This is a song on women’s emancipation which became a hit in the late 1960’s in Somalia. I love the feistiness that Maryan Mursal, one of our best singers, portrays. She is very clear on her outlook on life, on morality and free will. Almost 40 years down the line and we’re still debating the same issues.
A bit of context to the song: “This song also takes the form of a debate between a man and a woman, this time explicitly about moral womanhood. To the male, a good woman is a traditional woman: beautiful and well groomed, quiet to the point of being invisible to men, obedient and accepting of a marriage arranged for her by men. Modernity is cultural transgression, characterized by untraditional dress, mobility and visibility in the public sphere, and the rejection of familial authority. But she has other ideas and the songwriter lets her gain the upper hand. Unafraid to couch her ideas in untraditional, modern terms, she asserts the importance of leaving backward customs behind, actively participating in leadership and public life, and getting an education. She suggests that God created men and women as different but not unequal beings and depicts men who marry off girls as thieves handling stolen property. Although in the three songs presented here women’s morality and modernity are not represented as contradictory terms, the conservative equation of moral womanhood with traditional womanhood is powerfully articulated.” – Lidwien Kapteijns (2009)
In the old days it was custom that a girl perfumed her hair and braided it.
She wrapped around her waist a wide cloth belt with fringes and an ornamental cord, and wore a white dress.
But something has changed. Something weird with long horns they wear as hats on their heads and run all over the market.
[Refrain:] You women have destroyed our culture.
You have overstepped the religious law and destroyed our religion.
Girls, won’t you behave?
What was custom in the old days and a hundred years ago and what
has been left behind, don’t make us go back to that well-worn road, for we have turned away from it with effort.
Now we expect to run and compete for the sun and the moon and to lead people.
First get some education and learn how to read and write. Don’t try to turn back, you country hick, people who have woken up!
In the old days it would happen that a girl would not address you for one or two months, and the men who went out looking would not see her for days.
But something has changed. In the evening a whole gang of them goes out, carrying fat purses, wandering about outside like robbers.
God calmed the waters of sea and river and made them flow together.
Then he put in order the wide earth and the mountains and created his human beings each in a different way.
You are a loser. No one is asking you to come along.
In the old days it was custom to pay as bride-wealth for a girl a whole herd of camels and the most exceptional horse, and a rifle on top of that.
But something has changed. You are self-absorbed and ignore the advice of the family in which you were born.
Girls used to be exchanged for a herd of camels and short-legged goats.
But the religion we learned and the Qur’an do not allow this.
Today we have no need for those who deal in what they do not own and for this old-fashioned dividing up of women.
Sang by Maryan Mursal and Maxamed Jaamac Joof (late 1960’s)
Translated by Lidwien Kapteijns