundred und
forty years. And so it was accomplished by the will
of God.

Commentary:
This is a legend traditionally told by Somali women
to their children. It is particularly appreciated by
children in the evening when they are not yet ready
to go to sleep. The Somalis consider that Adam
and Eve are the great grandfather and the great
grandmother of all human beings.

II. GOG AND MAGOG

1. Alexander erects a mountain Gog and Magoog


(Yaajuuj and Maajuuj) were two giants who lived
behind a mountain. People believe that they were
the last survivors of a race of giants whom Awes
al-Qarni (Alexander the Great) had put there in
order to protect the human beings from their
wickedness. Gog and Magog swore that they would
come one day back to this world.

2. Gog and Magog work hard In order to achieve


their come-back to the world Gog and Magog
digged all day long in the mountain. When it
became dark they had to stop digging saying to
each other: "We have to stop now because of
darkness. The remaining work we will finish
tomorrow". They returned the following day and
found that all the work of the previous day was for
nothing. Nevertheless they began to dig again and
continued until sunset. Once more they said to
each other: "Now there is not much work left.
Today it is too late, we will begin early the next
morning and finish the work then." But again their
work had disappeared. Thus, evry day their worked
from morning to evening. Sometimes they stopped
for a small break in order to drink and to eat. After
that they continued their work. Each evening they
thought that they would finish their task the next
morning. Evry evening the omitted to say In sha'
Allah "God willing" and evry morning they had to
begin once more. They continued working year
after year, century after century.

3. End of the world One day they will finally say In


sha' Allah and the next day they will end their work
and that will be the sign for the end of the world
(aakhir al-zamaan).
Some people continue the story by saying that God
will then interfer and prevent Gog and Magog to
accomplish their destruction. That will be the day
of judgement (yawm al-diin) followed by the day of
resurrection (yawm al-qiyaama).

Commentary:
According to the Coran XVIII, 83-98, Dhu al-
Qarnayn protected mankind against Gog and
Magog by a wall of iron built between two
mountains. There was no further attempt made by
Gog and Magog to break through that wall.
However, the Hadith and some early writers like
Tabari and Zamakhshari have similar stories as
those told by the Somali (see E. van Donzel and C.
Ott, "Yadjudj wa-Madjudj", Encyclopaedia of
Islam, XI, 2nd ed., Leiden 2002, 231-234).

III. NEBI KHADAR - THE ITINERANT PROPHET

1. The itinerant prophet According to the belief of


the Somalis, Nebi Khadar is a prophet, but not as
great as the Prophets Mohamed or Jesus,
wandering from one place to another. No one
knows when he knocks at his door, but everybody
has to be ready for these occasions in order to
receive him at anytime. Also, it is unknown in
which form Nebi Khadar will appear. He can show
up as an elegant man and he can also be dressed
very poorly.
The Somalis believe that he was granted eternal
life to which God attached certain conditions. He
must never stay very long at the same place, but
he is obliged to wander as the wind from one place
to another appearing and disappearing here and
there. He must never marry or settle down. He
prays for those who are friendly to him and who
are consequently bestowed with great riches.
Those who are unfriendly to him are ruined for
ever.

2. Nebi Khadar's blessing Nebi Khadar is


supposed to visit people’s houses mostly between
sunset and night and to often appear in the
disguise of a beggar. He then asks for alms only
once and in a low voice. If the person does not
hurry, Nebi Khadar will disappear quickly. It seems
that he gives often a present in a small box and he
advices people not to open it until morning. If
people follow his advice, they will be a very rich for
their whole life because they are thought to find in
this box never ending gold coins. Even more so,
their luck as rich persons will be inherited by their
descendants.

3. How to recognize Nebi Khadar There is another


story according to which Nebi Khadar can actually
be recognized by one characteristic. He is
supposed to have a right thumb with no bone in it,
but only flesh. Thus, if one shakes hands with Nebi
Khadar his thumb will bend backwards. If anyone
identifies him in this way, he must grasp his hand
until he gives him his blessing.

