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The Gadabuursi Somali Script

Author(s): I. M. Lewis
Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 21,
No. 1/3 (1958), pp. 134-156
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies
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T the moment, both in the British Protectorateand in Somalia,the adoption

of a standard orthographyfor the Somali language is fiercely debated.1
In discussion of the merits of the various scripts proposed,technical problems
of orthographyhave to some extent been lost sight of. Nationalistic arguments
have favoured 'Somali writing' ('Ismaaniya) while religious or Pan-Islamic
argumentshave supported an Arabic script. This article 9 discusses an ortho-
graphy invented some 20 years ago by a well-known Gadabuursi sheikh,
Sheikh 'Abduratmaan Sh. Nuur, the present Government Q -tiof Borama
District 8 in the west of the British Protectorate. The script has not, as far as
I am aware, been previously described in the literature on Somaliland.4
I publish it here with no intention of attempting to contribute to the already
abundant confusion in the choice of a standard orthography for Somali.
Sh. 'Abdurahmaan'sscript is of considerablelinguistic and ethnologicalinterest,
since it seems, after 'Ismaaniya, to be the second non-Arabic Somali ortho-
graphy to be invented in Somaliland.6 The problems involved in devising
a script for Somali and the Sheikh's achievement can best be appreciatedif we
review briefly the history of attempts to write Somali, in Somaliland. We
are not concernedwith studies made by professionalEuropeanphilologists.

1 The dispute over the adoption of an orthographymay be studied from the numerousarticles
on the subject which have appearedover the past few years in British Somalilandin the periodical
WarSomali Sidihi, and in Somalia in II Corrieredela Somaliaand morerecently in Somaliad'Oggi.
A brave, if unwise, attempt to solve the problem was made in March 1957 by the Governmentof
Somalia which launched WargeyskaSomaliyed, a newspaper printed entirely in a phonetically
accurate but simple transcription of Somali in roman characters. The publication of this
journal, using roman charactersas a medium for Somali, raised such a storm of popular protest-
especially from the advocates of 'Ismaaniya-that it had to be withdrawnfrom publication after
a few numbershad appeared.
2 I
spent a little under two years, during 1955-7, mainly in the British Protectorate, as Fellow
in Social Anthropology of the Colonial Social Science Research Council, London, to whose
generosity I am greatly indebted for financingmy research.
3 Place-names in this article are normally spelt according to general Administrative usage
in the Protectorate. In writing other Somali words Andrzejewski's transcription as used in
Bell, 1953, and Andrzejewski and Galaal, 1956, is followed. Proper names of persons although
of Arabic origin in many cases are represented in this orthography with their Somali pronuncia-
tion. The Somali pronunciation of other Arabic expressions used is also indicated.
4 The expression ' Somaliland ' is used here to denote all the Somali countries, and not simply
the British Protectorate.
5 Several attempts appear to have been made by Somalis, with in many cases European
encouragement-governmental or missionary-to write Somali in roman characters. Such
scripts-other than the conventional systems used by officials for writing personal and place-
names in roman characters-have acquired little or no general currency. Adaptations of roman
characters to represent Somali sounds are, of course, not inventions in the sense that the Gada-
buursi and cIsmaaniya scripts are.

I. Arabic Scripts
The introductionof Arabic into northern Somalilandis generallyattributed
to Sheikh Yuusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn (or Aw Barkhadle,as he is popularly
known) of ashrdf descent, said to have come to Somaliland as a proselytizer
of Islam in the thirteenth century.l The Sharif advancedthe teaching of Arabic
to Somalis by devising a Somali nomenclature for the Arabic vowels, fatha,
kasra, and damma, as shown. Alif with fatha is called in Somali alif la
kordabey(-) 2; alif with kasra is in Somali alif la hoosdabey(1)3; and alif
with dammais in Somali alif la godey (t).4 This Somali nomenclaturefor the
vocalization of the Arabic consonants is taught to this day in private Qur'anic
schools throughout the country. The system attributed to Sharif Yuusuf
enabled his Somali pupils to learn to read and write Arabic. There is no early
record, however, as far as is known, of any Arab having adapted Arabic script
as a vehicle for writing Somali. But it is not unreasonableto suppose that
Somalis with a knowledge of Arabic have for many centuries written a some-
times ungrammaticalArabic containing many Somali words as they still do
Apart from the small proportionof the population who have learnt Arabic
in Governmentschools,ability to write in Arabicis generallylimited to wadaads,5
sheikhs, and businessmen or merchants, who have learnt in private Qur'anic
schools. Most children have at one time or another spent some time, if only
a few months, learning by heart under a sheikh or teacher (macallin) some
chapters from the Qur'an. But although the standard of Islamic instruction,
including Arabic, is often quite high amongst those who have spent years at
such schools, the proportion of the population who can write as well as read
Arabic is relatively small. This can be appreciatedfrom the fact that a man
can enjoy the title of sheikh without being able to write much Arabic and with
only a very limited ability to read the language. Anyone who devotes his life
to religion is a wadaad, however slight his acquaintance with Arabic. Many
men who practise as wadaads, presiding over local religious ceremonies (all
sacrifices,Rabbibari,6the Friday Prayers-if the congregation in a district is
sufficiently large to warrant their observance, dhikrs (in Somali pronunciation
dikri-ga),siyaaros, and the mawliids of saints, and all other religiousoccasions)
and acting as unofficial local qad.s, know only sufficient Arabic to read from
1 The Sharff's tomb which is the scene of an annual pilgrimage (siyaaro-da)mainly for the
clans of the Ishaaq clan-family is situated some 20 miles to the north-east of Hargeisa. See
Webber, 1956. For an indication of the Sharif's role in Somali tradition, see Lewis, 1956, 153.
I hope to discuss the Sharlf more fully elsewhere.
2 Lit.'
alif (which) is surmounted'.
3 Lit. alif (which)is undercut '.
4 Lit.'
alif (which) is hollowed-out '.
5 Wadaadis a Somali synonym for the Ar. sheikh, but in Somaliland the word sheikh often
denotes a slightly higher status in religion than does wadaad.
6 Literally, ' begging, or beseeching, God'. Other expressions are also used, as e.g. AUaah-
bari, and in Hawiye dialect the probably pre-Islamic compounds Waaq da:il and Waaq dacin,
from Waaq, one of the pre-Islamic Cushitic names of God.
136 I. M. LEWIS

