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

Hooyo, rest in peace. Your legacy continues, your footsteps still visible, your breath still warm on my cheek and your advice still echoing in my consciousness.



By Maxamed Ibraahim Warsame ‘Hadraawi’

The world certainly
Would never have left night
Light not been found
People not have trekked
To a star over the Hawd*
Would not have flown
Like birds of prey
To the moon in the clouds
Not have sent rockets
That appear like waves in the sky
Nor reached into space

Oh Mother, you’ve guided
The servants of God
To where they are today
With numbers I cannot
Calculate or count
The number of great people
You carried on your back
That you suckled
That you nourished
From your breast

When you bear a man
With support of his kin
Whose possessions men fear to thief
A steadfast hero
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

When you bear a generous man
Who says ‘Please, take this.’
Who when a visitor
Arrives with nothing
Gives of his wealth
Coming closer to God
A man people wish
Would never die
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

When you bear a man
Who in his intention
Follows a straight path
When he meets one wave
Then deals with the next
Who guides his dependents
Whom all wish to emulate
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

When you bear a man who stands
Against disaster and war
Who understands the law
Deliberates on the truth
Dampens conflict and danger
When it’s set alight
Who prevents bloodshed
Gives order to the people
Leads them all
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

When you bear a famous poet
Who knows the construction and decoration
The composition and the tuneful chant
Tightly forming the words of poetry
Which God has given as a gift
The artist who shapes all this
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

Women are needed in life
The ones sought after
Like a forest of fresh leaves
Men are wanting, and what
Their eyes fall on
Are those women of yours
When marriage is discussed
It is a woman, a tall heego cloud
Like ripe fruit, rich
In strength, maturity and beauty,
It’s Hira, that one marries
Mother, you are commemorated for it.

Oh Mother, without you
Language would not be learnt
Oh Mother, without you
Speech would be impossible
There is no one in the world
You did not bring up
To whom you haven’t sung,
Haven’t calmed with lullabies,
Not one who lacked you efforts
In reaching maturity
That compassion has not covered
In the house of love.

Oh Mother, through you
Peace is made certain
Oh Mother, on your lap
The child falls to sleep
Oh Mother, by your hem
Shelter is found
Oh Mother, the infants
Benefit from your teaching
You gladden the camel calf
You, the rain cloud that cools
You, the essential sleeping mat
You, the clean shelter
You, a heritage all journey towards.

Mother, while you live
I anoint you with congratulations
Greetings and wealth
I cover you with respect and esteem
Mother, your death
Is my disaster
In both body and mind
I hold your memory
I sing still for you
Above your grave
I wear the mourning cloth
Knowing that better than here
Where the birds fly
The animals roam
Where all creation lives
By the gift of God
Better than all this
Is the hereafter

Sung by the late Mohamed Suleiman (Tubeec) and translated by Martin Orwin

Accessed on



I love this poem. It illustrates the disenfranchised status of Somali women in the Diaspora. Powerful verses that sink to the depths of your being. The Somali woman here – all alone in a thankless marriage, struggling and in her eternal prison – is heading for madness. She’s often seen talking to herself, pushing a pram, trailed by several children, dishevelled and heavily medicated. A prisoner of her anguish, her failed dreams. It explains the increasing number of Somali women with mental health problems, the spike in dysfunctional families and the skyrocketing number of single mothers.

What it does not explain is why we choose to endure this nightmare? Why we choose martyrdom over freedom? Why we choose enslavement over love? I applaud the brave women who chose otherwise. The women who chose the well-being of their children over conformity. The brave ones who refused to settle for a boy as a man. Who refused to be chattels.

by Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf

These men let themselves down, bask in their guilt,
harm themselves then start griping;
they’ve let judgement and tradition go.

Gums busy with khat, like the poisonous Ganboor plant,
idling in grim flats strewn with litter,
gloating about unreal gallantry,
this man fails to know gifts bring responsibility –
he’s given up his wife and his family,
stopped being the one who gets food and necessities.