4. Reenactement of Nebi Khadar At Mogadishu


poeple expect any beggar knocking at the door by
the fall of the night to be Nebi Khadar. Poor people
and children benefit from this expectation by
chosing that time to ask for alms. Those in the
house will then rush and present their alm in order
not to disappoint the beggar who may prove to be
indeed Nebi Khadar.

COMMENTARY TO NEBI KHADAR:


Legends concerning Khadar or Khadir are
widespread in the Arabic World and one version is
even alluded to in the Kuran (XVIII, 59-81). They
more often deal with a 'saint' (wali or sayyid) than
with a 'prophet' (nabi) and they are thought to go
back to the Babylonian Epos of Gilgamesh, famous
for the quest of immortality (A. J. Wensinck, 'Al-
Khadir', Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st ed. vol. IV,
Leiden 1927, 862). In Islam the desir for eternal
life granted by a deity or obtained by a special
herb can of course only survive in disguise. Three
details of the Somali legend show nevertheless
particular proximity to the story of Gilgamesh: Nebi
Khadar is considered to be immortal (a status
which Gilgamesh tried to obtain); his blessing in
form of riches are thought to be an hereditary
property (they are thus something immortal); the
particularty concerning his thumb may be an
allusion to the herb of eternity (in the available
stories it was supposed to be eaten, but
alternatively it might have been winded abound the
thumb). For the Epos of Gilgamesh see T.
Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, New Haven
1976, 193-220. DL

IV. ARAWEELO

The folk tale of Araweelo fascinates Somali


imagination more than any other orally transmitted
story. It is normally told to girls, not to boys. Still,
Somali poets present her as a beautiful and strong
minded woman who was self confident and fully
determined to realise whatever she wanted. This
following is a brief account of the legend. 1. How
Araweelo came to power
Once upon a time there was a legendary queen
called Araweelo who ruled somewhere in Somalia.
Her father was the previous king who had her as a
daughter without any sons. Therefore she became
his successor when he died. Her idea was to
consolidate her reign by subduing men and
increasing the power of all women in her kingdom.

2. Women are superior to men According to


another version Araweelo was a woman who was
dissatisfied with the division of labour between
men and women consisting in the rulership of men
and the subordinate housework of women. Having
decided to change this situation unfair to all
females she went to the women and told them that
since they were giving birth to children they were
better qualified to rule than men. She said: “We
are more accommodating, more peaceful and more
practical then men”.

3. Elimination of men One day all men were busy


with their work. Therefore the women led by
Araweelo seized all the weapons, rounded up the
men and castrated most of them. Very few men
were saved from being eunuchs, because they
were needed for procreation. Whenever the women
of her kingdoms delivered a baby-girl the newborn
was accepted, if it was a baby-boy it was usually
castrated except for those spared for the survival
of mankind. Thus Araweelo could reign in all
security for a long time.

4. Araweelo’s daughter fell in love Only one elder


man called Oday Biiq (‘the wise coward’) could not
stand to be imprisoned. He succeeded to escape
and managed to survive in the wilderness. When
Araweelo’s daughter had grown up she happened
to met Oday Biiq in his solitude. She liked his
kindness and his good sense and fell in love with
him. Hence force she continued to see him in his
hiding place.

5. Araweelo’s daughter gave birth to a boy In due


time Araweelo’s daughter became pregnant and
when she gave birth the newborn was a baby-boy.
Araweelo wanted to castrate her grandchild but her
daughter convinced her to delay this decision until
he was an adolescent. But when this time came
the young man took the initiative and killed his
grandmother. Before dying Araweelo made a
statement in form of a legacy for all women: “Never
have confidence in any man”.

Commentary:
It is supposed that the grave of Araweelo is
somewhere in Sanaag. People say that men throw
stones on it while women put green leaves on it for
the respect for her memory.

