Sunday, April 5, 2020

Animal helpers, human dangers (Following folktales around the world 150. - Somalia)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Today, with Somalia, we leave Africa behind! It took me about a year and a half to read a book from every African country, and it was an amazing journey. Next week we return to Asia for the last thirty-something countries of the trip!

Sheekoxariirooyin ​Soomaaliyeed / Folktales From Somalia
Ahmed A. Hanghe
Nordic Africa Institute, 1998.

The book contains some seventy-six tales in Somali original and English mirror translation. The short introduction talks about the Somali storytelling tradition, and we get a useful piece about the pronunciation of Somali words and names. Each story comes with comments and footnotes, explaining phrases and customs. The book is divided into chapters by themes, with a short introduction to each chapter. It was a great last book to read from Africa, full of fascinating, thought-provoking stories.


One of my favorite tales from the book was that of Huryo és Kabacalaf in which a homely but clever girl eloped with her lover. They were accompanied on the road by the man's best friend, Kabacalaf. Along the way the girl made all kinds of clever comments which her lover didn't get and it made him increasingly annoyed. Kabacalaf, however, understood her well. In the end, when they found a priest, the girl decided to marry Kabacalaf instead. They lived happily ever after, constantly trying to prank each other. Kabacalaf also appeared as a wise man in other tales, such as the one where he helped a friend test two girls to see which girl was smarter.
There was an entire cycle of intriguing stories about a cannibal woman named Dhegdheer. She used to be a kind and clever girl who was forced to marry a horrible husband. She killed and ate her, and human flesh turned her into a cannibal with supernatural powers. In some stories people managed to outwit her, while in other she won, but either way storytellers admitted that she was clever, and had amazing tricks for tracking and catching people. One other got away from her by jumping over a chasm with her baby on her back. In the end, Dhegdheer was killed by her own daughter. Her two elder daughters ran away, but she kept the youngest trapped, until two sisters happened to visit their house, and the three girls together found the way to kill the cannibal woman.
I liked it that in a tale about evil giants the villains were not defeated by a man, but rather by another, good-hearted giant named Biriir, who thus saved humanity from disaster.
There was a simple but beautiful story about a young man who wanted to marry, but every time he brought home a bride his father ordered him to lift a heavy stone, or he'd not give his blessing. In the end, one bride volunteered to help him, and they lifted the stone together - proving that good marriage is based on cooperation.
The story of the Deceiver was eerie and very much had contemporary parallels. The deceiver was exiled from his village, and went to the animals, inciting them to rebellion against humans. Once they took the goods of the humans, the deceiver began to accuse the animals of various crimes, made them suspicious about each other until they started killing each other off. In the end the deceiver was left alone with all the loot. (Eventually he realized he was lonely and miserable, and returned to the people.)
Among the animal tales I really liked the one where two donkeys ran away from their master. They soon discovered freedom came with hunger, and one of them returned. The master abused him and beat him, and forced him to tell where the other donkey was hiding. By the time he got there, however, the free donkey had grown sharp horns, and defended himself. That's how the oryx was born.
There were multiple tales about shapeshifters, mostly featuring hyena-people known as qori-ismaris. In some cases they were helpful and honorable, while in others evil and greedy.


There was a myth about raising the sky; here it was the fault of women pounding their pestles against the sky and making holes that are now stars. There was also a tale about a clever husband who sent a coded message to his wife about his own murder. The fable of the grasshopper and the and there featured a bee and a grasshopper.
The tale type of "why old people are not killed" was included in the larger tale cycle of Queen Arraweelo. She was said to be a powerful queen who took over with the help of women, castrating all the men in her kingdom. One old man managed to hide from her, and helped other men fulfill tasks she gave them. He eventually had a son with her daughter, and the son killed the queen.
The trickster in residence was a man named Cigaal and also Jackal. The latter featured in the (very popular) tale where he cleverly chose his life over his food in the face of a lion.

Where to next?


  1. Each of these stories sound amazing. And so many strong women too.

  2. Some wonderful stories there! I’ve taught Somali kids in my time, but never heard these stories.

  3. All sound really interesting. Also love the book cover.