the religious books 1 which they have learnt by heart. Of course everyone,
whether he be a wadaador sheikh, or ordinary member of the public,2prays
in Arabic. But although only a small fraction of the total Somali population
can write Arabic a considerable religious literature which must comprise
several thousand poems (qasidas)in praise of the Prophet and the saints has
been producedin Arabic, or a mixture of Arabicand Somali,3by Somali sheikhs
and wadaads. Some of these qasidas(in Somali pronouncedqasiida) have been
written in good Arabic by Somali sheikhs with an excellent knowledge of the
language acquiredlocally from especially learned teachers or studied in travel
abroad in Arabia, Egypt, and the Sudan. Indeed there is a much richerlitera-
ture in Arabic, mainly of Sufistic works, than is generally realized outside
Somaliland. It is hoped to indicate something of the range and quality of this
Somali literatureat a later date.4
With respect to knowledge of Arabic the population may be divided into
three classes, those who know a little,6 those who can read and write a little,
and those who are expert in both reading and writing. The last are a small
but increasingminority. The middle group have given rise in religionand trade
to a type of writing which is known, not inappropriately,as ' wadaad'swriting '
(or 'wadaad's Arabic '). This is an ungrammaticalArabic containing some
Somali words, the proportion of Somali naturally varying with the context.
The calligraphyis usually also inexpert and often obscure. ' Wadaad'swriting'
is used by merchants,in business, in letter-writing,in the writing of petitions,6
1 The most commonly studied religious works are standard authorities on the Sharica,
mainly of the Shafi'ite school to which the majority of Somali adhere, with, of course, the Qur'an
and various compilationsofbadiths. The Sufi Dervish Orders(Qaadiriya,Ahmadiya-Rahmaaniya,
Ahmadiya-Saalihiya, and Ahmadiya-Dandaraawiya, to name the principal tariqas) provide
in their literature, hagiologies (manaaqibs),poetry (qasiidas),etc., a rich source of reading material
for the student of religion. Outside the tariqas, strictly, but associated with them are the hagio-
logies and poems composed in honour of Somali clan and lineage ancestors, transmuted in Somali
Islam into Siufisaints. For Somali Sufism see Cerulli, 1923, and Lewis, 1956. It is hoped shortly
to publish a more up-to-date appraisal of Sufism in Somaliland.
2Men are traditionally divided by profession into those who are warriors (waranlek)and
those who devote their lives primarily, whatever subsidiary occupation they may pursue, to
religion (wadaad).
3 Text I, below, p. 144, is a good example of a Somali qasiida.
4 Few works by Somali writers have been published but there are many original manuscripts,
some of which one hopes may some day be printed in Mogadishu. Sayyid Mahammad Abdilleh
Hassan (b. 1864, d. 1920, the celebrated 'Mad Mullah '), for example, has left a considerable
number of MSS. Some of the better known published works are the majmuCatal-mubdraka
of Sh. CAbdallahibn Yuusuf al-Qalanqooli (of the Qaadiriya), Cairo, 1918-19 (see Cerulli, 1923,
22-5); the majmiuat al-qasd'id collected by the same author, Cairo, 1949, very popular amongst
members of the Qaadariya Order in Somaliland; and Sh. 'Abdurahmaan az-Zeilaci's Arabic
grammar,fath al-latif, Cairo, 1938. An interesting secular work is mentioned below.
5 This group comprises, of course, the majority of the population since everyone knows the
Muslim prayers in Arabic (the daily prayers) and a few Arabic words.
6 Broken English is also frequently used in petition writing. Both it and obscure wadaad's
writing have the great merit, where the writer wishes (and no doubt frequently involuntarily)
of enabling the petition to be couched in legal ambiguity so that the meaning of finer points of
detail is seldom clear. This provides the writer with talking points should dispute arise con-
cerningthe meaning of the petition.

