Who Came Before the Somali? Pt. I Blog

By now there should be no real surprise that I am fascinated by orality and its connection to Somali personhood. Taking back Somali narratives requires a careful deconstruction and reframing of the very stories we believe to be true especially those that have become part of the fabric of who we consider ourselves to be as Somalis.

So what are the stories we don’t examine but that the majority of us know?

I start first by clarifying that midgaan is a derogatory slur, used amongst both contemporary diasporic and continential Somalis as a way to denote inferiority. It is used in connection to a clan that can be found across the Somali territories, from Somaliland, across Somalia through to the Northern Frontier District. Midgaan is offensive because of its historical socio-political connection to the subjugation, genocide and clan-sanctioned violence against this group of people. They now refer to themselves as the “Madhibaan” as an alternative which is derived from the Somali phrase ‘qof ma dhib aan’ to mean those who don’t bother others. I use Midgaan only in the retelling of stories, otherwise I will refer to the Madhibaan by their chosen name.

A great number of stories are told about Madhibaan that range from: a discovery of them in the bush and how they were subsequently incorporated in varied tribes; their scattering as wanderers and thieves; a poor subservient group of shoemakers and ironworkers dependent on the good grace of upper caste and therefore more superior Somalis; and finally a people without a tie to lineage or land. By and large the story that remains the most central to most is the one of two brothers following a father’s instruction.

As with all Somali stories, the storyteller has license to modify so I share only the details that remain consistent across the storytelling.

In realizing a shortage of water a father beckons to his two sons . He asks them to go on a journey in search for water. Before they depart, the father tells them that if they run out of rations, food and water, they are permitted to eat the carcass of a dead animal. But as soon as they find proper food they must then immediately throw up whatever it was that they had eaten. After considerable time on their journey, the brothers run out of all of their rations. Shortly thereafter, they stumble upon a dead animal, and following their father’s advice they eat what they can and continue on. Not long after they reach a place where there is fresh food and water and immediately the younger brother throws up the spoiled dead meat he just recently ate. When the younger brother presses his elder about throwing up the meat he has eaten, he refuses to do so. From that day forward, the brothers were separated, the elder brother disowned by his family and his descendants were from that moment forth known as the Midgaan. The Midgaan can be found scattered across the territories, are often poor but are good workers.

Here is where the storyteller would note that they are descended from the younger brother, but would be clear to specify that this demonstrates that all Somalis originally come from the same family and share the same blood.

This story isn’t one told by the Madhibaan but rather by those who would claim themselves as the pure Somalis. It is as commonplace as it is similarly recited by elders and the young.

It is a story that helps us to understand how power becomes managed through Somali orality.

*stay tuned for part two

Hawa Y. Mire is a diasporic Somali storyteller, writer, and strategist who focuses on themes of Blackness and Indigeniety, (dis)connection and (un)belonging. Her writing is seated somewhere between oral tradition and the written word, celestial and myth, past and present, ancestry and spirit. An MES candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, her research incorporates traditional Somali stories with discourses of constructed identity while pulling from archival histories of resistance and radical curatorial practises.


  1. Ina Dalmar Says: July 2, 2015 at 1:08 am

    I’d love to hear this same story told from the Madhibaan “historical” perspective.

    • That’s an interesting thought to consider thank you.

    • Historically the gabooye tribes were first ones who created what we call Somalia if you look back at the ancient Egyptian history . the first group you when to Egypt were called ” masnatu” which means in Somali ” maxaa tume ” aka tumaal or ironsmith these mesnatus were part of the ancient cult of heru also known ” hure or huruuse “

  2. Ahmed Ahmed Says: July 2, 2015 at 3:59 am

    Thank you for pointing out the notion(s) of purity so closely linked to Somali identity. That one cannot be properly Somali and be Madhibaan, queer, non-muslim, or be connected to anything considered ‘unclean’ by our people. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of this article.

    • Thanks for this Ahmed, part of looking at this story so closely is precisely what you mention above. What are the parameters of Somalinimo? What do we allow to go uncontested that is about what it means to be a ‘real’ Somali, whatever that means! These are things that must be contested in order for us to build a more fluid idea of what it means to be Somali. You can find the next instalment of this article at http://themaandeeq.com/who-came-before-the-somali-pt-ii/

  3. If possible, can you have someone who is Madhibhaan write a piece (or an interview)? Reading about their perspective as they live outside Somalia would be an insightful article.

  4. Yahya Ayub Says: November 8, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Hawa, may Allah blessed you for your understanding and publishing this authentic article about the historical and ongoing ugly taboo norm that is been part of Somali culture and tradition for a long time. It really hurts and fascinating to hear the word “Midgaan” by you own Somali community member, a community that share same value, culture, tradition, religion, genetics and language.

    But if you pay attention to scio-economic, geo-political and the well-being of Somalis competition to resources and governess it’s all based on one formula. The hatred, the killings, the displacement, the undermining and the iron-fist of clan-gang-hood power to seek political dominance and to massacre other groups that are different from their clan-gang-hood member.

    It’s not about one group is pure-diamond Somali clan member, but rather it’s about the survival mood to sharpen their killing skills and to attack other clans with a vocal silver-bullet proganda “war of words” that is humiliating, harassing, bullying that is toxic and inflammatory. Simply, it’s a character-assassination to dehumanize and to terrorized one community after another in order to start fued and to show a fake superiority and inherented special genetic-type -nobility.

    When I was living in south Somalia I don’t see or hear any issue related of being a Madhibaan. But in diaspora Somali people show more interest about what is Midgaan.

    As a Madhibaan young-man I truly believe that it’s time we need to have a real discussion about the chaos, the killings, the destruction of our country.

    I truly believe all Somalis will benefit a stable, prosperous, democratic Somalia that is equal, justice and fairness for all Somalis.

    Today everyone in Somalia is suffering and feeling pain and anguish from these endless conflict that is destroying lives and families across Somalia.

    In my opinion; not only Madhibaan or Gabooye community is having problems relating to equality and freedom but we all are. All Somalis all tribes all clans are having issues and facing discrimination and inequality all over the world.


    Hawiye clan vs Daraad clan
    Isaak vs Dhulbahante
    Mareexaan vs Ogaden

    We all don’t like each other and we can’t got a long!

    If we all Somalis form a perfect union, it’s good for all of us, we all rise up and shine

    But if we hate each other then we all loose and suffer forever!

    Thank you!

  5. Looking forward to Part 2, when is that coming, Hawa?

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