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Mogadishu residents revive old traditions after al-Shabaab's ousting

Wednesday, August 08, 2012
By Adnan Hussein

One year after al-Shabaab's ousting from Mogadishu, old Somali folk customs and traditions once banned by the militant group are taking root again in the city and nearby towns.

This re-emergence indicates that the future looks promising after radicals influenced by foreign ideologies banned, suppressed and infringed upon Somali traditions, artists and observers say.

"The folk traditions and pastimes that Somalis enjoy for entertainment vary between Mogadishu and the southern and northern provinces," said Somali social scientist Isse Mumin.

"Residents of these areas were known as peace-loving people," he told Sabahi. "At the end of July each year, they would slaughter camels and cows near the coast and give the meat away to visitors to their area and needy people living among them." He said some of these traditions date back a thousand years.

Somalis vow to keep traditions alive, despite al-Shabaab threats
Now that relative calm has returned to most parts of the capital, some citizens are organising to revive some of these old traditions.

"We have started bringing back the shirta tradition after a six-year ban imposed by al-Shabaab on various aspects of Somali folk culture," said Malaq Mahdi, who organised a rally to celebrate cultural traditions on July 18th. The shirta tradition involves dancing, stick fighting and chanting specific to Somalia's coastal people, and celebrates the start of the new season.

"It is important for us to remind the younger generation that their country has a noble heritage that cannot be ignored," he said.

During the rally, residents pledged to keep Somalia's old traditions alive despite al-Shabaab's threats.

"We will not let go of our tradition," the crowd chanted as they marched through Mogadishu's Hamarweyne district performing the shirta. "Those who banned tribal customs with shame and corruption are deceiving themselves."

Ayaan Muse Rage, a meat merchant in the Hamar-Jajab district, said before al-Shabaab took control of the city, citizens were able to freely participate in cultural events.

"We would leave our homes with hundreds of other families from the Wardhigley and Daynile districts and gather at the bottom of Daynile Square for an intellectual exchange and to settle disputes among locals [using old traditions]," she said.

The district later became one of al-Shabaab's main hubs in the capital and home to its senior leaders for six years, until Somali and African Union forces freed Mogadishu on August 6, 2011. "Our area used to be a fertile ground for evil terrorists, as they would ensnare their victims and exploit our children to implement their criminal objectives," Rage told Sabahi.

Folk rituals unite Somalis from different regions
Poet Fadumo Mohamud Siyad said folk rituals used to take the place of school or university. Cultural events also provided an opportunity for constructive interactions and allowed people to get to know one another.

"Our Somali society enjoys strong ties among family, friends and neighbours," she told Sabahi. "We have various events and occasions that are celebrated, such as marriage, ancient and modern dances, and traditional rural games. Moreover, each region has its own cuisine, not to mention its unique dress and presentation."

Somali playwright and lyricist Mustafa Sheikh Ilmi said various dances convey different messages -- some are a preparation for war, while others express synergy and collaboration or the arrival of a certain season.

"Reviving our heritage and traditions is both positive and promising. Even though some dances are hundreds of years old, most people preserve at least a part of their own cultural heritage through these dances," Ilmi told Sabahi.

Somali singer and dancer Maryan Nasir Ali says that while modern Somali music and dance has changed over time, the traditional folklore continues to be the fabric of Somali culture.

"I have been inspired by [Somali] folklore and music that are unique in style," she told Sabahi. "The drums and clapping that were used in the olden days are still used today and the old traditional melodies have found their way into today's Somali patriotic songs."


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