and in the writing of qasidas by wadaads whence its name is derived. The
principalobscuritiesin this writing are due to the lack of a standardconvention
for representing Somali words and failure to mark the Arabic short vowels.
These are difficultiesinherent in the differencesbetween the Arabic and Somali
alphabets, quite apart from the additional errors in grammar. Those of the
younger generation who have learnt correct Arabic in Government schools
usually find 'wadaad's writing' difficult if not impossible to read.
Somali contains 22 consonants: ',1 b, t,2 j, 4,8g, a, kh, h, d,4 r, s,6 sh, ',
f, q, k, , m, n, w, y6; the eight Arabic consonants j, i, ,, ^,I, ~,
do not occur in pure northern Somali.8 In Somali there are ten vowels:
five short and five long; a, i, u, o, e, and aa, ii, uu, oo, ee.9 From the point of
view of writing Somali in Arabic characters the first requirement is for two
symbols to represent Somali ( and g, the latter being a separate sound fromj.
Thereis no standardconvention in' wadaad'swriting' and Somali dis variously
written, , J, and J1. Somalig is usually written ,. The voiced dental plosive
d is usually written z, and the Somali s which correspondsto the Arabic 'y,
and should be written thus is sometimes in ' wadad's writing' written ,p,
as e.g. in Soomaali written sometimes, Jl^,. Arabic lacks symbols for the
Somali vowels e, ee, and o, oo, although these can be representedapproximately
by other combinations in Arabic. Since, however, ' wadaad'swriting' usually
omits the short vowels it is extremely difficult to read unless the meaning
is clearfrom the context which is by no meansalwaysthe case. When in addition
to this the writing contains both Somali and Arabicwordsand is ungrammatical
the difficultyof readingit can easily be appreciated. The followingletter 10may
serve as an illustration:

1 The
glottal stop.
2 The Arabic ;.
3 The voiced post-alveolar
4 The voiced dental
plosive, correspondingto the Arabic .. Moreno, 1955, 8, includes also
a, a Somalization of the Arabic i. But this sound seems very rare in northern Somali.
s Correctlythe Arabic ,.
Andrzejewski introduces an additional consonant y, which he describes as 'acoustically
similar to y but less tense and darker ', Andrzejewskiand Galaal, 1956, 2.
7 The is sometimes in eastern Somaliland
q pronounced as the Arabic .
a There are slight dialectal differencesin the speech of the cIise clan in the west, the central
Ishaaq, and the Daarood in the east, and again between the Daarood and the Hawiye (all of
whom are collectively ' Samaale', see Lewis, 1955, 15) but these are slight compared with the
differences between these as a whole and the Banaadir and Rahanweyn dialects of southern
Somalia; cf. Andrzejewski and Galaal, loc. cit., 1. See also Moreno, loc. cit., passim.
9 Both Armstrong, 1934, and
Andrzejewski, 1955, 568, distinguish two values for each of the
ten vowels according as the vowel is articulated with or without 'fronting'.
o1 The original, written in pencil, could not be reproducedand the block has accordingly been
made from a carefully traced copy.
138 I. M. LEWIS

6 J,
o' CJp 0

5,:jp, Lq_ 4S '

uc csW>> -J

(^^- cA\

_s^LJl -6-

cjS .
>i;u6 4; ^)1 L ^jL ^ 1 >cr
1 ^v 1

1 cAinabo, a small town in the east of the Protectorate.

Buraco, a large town in the east of the Protectorate.
Habar Jaclo, a large Ishaaq clan in the east and centre of the Protectorate.
4 Somalifariin-ta' message '.
English' rations ', Somalizedto raahin-ka.
Somali reer-ka 'nomadic family, household, family, people'.
7 Somalimaa-ka ' family'.

An advance in the application of the Arabic script to represent Somali

was made by the famous Qaadiriyasaint, Sh. Uwais ibn Mahammadal-Baraawi,
of the Tunni Golgaal clan, who died at Biyoley in southern Somalia in 1919.1
Sh. Uwais is the founder of the Uwaisiiya branch of the Qaadiriya.tarqa to
which the majority of those who follow this Orderin southernSomaliabelong.'
The Sheikh has written many well-known works some of which are published
in the two collections compiled by Sh. 'Abdallah ibn Yuusuf al-Qalanqooli
mentioned above. Sh. Uwais applied to the Digil 8 dialect of southern Somalia
the Arabic transcriptionadopted by the Swahili-speakingAmarani of Brava 4
in writing their dialect, Bravanese. In this orthographythe Somali dis written
J,, and the g 4, as in Persian. The hamzais written internally as otherwise
as in Arabic. The vowel points are always inserted. The Somali vowels e and o
are written ay and aw. One of the Sheikh's best known qasidasis published by
Professor M. M. Morenowith a phonetic transcriptionand translation, and it
is not necessaryto illustrate the script here.5
Some 20 years ago in the British Protectorate, Sheikh Mahammad'Abdi
Makaahiil,6 following his predecessor, Sh. Ibraahim 'Abdallah Mayal in his
attempts to standardize' wadaad'swriting' published a most interesting little
book, ' The institution of modern correspondencein the Somali language '.
This comparatively unknown work consists of an introduction in which the
suitability of the Arabic script for writing Somali is urged and a standard
orthography proposed. The author then illustrates his script with examples
of Somali letters, sentences, and proverbs. Sh. Mahammadrepresents the
Somali Qby l, and the g by a barredkaf ~. The Sheikhrecognizesthe difficulty
in representingthe Somali vowels e and o. He states that in Somali a and i
cannot always be distinguished and represents vowel sounds intermediate
between a and i by the joint use offatha and kasra. Thus he writes Eebbahay
' my God9'l
eJ and erer' height' j5. The problemof writing the vowel o
is attacked, somewhat picturesquely,by using the symbol o- for dammawhen
it is' awkwardto pronounce'. Thus talo' advice' is written J:.
Recently Muuse Haaji Ismaa'iil Galaal (Habar Ja'lo, Ishaaq), following
in the wake of his predecessorsin the Protectorate,has proposeda more radical
alteration of Arabic to representSomali.8 Here the q and g are representedby
1 For the Tunni of southern Somalia, see Lewis, 1955, 32 and passim. For further informa-
tion concerningthe Sheikh see the majmuaatal-mubdrakamentioned above and Cerulli, 1923, 12,
In northern Somaliland, on the other hand, most of the Qaadiriya follow the teaching of
Sh. 'Abdurahmaanaz-Zeilaci.
8 For the Digil see Lewis, 1955, 31 if., and for their dialect, Moreno, 1955, 327 ff.
? See Lewis, op. cit., 42 ff. 6 Moreno,loc. cit., 364-7.
e Of the Ishaaq, Habar Awal clan.
7 Published in Bombay, A.H. 1345, as 4.JLWJIil WI JaluJI zL;SI l?;3l.
8 Galaal, 1954. In his original article, Muuse Galaal used , to represent Somali j, but
has since decided, more logically, to use this letter for Somali g.
1 1
140 I. M. LEWIS

