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

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

Caraweelo, both fists raised in defiance, body contorted in mockery and eyes wide open with belligerence, burst into this world with a single, loud, blood-curling scream. Her kin, upon seeing the jewel between her legs, drew back with disgust and disappointment, all the while murmuring verses of protection.

A few old men, scared out of their wits and way past their due date, lay comatose on the scorching ground, recovering from the chilling scream. God help their kin from this abomination, this vile curse. What a waste of space, of humanity. She was and would never be of use to their kin. Surely, the drought and this creature were Satan’s antics, his offspring. Caraweelo, who could read their minds, spread her legs wide, reached for her jewel and rained on the land. She knew she had a long journey ahead of her, a destiny to fulfill. She looked into the tired eyes of her mother, laughed and reached for sustenance.

Caraweelo was blessed with the gift of insight, reflection and observation. She watched quietly, hidden in the safe zone in her mind. Women, in colorful robes, flirted back and forth, selling their dreams. Their men, fat and belching, the leeches, sat on mats chatting and chilling. They were discussing important matters, Caraweelo was told, and should not be disturbed. But Caraweelo knew better. She chewed her lips, drawing blood. She shuddered with resentment. They were fools in skirts, cowards who never ventured into war. Instead, they sat, plotted and planned the down-fall of an unseen rival. After dark, they would jump on their bone-weary wives and gallop into the sunset, alone.

When Caraweelo was six, her grandfather came for her one dark night and took her worth away. As she lay, bleeding and petrified, he proved why blood was thicker than water. You see, charity starts at home. Yes, it is true that nobody has the power to hurt you as your kin. It did not matter that she was still in stitches, recovering from mutilation, in strict observation of culture and tradition. She was their rubbish bin, their semen cup. That was all she was good for and would ever be good for. Caraweelo’s mother told her to bite her tongue, to sit on her lips and to conform. A good girl should not be seen, should not be heard and should aim to please. Hush child. This is your destiny, your role in life. Caraweelo disagreed silently. Her day would come one day.

When Caraweelo was thirteen, her grandfather gave her to his close friend…his distant cousin. He had trained her well and knew that she would bring prestige to her family. She watched from afar as the two old men sat, whispering and giving her furtive glances. Her 50-something year old husband looked at her, smacking his wrinkled lips. With the exchange of one camel and two cows, Caraweelo moved into the camp of her kin, her grandfather. That night, Caraweelo tasted bondage, tasted fear and blood. She had flashbacks of her violent initiation, her rape, into her kin…her clan. Her 13-year old body curled into itself, begging for mercy. He was oblivion to her cries, heaving and gasping. Shush. You’re a woman amidst millions of other women with similar faiths and destinies. You’re nothing. You don’t count. You don’t belong to any clan. Caraweelo bit down, swallowing her screams, cursing and vehemently disagreeing.

Caraweelo’s husband came into some wealth and moved her to Mogadishu. She was a young mother and still proud. She was still standing…..still strong. War broke out and they had to flee their beloved country. Finland was open, welcoming….or so she thought. Her old husband found the new country tough and turned to bitterness.

As he grew old, diminishing, Caraweelo grew into a beautiful black swan. She learned the new language, the new culture and embraced the new world she’d stepped into. Hush woman. Stick to your four walls and raise your children. Enough of your madness. Shut up, Caraweelo yells. You don’t own me anymore. Shush woman. You’ll go to hell for disobeying God. Shut up, she yells back. Since when did you abide by God’s rules? Hush infidel. Her husband – a serial wife beating rapist – became a sheikh during the day. When religious blackmail failed, her husband resorted to karate chops and kicks. When the next karate chop came, her husband suddenly found himself on the floor of their flat, overpowered by emancipation and enlightenment.

Caraweelo’s kin, her clan came to reconcile the two. This was the day she had lived for all her life. They came, all men. Of course they were all men. The cannibalistic clan is an exclusive club for goat-fuckers, father-fuckers, mother-fuckers and daughter-fuckers. Caraweelo let it rip. She let the shit hit the fan. Hush woman. Blood is thicker than blood. You’re mistreating your grandfather….your next kin of blood. He has sole ownership over your body. Shut up, Caraweelo yells. Where were you when my kin was ripping me apart? Raping my innocence? Shush woman. He has rights over you, rights over your children. Please, she says and rolls her eyes. I am married to the Finnish government. It pays my bills, puts a warm roof over my head, educates my children and takes care of my worries. Hush woman. Your kin, your clan are your blood and marrow. Please, she yells back. I was born into wilderness. I never belonged. I was never counted for.

Caraweelo, after getting rid of her nightmare, ended up with her son. A tyrant like his father.  When he fully slipped into his father’s shoes, she cut the umbilical cord and threw him out. She devoted her time, energy and love to raising queens, to raising warriors, to her daughters. She watches other women silently, with keen observation. She observes the clannish women. They look smart and educated on the exterior, but are rotten to their clan core. They parrot talk about emancipation, empowerment, nationalism, religion and equality during the day time and turn into clan cannibals when the sun sets. They conspire to congregate in dingy cafes, smelly alleys, forsaken homes and treacherous associations with their kin, their men, plotting and planning.

Caraweelo knows these women. After all, they are her cousins, her mother, her aunts, her grandmothers and her offspring. They are her and she is them. These are women who are more loyal to their clan than to their womanhood. Hush woman. Don’t hush me monster. You are repugnant….a traitor to womanhood……a traitor to Somalia. Instead of getting ahead based on qualifications, you resort to writing lists with your moronic kin. After all I went through, for you and for all the other women, this is what you do, she admonishes. I sold charcoal, my body and paid everything I had in my possession so that you could get to safety. Hush, I am Caraweelo. Let me speak. Let me put things into perspective for you.