As a genuine mother she suffers agonies,
her family torn by the godless, split by social services,
unable to sleep, goaded by worries,
expecting no guidance, no partner by her side,
she feels so shattered and gripped by thoughts
and bad memories, she grieves until dawn
and raises her arms, prays for Allah’s goodwill.

After the school-run, a gruelling list of tasks –
grappling with his duties too, which he’s neglected.
She goes shopping, her cupboards gravely empty,
gets back in her car with just the essentials.

There is always gaping hunger; some days she can’t walk.
She struggles to find a pan or grill some food
and when late afternoon grimly darkens
she must gather her children home,
like the kudu or gazelle she roams alone.
She can’t stop some of her young ones going out –
she is a bustard, caught in grinding groaning rain,
always on guard while others rest,
numbly enduring until a new day glares.

Such gloom could lead me astray. Instead I’ll conclude:
struggling mother who gets no gratitude,
mother with no male guardians,
only Gracious God knows our fate.
He alone can judge this generation –
justice is whatever he wants, and whatever we get.

I cannot order these men gunned down as they deserve
or that their relatives gird them to an ant-infested tree.
I am resigned to wait for that glorious, final day.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Said Jama Hussein

The final translated version of the poem is by Clare Pollard

Accessed on

This is a talk given by one of the greatest Somali poets to grace this earth. Beautiful yet also so eloquent. Simply stunning.

You probably didn’t know this at the time but my name is Hamda Yusuf.
Scratch that.
My name is
Hamda Ahmed Yusuf Abdale Mohamed Hussein Mohamed Mohamoud.
And before you even say anything,


Because I already know that my name probably puts up more flags in an airport than a Mexican driving in Arizona.
Know that the deep piercing stares are directed at my hijab
And not my infectious smile.
Know that I’m already judged not for who I am
but for what I wear
and just for the record

It isn’t a towel.

But somewhere in all of that self-pity I realized that it really shouldn’t matter how you perceive me to be.
It should only matter how I perceive myself to be.

And I already happen to know that I’m Hamda Yusuf,

I’m Hamda Yusuf and my kind of a Friday night is a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’ve seen the Lion King 17 times and I’ve cried every time Mufasa died.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and Albus Dumbledore is my hero.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m a mustache enthusiast.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and apparently I scare Juan Williams at airports.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m Muslim.
Not Moslem
or Islams.
But Muslim.
It’s really not that hard to say.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m sick and tired of hearing about countries banning the burqa to protect women rights when they’re really just taking away our right to choose.
And since when has it become okay to take off the layers but illegal to try and put them back on.
Is it me or is the world going insane?
Threats of burning Qur’ans and protests against building mosques as if we had done something wrong.
Besides fight for the American Dream we were told to fight for.
And you.
Knower-of-nothing-you, every-Muslim-is-a-terrorist-and-every-terrorist-is-Muslim-you, I-get-all-my-facts-from-conservapedia-you,
have the audacity to tell me there’s no such things as Islamophobia in the world?

Well I’m sorry.
Because I’ve been sent on a mission to talk to every single person who has ever called me a towelhead and unfortunately for both of us,
you’re on my list.

So how about you take a seat on my couch,
take a sip of my mother’s tea
and I’ll explain to you as politely as can be,
how my father has told me more times than I can count on my fingers that I can be whatever I want to be.
I can be that lawyer,
be that doctor,
be that engineer.
But I will never
ever be,
just another towelhead.

(What I will tell my daughter)

Someday you will be told that a woman’s gaze must never stretch as far as a man’s.

That his should soar above the seventh heaven -like shooting stars between planets- to find himself on Saturn’s rings but yours- yours must never exceed the ceiling of your house because you were made different.

Your place- lies in the cleanliness of kitchen shelves the dust between radiator and wall the stains on both carpet and floor- because you are a woman… nothing more.

You see, They might say That a woman’s gaze should never stretch as far as a man’s. No, yours must stretch further.

Because you are a woman, Nothing less.

By Farah Gabdon