and y respectively, and an entirely original set of symbols for the Somali
vowels are introduced. The new vowel signs are a J, i 9 , u J, e o ., 3,
and the long vowels ee X and oo f. The long vowels aa and ii are repre-
sented by the Arabic I and 5. The glottal stop is written as in Arabic. The
sign v' is added to any final new symbol. Examples of the use of the script
are given in MuuseGalaal's article. This development by a Somali trained in
phonetics may be consideredas the most accurateArabic script yet devised for

II. Non-Arabic Scripts

1. 'Ismaaniya
The well-known 'Ismaaniya (Osmaniya)or 'Somali writing' was invented
about 1920 by 'Ismaan Yuusuf Kenadiid, brother of 'Ali Yuusuf (Daarood,
Majeerteen),1Sultan of Obbia in Somalia. The script was noticed by Marcello
Orano, and later by Dr. Cerulli.2 It has been widely publicized, by Dr. M.
Maino who has given the fullest descriptions,3and by 'Ismaan Yuusuf's son,
Yaasiin (the well-known authority on Somali language and literature) in
Somalia. The orthography is little known and virtually never used in the
British Protectorate 4 although it is widely known and quite often used in
Somalia. Even in Somalia, however, its currency falls short of that of the
different varieties of 'wadaad's Arabic' writing. Phonetically 'Ismaaniya
is highly accurate.s Thereare new symbols for each of the 22 Somali consonants
except the glottal stop, which can be representedby hamza. In practice it is
usually omitted. The ten vowels, five long and five short, are representedby
eight new symbols and the consonantsfor y (ii) and w (uu). There are also ten
The most striking feature of the script is, of course, that in contrast to
Arabic it is written from left to right. With the exception of the glottal stop
(if used) the symbols bear little or no resemblanceto any Arabic characters.
In contrast to the strict phonetic character of the letters, 'Ismaaniya has
certain definite etymological or quasi-etymologicalfeatures.7 Thus the article
is usually written separately from the noun which it qualifies, as in geed ka
'the tree', aqal kiisa 'his house', etc. Vowel mutations which occur in
speech on the addition of certain suffixes8 are not always phonetically repre-

1 For the Somali Daarood clan-family, see Lewis, 1955, 18 ff.

2 E. Cerulli, ' Tentativo indigeno di formare un alfabeto somalo ', OrienteModerno,xir, 4,
1932,212-13. 3 Maino, 1951,1953.
4 Some emphasis has been given to 'Ismaaniya, regarded as a national Somali script by the
Somali Youth League political party. The script is sometimes used, symbolically, as much as
practically, in S.Y.L. proceedings in the Protectorate.
5 See Maino, 1953, 26 ff., and Moreno, 1955, 290 ff.
6 For alphabet see n. 3 on next page.
7 cf. Maino,loc. cit., 26 ff. 8 See Bell, 1953, 7 ff.

sented. Some writers of 'Ismaaniya write etymologically,aabbehii for aabbihii

'the father ', magaalo da for magaalada' the town '. Similarlyan apostrophe
is inserted in cIsmaaniyato denote an absent consonant in a suffix mutation
as e.g. maga"a for maga'a 'the name', where the masculine article has been
changed to ain in agreement with the final ain of the unqualified noun.'
Similarly 'Ismaaniya writes geel'a for geela 'the camels'. The modification
of the feminine article ta when attached to a final I to sha is written
etymologically, as in (uiul sha for the pronunciation(utusha ' the charcoal';
ul sha for usha 'the stick', etc.2 The mutations which occur with the final
consonants of verb stems in the third person feminine and second person
1 See Bell, loc. cit., 12.
2 See Bell, loc. cit., 8.
3 The
alphabet is:

b t j c g t1i Kh

- 0o 7 b4 v
h d r s sbh f

q k I m z X y
q k I TO n GD y

h I
Q i u 0 e QQ Ui

W.t 00 ee

The numerals are:

5 &
7 9 0O
142 I. M. LEWIS

of the reflexiveconjugationare written etymologically,e.g. (aladtay for alattay

'you are/she is born', etc.
These features are generally absent in the Gadabuursiscript as written
by its inventor, Sheikh 'Abdurahmaan,although he sometimes writes the
article suffix separately from the noun which it qualifies.1
2. The GadabuursiOrthography
This script was devised in about 1933 by Sheikh 'AbdurahmaanSheikh
Nuur of the chieflylineage (ReerUgaas) of the Gadabuursiclan.2 Sh. 'Abdurah-
maan's father, Sh. Nuur, is a well-knownfigureand was for many years Govern-
ment Q-aI of BoramaDistrict in the west of the Protectorate. After some years
as a teacher of religion in the Education Department, Sh. 'Abdurahmaan
succeeded-his father as Qd-i at Borama and holds this post at present. He
is a learnedman with a wide knowledgeof the history of his clan.3 The script
is known and used only by a small circle of the Sheikh's associates in Borama
and outside the Gadabuursicountry very few people have heard of it. Unlike
'Ismaaniyathe scripthas not beentakenup seriouslybyanyprotagonistof written
Somali. Nor does Sh. 'Abdurahmaanhimselfregardhis invention as a contribu-
tion to the problemof findinga nationalorthographyforSomali. For these reasons
the script has languishedin obscurity and the few modificationswhich would
make it phonetically as accurate as 'Ismaaniya have failed to be introduced.4
The script has no character for the glottal stop (although hamrzacould
be employed as in 'Ismaaniya) and there are 21 consonants:

b t j 4 $ h

t1 T 53 6
kh h d r s sh

7 i
7 I r n
K t m

n 1, y
1 See the examples below.
a The Gadabuursi clan inhabit the west of the British Protectorate and the northern part
of the Harar province of Ethiopia. See Lewis, 1955, 25.
8 He has written in Arabic some MSS on Gadabuursihistory.
4 My attention was first drawn to the script by my friend Mr. J. Gethin, H.M. Consul,
Mogadishu. I studied the script with its inventor, Sh. cAbdurahmaan,while on a visit to the
Gadabuursiof Borama District.

The seven vowels are:

T H I I C Cc
a e i ii u tuu


In contrast to 'Ismaaniya the consonants y and w are not used as vowels

except in diphthongs. Short o is normally written as u (C) and there is no
differentiation between a and aa, and e and ee. These failings could very
easily be remedied with only slight modifications in the script. As with
'Ismaaniya the script is written from left to right and the article suffixes are
sometimes separated from their nouns. But the other etymological features
of 'Ismaaniyaare lackingand in this respect the script is potentially phonetically
more accurate than 'Ismaaniya. None of these Somali orthographies take
account of tone (which is not always important) 1 but they could easily be
written with tone marks where necessary. Six texts written by Sh. 'Abdurah-
maan are publishedhere with transliterations(in italics) and phonetically more
accurate transcriptions (in roman type). Fairly literal English translations
accompany the texts.2
1 For the problem of tone in Somali, see Andrzejewski, 1956.
2 Mr. Muuse Galaal and Mr. Yuusuf Maygaag have very kindly advised me in the writing of
this article and in the transcription and translation of the texts. I wish to thank also Mr. F. J.
Raine of the Education Department, British Somaliland, for his expert help in the preparationof
scripts and texts for the printers.

1 1 *
144 I. M. LEWIS


A Qasiida in praise of the Prophet

TUIM 7C611

Ya nabiyi salatu wa salamu caleka

Ya nebiyi salaatu, wa salaamu 'aleyka
QasiidanqorayayRabowa iga qalocin
Qasiidaanqorayaaye,Rabbow hayga qalloo'in
Quruh-diinabigeniya qiyasi karaya
Quruhdiinebigeenii,yaa qiyaasi karaaya
Qorja-dii timihiisa jigta logu qiyasay

Qurcadii timihiisa, cegtaa loogu qiyaasay

Qurai dad argtenbuu qariyuuka 'adaday
Qorrahdaadaragteen buu, qariyuu ka 'addaaday
Haduu qafilora'o qamamkuu haiinayay
Hadduu qaafilo raa'o, qamaamkuuha4inaayay
Quri-gii qutanshanaquyan buu nuqunayay
Qorigiiqotonshaana,qoyaan buu noqonaayay
Nin hadayis qabtanaqolthunmuu olanayno
Nin hadday is qabtaanna, qawlhun muu ocannayno
Qalbigigiisiyulabtaqushkiiba laga mayiay
Qalbigiisiyolaabtana, qushkii baa laga may4ay
Qdad kiisa nin joga qalbiguuka arkayay
Qadaadkiisanin jooga, qalbiguu ka arkaayay
Qusulkiisu ma (afin ioluhuu yara qawin
Qosolkiisuma qaafin, 4oolluhuu yara qaawin


All hail Prophet, may blessing and peace be upon Thee.

May the qasida I write flow smoothly, Master.
The beauty of our Prophet, who can gauge ?
His waving hair, reaches to His ears.
He eclipsed the sun, and shines more brightly.
The caravanHe accompanied,travelledundershade-givingclouds.2
The dead stick which He sets upright, becomesgreen 3 (with life).
If He quarrelledwith a man, He would not insult him.
His heart and breast, are pure from all evil and uncleanness.
The man who stands behind him, He sees in his heart.4
When He laughed He never exposed, more than His canine teeth.5
In these translations I have tried to adhere as closely as possible to the literal meaning
within the requirements of reasonably intelligible English. This is probably most difficult in a
qasiida although it is difficult also in Somali secular poetry because of the use of imagery and
metaphor. This qasiida was written by Sh. Ismaciil Farah (d. c. 1910) of the Habar Awal clan
(Reer Ahmad). For the Habar Awal clan, see Lewis, 1955, 23 ff. The qasiida is well-known
in the Protectorate.
2 When the
Prophet went with a caravan he caused clouds to shade its journey.
3 Qoyaan,lit.' wet' as opposed to qori'
dry, dead wood '. The phrase refersto the miraculous
life-giving power of the Prophet.
4 This sentence means simply that through his miraculouspower, the Prophet would be aware
of the presence of someone standing behind him.
s This sentence refers to Wadit
describing the Prophet's demeanour when he smiled which
has set a style of propriety in expressing pleasure or mirth. This religious tradition is probably
associated with the common Somali idea that a man who opens his mouth wide when he smiles or
laughs is not to be trusted.
The following words have the Arabic correspondencesshown: nebi Ar. n-b-y; salaat Ar.
s-l--t; salaam Ar. s-l--m; caleybaAr. C-l-y-k; qasiida Ar. q-s-y-d-t; Rabbi Ar. r-b; qiyaasi
Ar. q-y-'-s; qaaflo Ar. q-'-f-l-t; qamaam Ar. g-m-'-m; qawl (in the compound qawl2un) Ar.
q-w-l; qalbigii Ar. q-l-b.
146 L M. LEWIS


