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The Death of Richard Corfield
He Who Had Stamina Gained his Intent
A famous Somali gabay composed by Muhammad Abd Allah al-Hasan (1856 – 1920), the religious and military leader who established the Dervish state in Somalia. Richard Corfield (1882-1913) was a British colonial police officer, appointed in 1912 as commander of the Somaliland Camel Constabulary, charged with maintaining order but instructed to avoid any confrontation with`Abd Allāh al-Hasan. Disobeying this order in August 1913, he launched his 110 Camel Police against a Dervish force of 2,750. Most of his men were elimated and Corfield himself was killed. The poem is vivid for instructing Corfield what story to tell when he arrives in hell.
You have died, Corfield, and are no longer in this world,
a merciless journey was your portion.
When, Hell-destined, you set out for the Other World,
tell them how God tried you.
Say to them: “From that day to this the Dervishes
never ceased their assaults upon us.
the British were broken, the noise of battle engulfed us;
with fervour and faith the Dervishes attacked us.”
Say: “They attacked us at mid-morning.”
Say: “Yesterday in the holy war a bullet from one of their old rifles struck me.
and the bullet struck me in the arm.”
Say: “In fury they fell upon us.”
Report how savagely their swords tore you,
show these past generations in how many places the daggers were plunged.
Say: “Friend,” I called, “have compassion and spare me!””
Say: “As I looked fearfully from side to side my heart
was plucked from its sheath.”
Say: “My eyes stiffened as I watched with horror;
the mercy I implored was not granted.”
Say: “Striking with spear-butts at my mouth they silenced my soft words;
my ears, straining for deliverance, found nothing;
the risk I took, the mistake I made, cost my life.”
Say: “Like the war leaders of old,
I cherished great plans for victory.”
Say: “The schemes the djinns planted in me brought my ruin.”
Say: “When pain racked me everywhere,
men lay sleepless at my shrieks.”
Say: “Great shouts acclaimed the departing of my soul.”
Say: “Beasts of prey have eaten my flesh and torn it asunder.”
Say: “The sound of swallowing the flesh and the fat comes from the hyena.”
Say: “The crows plucked out my veins and tendons.”
Say: “If stubborn denials are to be abandoned, then my clansmen were defeated:
In the last stand of resistance there is always great slaughter.”
Say: “The Dervishes are like the advancing thunderbolts of a storm,
rumbling and roaring.”
He Who Had Stamina Gained his Intent
Here’s something very unusual, a Somali Gabay that makes fun of the form. Specifically, this is a mock-heroic version of the poem The news to Rome, with its celebration of holy war and camel raiding. In this version, the “true men” launch an expedition to a brothel where they eat the addictive stimulant “qaat”. One thinks of parody as a written form, but here is an oral example (for another, see The Incompetent Hunter). Nothing, in fact, could illustrate how well these poems are known than the fact that they could be mocked in such detail – as described in the footnotes. Notice the reference to the “Allah-supported” poet in the brothel. Part of the satire’s point is that Somali poets no longer perform at meetings of the tribal elders but in public bars. The poet is Abdisalaam H. Aadan, famous for his satires on the older Dervish poets in these qaat-chewing forums. The poem was recorded in 1977.
By the Herer ravine, if at noon, you gulp down an unpalatable lunch (1)
Sleep you should not enjoy – you must wage a holy struggle for the soul. (2)
I and seven others raised the question of self-indulgence. (3)
It is the habit of true men to be ready. We exchanged counsel.
Then two we sent to ascertain the paths (4)
And they signalled news for us to go ahead.
And forward we rushed to select samples of Togwajaak Qaat (5)
And when the seller readied two bundles of ten shillings, in haste we departed.