Frequent uses of the name of Araweelo:

If a girl is overconfident in herself she is jokingly


compared with the legendary Araweelo. Some
parents name their daughter Araweelo, because
they simply admire this heroic Somali woman and
they hope that their girl will be strong like her.
Sometimes fathers make fun of their daughter, by
calling her Araweelo, while in fact they want to
encourage her to be strong minded. Somali women
say ironically of themselves that they have a touch
of Araweelo, when they feel that they were too
rough to others.

V. THE END OF TIME - ADUUNYO GADOON -


AKHIR AL-ZAMAN

1. Family

We will see many changes when the end of time is


near. People will not respect each other; everyone
will do whatever he wants regardless of the
consequences; children will refuse to obey to their
parents; parents themselves will not listen to each
other. There will be no love between couples but
only competition and hate. The husband will lie to
his wife and the wife will do the same to him.
Adultery will be wide spread. Men and women will
live together without marriage just for their
pleasure. If they decide to finish their cohabitation
at any time, they will just go apart. Brothers and
sisters will hate each others and compete
endlessly; some will even stop talking to one other
forever, so much they will be blinded by their
reciprocal hatred. Anger will and antagonism will
dominate them to the extent that they will avoid
seeing one another; some will even commit
fratricide.

2. Society

Dishonesty, corruption and perversity will invade


every aspect of life. Liars and deceivers will be
respected, usury and bribery will become virtues
and dishonesty will be the way of normal life.
People will drink alcohol everyday in great
quantities and will become so addicted to it that
nothing else matters except getting drunk and
hilarious. Man will multiply inventions and
constructions without limit and restraint. Scholars
will falsify truth and praise hypocrisy. Knowledge
will be vanishing and ignorance will become
dominant.

3. Polity

Rulers will prefer war to peace just for the pleasure


of destruction. They will be despots, oppress their
people and kill anyone according to their feeling at
the moment. The powerful will dictate whatever
they like and virtue will disappear.
Great and small leaders will be corrupt to their
bones, cruel and mischievous. Tyrants will rule in
many places in the world, the other places will fal l
into anarchy and chaos. Everywhere war will be
the rule and peace the exception, life will
be disrespected and death glorified.

4. Nature

There will be many signs that indicate the


approaching end of our universe: The sun will rise
in the west and set in the east, day will be night
and night day and people will not know when to
rest and when to work. There will be inundations
and earthquakes, thunder and chaos everywhere.
Man will be so terror-stricken that he will forget the
language to speak to his fellow-man but wild
animals will be able to communicate with the
people. There will be terrible droughts in many
places, producing famine and men will become like
beasts eating their fellow-men. Other places will be
over-flooded and the little left will be destroyed by
man’s fighting. Meteorites which fall on our earth
and destroy of nature what man left.

5. Punishment

In the end many false messiahs and self-


proclaimed prophets will appear performing great
spectacles, deceiving people’s eyes and giving
them false hopes. People will follow them without
hesitation and thus run into even greater
confusion. Finally at the end of time, God will send
a tremendous asteroid that will smash the earth
and let it fall into pieces. Thus he will put an end to
our planet because we deviated from his plan by
our foolishness, blindness and arrogances.

VI. BEAUTY OF JOSEPH - QURUH DII NEBI


YUUSUF

I. The lines on the hand

God created the beauty (quruh) and then divided it


into two. He gave one half to the prophet Joseph
and the other half to the normal human beings.
One day at the courtyard of the Pharaoh women
were cutting meat into thin long strips to prepare
oodka’ (the meat is cut and then dried). While
doing their work, they suddenly saw Joseph who
lived by that time in the Pharaoh’s palace passing
the courtyard. All of them were chocked and
overwhelmed by the beauty of the Prophet Joseph
so that each of them cut her hand. From that time
onward human beings have lines on their hands