A letterfrom Borama


Walal kii an je'la, Husen. Salamad.
Walaal kii an je'laa, Huseen. Salaamad.
Anagu wa nabad. Rer kii wuhu yal Doobo.
Annagu waa nabad. Reer kii wutiu yaal Doobo.
Awr kii wenawaha 'unay libah. 'Ali na wuu yimid.
Awr kii weyna waha 'unay libaah. 'Ali na wuu yimid.
Alabti way na soo ga4ay. Noo soo dir subag.

Alaabtii way na soo gaa4ay. Noo soo dir subag.

Hooyanaway timid. Walal ka Guuledwuhu
Hooyana way timid. Walaal kaa Guuleedwuhu
tagay Hargesa.
tegay Hargeysa.
Nuur Bile
Nuur Bile


My beloved brother, Huseen. Peace.
I am well,2the reer3 is at Doobo.4
The big burden camel has been eaten by a lion. 'Ali has come.
The goods have been received by us. Send us (some) ghee.
Ourmotherhas come. Your 5brotherGuuleedhas gone to Hargeisa.6
Nuur Bile,
1 The ancient but now deserted town, at various times capital of the Muslim state of Awdal
(ninth/tenth-sixteenth centuries), on the north-west coast of the British Protectorate. Well-
known place-names are here spelt as in common administrative usage in the Protectorate.
2 Lit. ' it is
peace ', meaning above all spiritual equilibrium, not simply the absence of war.
A rather perfunctory greeting, as here, the writer would be somewhat disturbed by the loss of the
3 Here, the nomadic hamlet, comprising a man's hut, sheep and goats, and possibly some
milch camels and cattle, with his wife and children (by her) and probably a few families of close
kin with their huts and stock. Each wife normally has one hut. The word reer is also used in
other more general senses, as e.g. to mean ' people ', but this is its basic meaning. For a general
introduction to the structure of nomadic Somali society see my The Somali lineage systemand the
total genealogy (duplicated), Hargeisa, Somaliland Protectorate, 1957.
4 A village in the west of the Protectorate.
5 The article -kaa indicates that the person spoken of is more directly related to the recipient
of the letter than to the sender. This possibly refersto the recipient and sender being of different
mothers (Som. kala hooyo).
6 The
capital of the British Protectorate, of recent foundation and with no traditions of
any considerable antiquity.
7 The administrative centre of Borama District in the west of the Protectorate, home of

Sh. CAbdurahmaanauthor of our script.

148 I. M. LEWIS


A Gabayby Ugaas Nuur



Wadayici Ugas Nuur

Waha yi4i Ugaas Nuur
Eboownin ii daran mahandartahurese7shay.
Eebbow nin ii daran mahaan daarta hore seehshay.
Jiilku nin unoo doonanmaian hadalu siidayay.
Ji4ku nin anu doonayn mahaan hadal u sii daayay.
Ma dagdagey iajadamahanrag u dulqadyeshay.
Ma degdeg ey hajada mahaan rag u dulqaad yeeshay.
Nin ii daqsanayamaTanmalabdurduursiiyay.
Nin ii daaqsanayaamahaan malab durduursiiyay.
Goortandawarkau roogooen keladau dadshu.
Goortaandawaarkau rogo een heeladda u daadsho.
Dabin kan u iigay kulkuudagalkasoo saroo.
Dabin kaan u 'igay kolkuu degelka soo saaro.
Isagoon dikniin qabinmahankaga dayan siiyay.
Isagaan digniin qabin mahaan kaga dayaan siiyay.


As Ugaas Nuur said,l

Oh God! 2 How often have I made a man hostile to me sleep in the
front part of the house.3
How often have I allowed a man against whom my flesh turned to
continue speaking.
I am not hasty in dispute,4how often have I shown forbearance.5
How often have I given a second helping of honey 6 to the man who
only waited to hurt me.
When I turn the sewing machine and scatter the seeds of treachery
(or trickery).7
The trap 8 which I have preparedfor him (my enemy) when he sets his
chest 9 on top of it.
How often have I caught him unawares.10