Instantly, we took the essential taxi, and the driver sped us by the market
And straight away we departed to the Beauty’s place with whom we had made a promise (6)
And immediately, we placed a hundred shillings for her services in her bosom
And we leaned our elbows against the pillows lying about in piles
And every man reclined against the niche he had selected
And we passed around the tea in an overflowing thermos flask
And everyone wrapped up in a piece of paper
a sufficient amount to consume (7)
And humor without grace we exchanged
Then two plump beauties that seemed next of kin to the Turk (8)
And two who looked like the houris of heaven, (9)
And two who, to speak wisely, shone like fluorescent lights,
And the one who is mine when I am in a mood for self-gratification – (10)
These many, stately of gait and gracious of step
Wearing the loose tobe and brilliant sashes round their waists, (11)
And with hair just combed. They extended their hands
As for us, we shy not away from the maids
– we pressed on with Genash embraces. (12)
And with musical connoisseurs among us we had no difficulty
in sending promptly for the singers.
Then the A!lah-supported lad entertained us with his lecherous voice.
And in preparation for the tune, his hands caressed the instrument
And the twang of the lute and the rumble of the tam-tam was heard (13)
And in comradely etiquette, we supported him with clapping.
Then the band left, having entertained us to satisfaction
And in conversation we continued to court the girls.
Yes, in whispers, we shared silent words with them
And with groans as of torrential rain we moaned late into the night!
And some boys there were whose ways we did not approve
And, although the hem of the skirt was near enough and tempting,
we deferred to the dictates of courtesy
And there were our arms tightly locked up in passionate embrace
But against the fence we jabbed the hardened spears, (14)
Yet the touch of the plant renders me feeble (15)
That night he who had stamina gained his intent!
Here is the Somali version:
Duhurkii toggaa Herer haddaad qado ka soo tuurto
Hurdo laguma taamee naftaa !ala tacaalaaye
Anigiyo toddoba aan ku jirey tumasho soo qaadnay.
Rag tabaabushuu leeyahaye wax istusaalaynay;
Labo tubaha soo kala cayima hore u sii tuurray:
Ayaguna tusmada warkay sideen nooga tibixsiiye.
Togwajaale qaadkii ka yimid tacab u soo miirnay.
Markay laba tobnaad noo xireen toobiyaha qaadnay:
Tagsi lagama maarmee nin wadey suuqa nagu tooci.
Tilmaan-quruxsantii !ala ballamay saani ugu toosnay:
Tubtii horeba boqol jaa’ifaa teybalka u saarrav.
Barkimooyinkii teedsanaa suxul ku taageerray;
Nin waliba halkuu soo turqaday garabka soo tiiri.
Isagoo falaas laga tif tiray laysu tebi shaaha.
Nin waliba tankiisii haraaq tiilley ugu laabnay.
Kaftan aan turxaan lagu ogeyn Ia isku tuurtuurye.
Laba aad turkiga mooddid oo tikhilka naagooda,
Iyo laba tiftirihii jannada lagu tilmaamaayo,
Iyo laba wax layskama tirshee sida tiriiggaasa,
Iyo taan lahaan jirey markaan tumasho soo qaado,
lntaasoo xarrago tiicayoo temeshle luudaysa,
Oo toobab noo soo xidhay oo tal iyo xiisaan leh,
Oo timaha soo firay salaan gacanta soo taage!
Annaguna hablaha kama tagnee geerish ugu taagnay;
Heesaha rag baw tamar galee kuwii tiriyey soo qaadnay;
Alla-tiirigii heesi jirey noogu tacab sawdka;
Tiiraanyo qaylshihii rabaab faraha taabsiiye;
Kaman talalaxleeyiyo durbaan tininigtii yeedhay;
Annaguna tustuurtay lahayd sacabka tiitaynay.
Goortay cabbaar naga tumeen tegis u qoontayste ;
Sheekadu hablahay noo taxnayd togannay haasaawe:
Hada! tooxanoo hoos u teyan Ia isku taataabay;
Siduu teyse roob nagu onkoday taaha ku caweyney;
Rag takooran baa nagu jiree tabaha qaar diidnay:
In kastoy taftuba noo dhowcyd teedka sharaf eegnay.
Talantaalli labadii gacmood tahan isweydaarte;
Warmihii tumaatiga adkaa iirka qabadsiinnay:
Waan taag darreeyaa haddaan taabto geedkaba:
Habeenkaa ninkii tamar lahaa taxay murqaankiisa!