The Wacdaan tribe between 1896-1908
Between Afgooye and Muqdisho lay about twenty-five kilometers of thick brush and scrub grass. In the late nineteenth century, the area was inhabited by the camel-keeping Wacdaan clan, who had been close allies of the Geledi for the preceding hundred years.
In the middle of the century, a number of Wacdaan had turned to farming; this helped to reinforce their political union with the Geledi, for the two groups shared land, markets, and credit facilities in the district between the river and the coast.
Two factors bearing heavily on Wacdaan attitudes toward the colonial presence were the internal struggle for leadership, and the economic dislocation brought about by the abolition of slavery and by the famine years of 1889-95. Most Wacdaan farming appears to have been done by slaves imported to Somalia after 1840; there is little evidence that Wacdaan pastoralists had large numbers of traditional client-cultivators typical of such riverine clans as the Geledi.
Thus abolition had more severe consequences for Wacdaan farm labor than it did for Geledi’s. The dry years of the 1890s only exacerbated the economic situation: it was reported in 1898 that one-half of the Wacdaan population had been forced to abandon its home territory for pastures further inland.
Apart from weakening their bonds with the Geledi, these developments, we can surmise, made the Wacdaan extremely fearful of any further threat to their land and well-being. They were, moreover, the first inland Somalis whose territory was actually invaded by colonial soldiers at the time of the Cecchi expedition.
One of the most influential leaders among the Wacdaan was the learned Shaykh Ahmed Haji Mahhadi. He was not a Wacdaan but a member of the Bendabo lineage of Muqdisho. He had lived there most of his life, teaching alongside such renowned Muslim scholars as Shaykh Sufi and Shaykh Mukhdaar.
Like the latter, he found coexistence in a town which housed infidels intolerable, and he chose to retire to the small coastal enclave of Nimow, a little south of Muqdisho. There he set up a small jamaaca —some say it followed the Qadiriya way—which attracted several of the local inhabitants. When Nimow was shelled by an Italian warship in retaliation for the Cecchi ambush, Ahmed Haji fled to Day Suufi (in the heart of Wacdaan territory) where he intensified his preaching against the infidels. As late as 1907, the acting Italian governor considered him “the most listened-to propagandist in this area of the Shabeelle. Even the Geledi turn to him rather than to their own sultan for religious counsel.”
One of the Wacdaan leaders apparently influenced by Ahmed Haji was Hassan Hussein, titular head of the largest subsection of the Wacdaan clan, the Abubakar Moldheere. The Abubakar Moldheere were the most numerous and hence the most militarily powerful section of the Wacdaan in the late nineteenth century. They inhabited the bush country between the river and the coastal dunes, including the villages of Nimow and Day Suufi. Hassan Hussein is remembered as one of the first Wacdaan to oppose the Italians; warriors from his lineage were prominent among the forces that attacked Cecchi at Lafoole.
Likewise, it was spokesmen for the Abubakar Moldheere who most strenuously urged the blockade of caravan routes to Muqdisho.
The other sizable section of the Wacdaan, the Mahad Moldheere, inhabited the clan territory contiguous to Afgooye and the fertile lands around Adadleh. Their interests coincided more with those of the agricultural Geledi. However, their smaller numbers gave them less influence in Wacdaan clan councils, which came to assume greater importance for policymaking as the Wacdaan began to act independently of the Geledi. While the Mahad Moldheere apparently cooperated in the Lafoole siege—at that time, the Wacdaan stood as one, I was told—their leader Abiker Ahmed Hassan subsequently struck an independent diplomatic stance.
In 1899, the Italian authorities sought to persuade the Wacdaan to submit peacefully to the government. They demanded that forty hostages surrender to the authorities in Muqdisho as a sign of Wacdaan submission.
Only the Mahad Moldheere responded. Their leader, Abiker, became a stipended official, which enhanced his standing among those of pacific persuasion. The Abubakar Moldheere refused to send the twenty representatives demanded of them and for some years remained openly defiant of Italian authority. They continued to attack caravans and occasionally to boycott the market of Muqdisho. There is some evidence to suggest that feuding within the Wacdaan increased after this rift between the two major lineages.