II. The temptation of Nabi Yuusuf

The wife of the Pharaoh tried to attract the


attention of Yusuf by all means. One day she
ordered him to collect an object from her room.
She followed him and made advances to him.
When he refused to give in and tried to escape
from her instead, she got hold of him by his shirt.
He succeeded to free himself but a piece of his
shirt remained in her hands. Furious about the
humiliation to have been refused, she told the
people of the palace that Yusuf had tried to rape
her. Therefore Nabi Yusuf was thrown into prison
and he remained there until the day of judgement.
The judges were confronted with two versions of
what had happened. They came to the conclusion
that if the piece of the cloth was the front side of
the shirt then Yusuf was guilty and the wife of
Pharaoh was innocent, but if the piece belonged to
the back side of the shirt then Yusuf was the
innocent victim of a false accusation. When they
realized that it was the back side of the shirt, Yusuf
was set free and his honor was fully re-
established.

Note 1: When Somali popular singers - of gabay


and heeloo – want to describe the utmost beauty of
a woman they equalize it to the beauty of Prophet
Joseph (quruh dii nabi Yuusuf). It has to be
remembered that physical beauty – sometimes to
the detriment of character – is in Somali culture the
most important quality of human beings.

Note 2: The episode of cutting the hands exists in


a different form also in the Jewish legend of Nabi
Yusef. In this case the women were pealing
oranges with a knife and they cut their hands
because they could not turn away their eyes from
Yusuf who was overwhelmingly handsome.
Consequently the oranges in their hands were
covered with blood (Ginzberg, L., The Legends of
the Jews, vol. II, Philadelphia 1920, p. 51).

Note 3: The episode figures also in a different form


in Arab legends of Joseph . In stead of meat in the
Somali tale the Arabic version of al-Kisa’i has “the
women were cutting citrons in slices“(The tales of
the Prophets, tr. W. M. Thackston, Boston, 1978,
p.176). Moreover, the Somali tale is more explicit
by claiming that the lines on the hands of human
beings are from that time.

Shamsa Dirie
Comment:

The Somali legend of Nabi Yusuf is precious


because of its etiological nature, i.e. it explains a
particular feature of the human body. Since this
trait is absent from the Jewish and the Arab
versions of the story, the Somali version is at this
point presumably closer to the authentic but lost
Israelite story. DL

VII. ETIOLOGICAL STORIES


THE ORIGIN OF SCENTED GUM TREES
A very long time ago there was a Queen in the
Horn of Africa. One day, her kingdom was attacked
from all sides at the same time. By miracle she
succeeded to escape from her enemies and took
refuge somewhere in mountains in the north of
Somalia. There she bursts into tears and begged
God to make her a gift in order to comfort her
about the loss of her children and her kingdom. In
consequence, in all the places where her tears had
fallen scented gum trees begun to grow.

(Mohamed Abdi, Histoire des Croyances en


Somalie, Paris 1992, p. 61).
VIII. ANNIMAL LEGENDS (RICHARD BURTON)
According to a Somali legend the red and long-
legged plover bird (hidinhiito) was originally eating
meat and was first living with a society of birds of
prey. One night however her companions devoured
all the provisions while she slept. From that time
on she swore never to fly with friends, never to eat
flesh, and never to rest during the hours of
darkness. Therefore Legends concerning animals
When travelling in Northern Somalia 1854, Richard
Burton made the following interesting observation
concerning ideas the people have with respect to
certain animals.
when she sees anything in the dark she repeats
her oaths, and keeps careful watch all night. There
is a larger variety of this bird, which, purblind
during daytime, rises from under the traveller’s feet
with loud cries.
The Somali have also legendary ideas about
several other kinds of birds. There is for instance
the Galow whose cry is held to predict bad omens.
He is so called from his note Gal! Gal! Come in!
Come in! (gal or soo gal means indeed “come in”).
When the cry of the Galow is heard over a kraal,
the people say, "Let us leave this place, the Galow
has spoken!" At night they listen for the Fiin, also
an ill-omened bird. When a man declares "the Fiin
did not sleep last night," it is considered advisable
to shift ground.

Burton, Richard, First Footsteps in Africa, London


and New York, 1856, p. 118.