1 Lit. ' What Ugaas Nuur said'. Ugaas Nuur Ugaas Roobleh, Sultan (Ugaas) of the Gada-
buursi clan, is said to have died about 1898.
2 Eebbeis an ancient and still-used Somali name for God.
3 This rhetorical continuative
emphasized in the arrangement of the words is continued
throughout the gabay. For information on Somali folk-literature and poetry see Kirk, 1905,
170 ff., Maino, 1953, 44 ff., and Laurence, 1954, 5 ff.
' Lit. ' in the matter '.
5 Lit. 'yielded patiently to people (rag)'.
6 Metaphor for any kind, or sweet, action as rendered here by the speaker to his enemy.
7 The speaker sows a scheme of treachery to catch his enemy. From his brooding will come
the seeds of the plan which will secure his enemy's downfall. Daadi 'to scatter' is used of feeding
grain to poultry.
8 A trap for wild animals and game.
9 Degel-kausually means an old camp-site, deserted, but sometimes returned to; here it has
the less common meaning of chest associated with the idea of bringing near. The whole theme
of the poem is that the speaker bides his time waiting only until the time is ripe to strike his
enemy. The proud nomad does not forget an insult although he may appear to do so.
10 The construction here is involved. The speaker gave his enemy dayaan (lit. ' the crashing
sound of a blow') with some unstated object implied in the use of kaga. The first three words
mean 'without him taking warning'.

VOL. XXI. PART 1. 11

150 I. M. LEWIS


A Geeraarby 'Ali Bu'ul


nT Tf 3D3TU
q3DTU;3.fU I1TrT
T nfT


Gerar,'Ali Bu'ul, wuhuyi1i,

Geeraar,'Ali Bu'ul, wuiu yi4i,

Bulahargudubked iyoo
Bullahar gudubkeediyo
Almis goodyadeedaiyu
Almis goodiyadeedaiyo
Gubkawen Hargesaiyu
Gobka weyne Hargeysa iyo
Galihii Haraw ayuu
Galihii Haraw ayuu
Galabis ku marayh
Galabisku maraayeh
Ma daruurgudgudayoo
Ma daruurgudgudaayoo
Gulahuku hifna nana
Golohuuku hi4naana
Goohwenba kabahyay
Gooh weyn baa ka bahaayaye
Ma ar goosanwatayoo
Ma aar goosan wataayoo
Goobangoobin 'idla
Iyuu gelal soo tu iya
Ayuu geelal soo tu'yaaye
Ma gub reroofdayoo
Ma gob reeroQa'daayoo
Hal garad ka dushiisa iyoo
Hal garaadkadushiisa iyo
Guudka buu ka 'adad'y
Guudkabuu ka 'adaaday
A ma galool ubailayoo
E ma galool ubahlaayoo
152 I. M. LEWIS


Geeraar,'Ali Bu'ul, what he said,

Bulhar 2 and beside it, and the country of Almis,3

And Hargeisa with its great gob tree,4 and the valley of Harawa,5in
an evening he compassed,
Is he the speeding rain-cloud? 6
From the place 7 he was tethered, a great noise came forth,
Is he the leader of a pride of lions ? 8
In the lonely camp (of the raiders), he (brings) the (stolen) camels to
Is he (like) the noblemen10laying waste the camps ?
The long hairs of his tail, and mane are pure white,1'
Is he the acacia tree in flower ? 12

1In this poem the poet praises his horse. Very many geeraarhave such a theme.
2 A small town, formerly more important and prosperous than it is to-day, to the west of
Berbera in the Protectorate.
3 A mountain in the west of the Protectorate.
4 The gob (Zizyphousmauritiana) is one of the largest and most noble of the common trees
in the Protectorate. Its fruit is relished by man and beast and its shade is much sought after.
6 A place in the Gadabuursi country to the west of the Protectorate.
G* udgude-hais a swiftly moving night rain-cloud. The word is related to gud 'to travel by
night '.
7 Gole-ha' a
place where men (and certainly formerly horses) gather'; a meeting-place.
s Aar-ka 'the male lion ', gool-sha ' the lioness '
9 Gabangoobi-da ' a flat area or plain', here deserted, and the retreat of the raiders whose
presence is implied. Lit. 'he kneels (tui) the camels'. The horse is here praised for its part
in stock-looting. Its prowess and stamina enable the rider to capture many camels and bring
them back to camp to.unload.
10 Gobmeans 'noble, of aristocratic birth or lineage ', as opposed to gun (lit. 'the bottom')
meaning of common, undistinguished, birth. The word gob is applied to anyone, with the
general exception of the despised leather-workers, smiths, etc. (the Midgaans, Tumaals,
Yibirs, etc.) whose actions conform to the Somali conception of noble conduct. Reer means
here ' nomadic hamlet ', as in Text II, p. 147, n. 3, above.
11 Hal 'one (of anything) ', here denotes a single strand of hair.
12 Galool,the acacia tree, Acacia bussei, bursts into a cascade of light feathery yellow flowers
at the beginning of spring with the coming of the rains. The image here is not only of the colour
of the flower but contains also the implication that its blooming heralds the long-awaited spring
rains. The galool also flowers again later in the year.


Fragmentof a Gabayby UgaasNuur

61fl J]CUT

Gurayaduilmaha wahay digtamel arooriyahe

Gorayaduilmaha wahay 4igtaa meel arooryahe
Shimbirtuna arooskay(istu iyay ubadka gesaye
Shimbirtunaarooskayqisto ayay ubadka geysaaye
lyakaba 'qala is lafiye awr ku kalaroone.
Iyakaba 'aqlays 4aafiyaye awr ku kala roone.


The ostrich puts her child in the unshelteredplain.