Several informants told me that at one time the Wacdaan were more strongly united; and Virginia Luling (personal communication) recorded the comment of an informant to the effect that in the time of the Italians feuding among the Wacdaan increased as traditional diya payments were unable to keep the peace. Cf. Carletti, Attraverso il Benadir, pp. 164-77, passim.
The conciliatory initiatives of the leaders of the Mahad Moldheere toward the colonial government bore some political fruit. For although Hassan Hussein and the Abubakar Moldheere resigned themselves to accommodation with the Italians after 1908, their section received fewer stipended positions than the numerically smaller Mahad Moldheere did. Moreover, the stipends they received were smaller than those of the Mahad Moldheere officials.
In the early 1960s, a man of the Mahad Moldheere was recognized as titular head of all the Wacdaan.
I could not ascertain if this had been true throughout the twentieth century.
While factionalism goes some way toward explaining the dual response of the Wacdaan to colonial occupation, it should not be assumed that anticolonial feeling ran strictly along sectional lines. Individuals from both sections continued to participate in resistance activities and, after their leaders submitted to Italian authority, joined the southern dervishes. The best-remembered dervishes from the Wacdaan were Barghash Yusuf, Muhammad Geedi, Ali Omar Garrarey, and the brothers Muhammad and Mustafa Hussein.
It does not appear that Hassan Hussein, head of the Abubakar Moldheere section, ever become a dervish. Nor did the fiery Bendabo shaykh Ahmed Haji Mahhadi. Ahmed Haji’s son Muhammad, however, was a well-known southern follower of the “Mad Mullah.” He went a step further than his father by interpreting the anticolonial religious message as a call to take up arms against the infidel invaders.
In Sylvia Pankhusrt’s book called “Ex-Italian Somaliland”, the following is mentioned on page 88,
Moreover, the Bimal and Wadan tribes must be conquered and forced to submit to Italian authority. This might be done “gradually, profiting by any favourable conditions which might present themselves,” or “suddenly by a rapidly advancing movement, breaking down all resistance,” as General Baldissera had recommended. Tittoni preferred the gradual method.
Gilib, on the coast, had already been occupied by Italian forces, he told the Chamber; possession would next be taken of Danane and the wells to which the Bimals resorted with their cattle in the dry season. Siezure of the water would give the government the whip hand, above all in a country of that type. Kaitoy, on the Webbi Shebeli, would then be sized, and afterwards towards Afgoy and Gheledi, opposite Mogadishu.
To accomplish these military operations the force of Askaris, which at that time numbered 2,442 with 30 Italian officers, must be increased to 3,400 with 46 Italian officers. Thereby it would be possible to strengthen the garrisons, and to establish a moving column, which could proceed rapidly wherever needed. The occupation of the area from Merka to the Webbi Shebbeli would be easy, for the distance was only 20 kilometres, and no thick forests intervened, but from Mogadishu to the same river the distancewas double, and the region covered with dense woods, “which lend themselves to ambushcades”.
When the Southern clans were conquered by the Fascist Italians in the early 20th century, the rebellious clans were forced to the arduos labour of clearing roads through the jungle and bush.
Tittoni recorded the work already accomplished and the programme immediately projected;
“I believe it will interest the chamber to know what has been done. The labour of clearing has been imposed as a punishment upon the rebellious tribes which have been subjugated. At the middle of last march, the clearing had been executed along the paths which adjoin the following localities;-
(1) Mogadishu-Afgoy, with the understanding that the passage already cleared be widened in as brief a space of time as possible, which is already being done on the Afgoy side, the work being executed by the Wadan tribe.
Only the Italians have written the story of their conquest of Somaliland. The agonies suffered by the conquered people in defence of the fertile land they had cultivated from generation to generation, have been been chronicled; their dead and their exiled are unrecorded.
Lee Cassanelli “The Shaping of Somali society”
Sylvia Pankhurst “Ex-Italian Somaliland”