Earlier this month I put up a post that shares a story, I would argue, is central to how we understand Somali personhood. As we examine further the story of the two brothers, one who eats unclean meat we must go beyond the story’s meaning. It is critical to consider what the story does, the function it serves in its retelling.
Firstly, the eating of ritually impure meat is central to understanding this story because of the way it goes against the principles of Islam. The story is careful to stress that the Madhibaan in eating this meat have created the conditions for their ongoing subjugation. Secondly, the elder brother not only defied his God, but defied his father as well, a double assault on the patriarchal heads of family. The elder brother stepped outside the boundaries of respectability, and therefore the boundaries of Somalinimo. He is now in a position subservient to his father and younger brother, and one could go so far to argue, in servitude to. To be Somali is to be Muslim, which requires a particular kind of cleanliness therefore the Madhibaan having engaged in unclean behaviour and practices can not be considered Somali. This story secures an ongoing position of dominance for Somalis which is premised on the subjugation of the Madhibaan.
This is fundamentally a story about dispossession and social hierarchy. It is a story about power. Everytime the story is told it serves as a reminder of who the Madhibaan are, and by extension what it mean to be Somali. The very fabric of Somali personhood is dependent on Madhibaan subjugation, which tells us something not only of the function the story has but the role the Madhibaan themselves play in the configuring of a national identity.
This story is not merely a story, it exists within the consciousness of the contemporary Somali diaspora as well as continental Somalis as a way to manage who is allowed access to the differentials of power. Only one Madhibaan person has ever held a government post since independence. ‘Midgaan’ is frequently used as a insult by Somalis across the globe. Well before the civil war and colonial administrations Madhibaans were not allowed to attend school, participate in Somali politics, speak their language (wholly different from Somali) in public for fear of reprisals. The families of those who were killed were not allowed to demand blood money from those who had done the killings.
The Madhibaan are frequently positioned as a lower clan with no claim to Somalia, and yet are the only clan to figure prominently in a story that talks about the origin of Somalis themselves.
It becomes clear that the Madhibaan people have a claim to something that goes much deeper than Somali contested state borders. In fact, present day camel herders have only occupied the Somali territories since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (Piga de Carolis 1980) The Madhibaan have been linked to the Bon, who are “connected to the pre-Negritic populations of hunter/gatherers who were the first inhabitants of the open terrain of North and East Africa.” (Gallo & Viviani, 1992) The story of the two brothers itself tells us of this link, making clear that the Madhibaan existed pre-Islam. The very fabric of Somali personhood is dependent on their subjugation, this clearly tells us something of their value.
What have we allowed to get submerged in our rhetoric of one language, one religion, one people even as we constantly contest nationalisms, borders and identity? What are the things that remain constant across the Somali territories? What helps us to establish what we understand to be Somalinimo? Somali personhood? What must we destabilize? These are the questions we should be asking in our attempts to understand Somali identity. Only by asking different questions can we be certain we don’t fall into the same colonial models we were quick to contest as part of #CadaanStudies. Only by asking different questions do we begin to create the conditions from which to imagine and create critical, relevant and expansive notions of personhood. And perhaps then we can retell our stories in a way to remember our history instead of running from it.