But the bird 2 builds a large bridal house 3 to put her children in.
Their brains are not in keeping with the differencein their sizes.4
1 This fragment comes from a well-known gabay by Ugaas Nuur, see Text III, p. 149, n. 1.
2 The Somali divide the feathered vertebrates into two main classes. Birds of
prey are known
collectively as had-ka. Other (non-carnivorous)birds are called shimbir-tausually translated in
English as 'bird'. This is only partly correct as birds of prey are not shimbir. The ostrich
belongs to neither class and is not considered as a bird. It is grouped with all game animals
(ugaa(-.da) and is hunted, less frequently now than formerly, for its excellent fat used for making
ghee. The antithesis is here between the great ostrich which shows less ingenuity in the care
of its young than any small nesting bird.
8 Aroos-kais the house built for the bridal couple by the parents of the girl in return for the
bride-price(yarad-ka)paid by the husband and his kin. It also means bridegroom,or marriage.
The aroos is in fact the newly constructed, abundantly equipped, especially adorned, house,
built for the bride and her husband before the wedding and which they will probably occupy for
the rest of their lives. In the interior it is the collapsible mat and skin-covered hut (aqal),
built on a frame of boughs lashed together, of the nomads.
4 Caqlaysfrom the Ar. C-q-1 plus contracted is. Awr, literally 'male burden camel', is used
metaphorically here as a unit of large size. This is quite a common metaphorical use. These
three lines have assumed almost the currency of a proverb to the effect that bulk and brawn are
not the same as ingenuity.
154 I. M. LEWIS


A letterfrom Borama

7TFl 3HrT7
3CqTFT7TI. tf3TnlT.

Walal-kay'Ali. Sela'
Walaalkay 'Ali Seyla'
Wa nabad. Kulkadheshidwaraqdanii soo dir
Waa nabad. Kolkaad heshid waraaqdanii soo dir
kabuiyu ma'awisiyu koofiyadiyu garbagala.
kabo iyo ma'awis iyo koofiyad iyo garbagale.
Rer kiina wuu guuray. WalashaHufun way timid.
Reerkiina wuu guuray. WalaashaaHufun way timid.
Haduuwkiina wa la tumay. Noo soo dir waraq.
Hacuu4kiina waa la tumay. Noo soo dir waraaq.
Anigu wahan iman sahan dambe. Nabadgalyoo.
Anigu wahan iman sahan dambe. Nabad gelyo.
Sugal CAbdi,Boorama.
Sugaal 'Abdi, Boorama.

My brother 'Ali,
We are well. When you have received this letter 1 send me shoes, and a
lungi,2and a hat,3 and a shirt.4 The family 5 has moved. Your sister, Hufun,
has come. The sorghum has been thrashed.6 Send us a letter. I shall come
the day after to-morrow.7 Good-bye.
Sugaal 'Abdi, Borama.

Andrzejewski, B. W., 'The problem of vowel representation in the Isaaq
dialect of Somali ', BSOAS, xvII, 3, 1955, 567-80.
- 'Accentual patterns in verbal forms in the Isaaq dialect of Somali',
BSOAS, xvIII, 1, 1956, 103-29.
- (ed.), Hikmad Soomaali, by Muuse Haaji Ismaa'iil Galaal (SOAS. Anno-
tated African Texts, Iv: Somali), London, Cape Town, O.U.P., 1956.
Armstrong, L. E., 'The phonetic structure of Somali', MSOS, xxxvII, 3,
1934, 116-61.
Bell, C. R. V., The Somali language,London, Longmans,1953.
Corulli, E., 'Note sul movimento musulmano nella Somalia', RSO, x, 1,
1923, 1-36.
Galaal, M. H. I., 'Arabic script for Somali', Islamic Quarterly,I, 2, 1954,
Kirk, J. W. C., A grammarof theSomali language,Cambridge,University Press,
Laurence,Margaret,A treefor poverty,Nairobi, Eagle Press for the Somaliland
Protectorate, 1954.
Lewis, I. M., Peoples of the Horn of Africa (EthnographicSurvey of Africa:
North Eastern Africa, Part I), London, International African Institute,
1 Waraaqdan, cf. Ar.
2 cf. Ar. m-<-w-z.
3 cf. Ar. k-w-f-y-t.
Garbagale-ha' shirt ', from gal ' to enter ' and garbo' shoulders ', the garment the shoulders
5 For the
meaning of the word reersee Text II, p. 147, n. 3.
6 The sorghum (haa4uui-ka) is grown in the Protectorate only in significant quantities in
Hargeisa and Borama, Districts in the west of the country, and is harvested between September
and December according to the year. There is generally only one main crop each year. Much
of the crop is brought into the markets of towns like Hargeisa by trade truck and sold if a good
price is offered very shortly after it has been cut and thrashed in the fields. The money thus
obtained provides ready cash for the purchase of necessities such as clothes and cooking utensils.
At this time of year, unless the harvest has been disastrous, people are normally contented and
happy, and during and immediately after the harvest the marriageseason of the cultivators in the
west of the Protectorate is in full swing.
7 Sahan dambe 'the day after to-morrow' is Gadabuursi dialect. In the centre and east
of the Protectorate the expression is saa dambe.
1 2

Lewis, I. M., 'Sufism in Somaliland: a study in tribal Islam', BSOAS, xvii,

3, 1955, 581-602; xviI, 1, 1956, 145-60.
Maino,M., ' L'alfabeto " osmania" in Somalia', RSE, x, 1951, 108-21.
- La lingua somalastrumentod'insegnamento professionale,Alessandria,1953.
Moreno,M. M., II somalodella Somalia, Roma, Istituto Poligraficodello Stato,
Webber,J. M., ' Contrastin Somaliland,Part n, festival', Corona,June 1956,