You came to the Diaspora on the pretext of running from the clan militia, your cousins. What do you do upon reaching safety? You churn out lists, hate lists, of those you perceive to be better than you. Because it irks you that others are progressing, are making an honest living and getting ahead in life, you obsess over your lists. It irks you that you never managed to annihilate them from the face of the earth. You are a traitor, conspiring with men, your kin, your clan that raped you, molested you and your children. You are supporting a structure that enslaves you, dehumanizes you, denies you existence and that is uncivilized. Don’t you ever shush me! You never mattered to them and even as you conspire with them, they still despise you. Don’t you see my sister, my daughter, as long as you have a jewel between your legs, you’ll never matter to them.

Caraweelo speaks the truth. It hurts and is unpleasant. The cannibalistic clan mentality is deeply ingrained in these women. Every Friday or Saturday evening, they appear adorned in expensive robes and gold. They show up for their clans in the numerous weddings taking place almost every week. Yes, blood is thicker than water. Some of them have never worked a day in this country, can never write nor read any language. It is not uncommon to run into them at the health centers with back-aches, stomach-aches and other psychosomatic ailments. They’ll do anything to get out of going to school, work or reality. To becoming productive citizens. However, on that evening when their clan multiples, they’ll speak in languages. Hallelujah! When the lies start about her clan….how they rule the seas..even when they’ve never seen what it looks like and all of that shit….she’ll jump into the air, flick backwards, somersaulting all over the place and rolling on the carpet. Hallelujah! A miracle, she’s cured of her back-ache, her debilitating sickness. What a pity that the employment office staff, or the social worker, aren’t there to see this miracle.

Hush little girls. Give it up. Burn those lists. Desist with your malicious efforts. Your opponents still continue to exist despite your lists. Your hosts, although initially puzzled and supportive, now can see through your deception. No, she yelps, uncertainty in her eyes. I am my clan and they love me. Shush girl. That’s the devil talking in you, Caraweelo says. Desist with your poison. The CCC is not for you. It never was and it never will be. Cannibals eat each others. They’ll turn on you when all else has been eaten. Stop sponsoring your terrorist cousins. Cut their funding and put an end to their pillaging of Somalia. Somalia is one and will always be one. Put your clan flag away and unite under womanhood.

Shush little girl. You belong with the women folk, we are your womanhood, your sisterhood. You belong with me, with us. I will cure you of your disease, you’re dear to me, you’re my blood and marrow, Caraweelo says. Yes, Caraweelo, we hear you. Yes mama Caraweelo… queen…I hear and obey you. Yes, they are diseased and if they don’t want a cure, then they should leave. We turn, Caraweelo at the helm, both fists in the air and we scream in unison, shattering windows…eardrums. If you won’t join us, then go on and leave. You don’t belong in civilization. You are not worthy of Caraweelo. Go back to where you come from and indulge your sickness there. You’re not worthy of womanhood…of freedom. Your cage is open…yet you are still in bondage.

* Some background information on Queen Caraweelo (

At last, some good news. Somali women in the Diaspora, as well as in Somalia, are taking control of their sexuality and reproduction rights. According to the CIA World Factbook, Somalia is projected to have a total fertility rate of 6.26 in 2012. This is a decline from 7.18 in 2000. Overall, the projected total fertility rate in Somalia is steadily declining year on year. As a result of the ranking, Somalia is placed third on the global total fertility rate rank chart, right after Niger and Mali.

The reasons for the decline in total fertility rates could be several: the civil war, inability to support large families, family planning or women joining the labor force. I know from my work in Somalia, and here among the diaspora, that Somali women are taking charge of their bodies and opting for family planning. In any case, this is a positive development which is laudable.

The same positive trend is observable here in Finland also. According to Tilastokeskus (Statistics Finland), the total fertility rate in Somalis declined in the twenty years that they’ve been here almost by half: from 6.6 in 1990, to 4 in 2012. The number is even smaller in Somali-Finnish women aged 27-years and who live in the capital area (3.2 child per woman). Interestingly enough, Thai women whose population is estimated at 4,430 seem to have a higher fertility age than their Somali counterparts (3,650). This is contrary to the general myth here exploited by the True Finns (a populist and nationalist political party) that Somali women are a child-producing factory.

The decline in fertility rate means progress for some of the women who came here in the 90s and who have been unable to integrate due to various reasons. For the first time in many years, they can finally come out from their four walls, learn the Finnish language, get an education, join the labor force and eventually integrate into the Finnish society.

The second generation Somali-Finns are faring well compared to the first generation. Although they appreciate and see the value in having big families, they also feel that it would not be feasible in the Finnish context. First, the extended family network that would help with child-rearing is not available in Finland. Second, Finland is a very expensive country and thus raising a big family in an equitable manner is extremely difficult. Thirdly, second generation Somali-Finns want to enjoy life, travel more often and to see world, instead of being bogged down by child-rearing.

Although we have made positive progress in ensuring reproductive health rights, I feel we have a long way to still go. Personally, I believe that the future lies in the second and third generation Somali-Finns. They can play a greater role in building bridges between the Finnish authorities and first generation women. It is imperative that we enable women to choose when and how many children they want to have. Most importantly, women of child-bearing age, as a policy, should have access to culturally sensitive family planning information and services at every visit to health centers. However, this is an area that needs strengthening. Women cite religious reasons and the lack of information leaflets in the Somali language as a barrier to accessing these vital services. Thus and in order to increase access and uptake of family planning services, it important to develop culturally sensitive targeted campaigns on the benefits of reproductive health and family planning.