Explorations in History and Society

Exploring and Collecting the History of the Somali clan of Hawiye.

The low castes who live among the Hawiyya

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The low castes who live among the Hawiyya

Of particular importance for historical, ethnic, and linguistic knowledge of the populations of Somalia — and in general of the countries of East Africa, is the study of the ‘low castes’: that is, of those stirpes that are, or better were, in a condition of social and juridical inferiority and lived among tribes from whose patronage they benefited. In the following I shall publish some texts on the low castes among the Hawiyya tribes on the middle Webi, texts, of course, collected from the Somalis, patrons of these stirpes considered inferior, and which thus reflect the point of view and the customs of the Hawiyya tribes of high caste.

First it is necessary to list here the peoples of low caste, who are called:

  • Gabalollay: living with the Badi ‘Adda rer Waber and with the Hawadla Adan Yaber;
  • Gaggab: with the Badi ‘Adda Illabe and with the Hawadla; they are tanners;
  • Habeso-‘ad: with the Badi ‘Adda Illabe;
  • Eyla Halawo: with the Badi ‘Adda and with the Galgael ‘Alofe; they are hunters;
  • Eyla Gambaye: with the Badi ‘Adda and with the Galga‘el Abtisama; they are hunters;
  • Bon Marrehan: with the Badi ‘Adda;
  • Garyala: with the Hawadla rer Ugas;
  • Ukkuray: with the Hawadla;
  • Geymala: with the Hawadla; they are blacksmiths
  • Angallaye: with the Hawadla; they are blacksmiths;
  • Barbaro: with the Galga‘el
  • Yayla: with the Hawadla Adan Yaber;
  • Gaboya: with the Abgal; they are tanners;
  • Dardo: with the Abgal; they are weavers

The low castes are generically indicated among the Hawiyya with the name of “Bon,” which is the name of an ancient people of hunters whose remains are found along the lower course of Giuba /Juba/ and on the coastal border with Kenya, where they are mixed with the Wa-Sanye.

The peoples of low caste in turn give the Hawiyya, their patrons, the name of “Gabar,” which is also a ‘relic,’ because it is the name with which the Galla designate the peoples conquered by them and adopted into their tribes which poses an interesting historical problem.

Finally, I should like to underline how, at least among the Hawiyya tribes of the Badi ‘Adda and the Hawadla, we find a strips of low caste which is under the direct patronage of the hereditary tribal leader: the waber   (Badi ‘Addä); the ugas (Hawadlä). This situation also reminds one of interesting comparisons of analogous stirpes of low caste, such as the Manna, the potters, the tanners, and the storytellers of Caffa /Kaffa/, who were directly protected and were at the disposal of the King of Caffa.

 1) The low castes among the Badi ‘Addo

Some Bon live with the Badi ‘Ádda. The Gabalollay live with the people of the Waber. They are his ‘gourd carrier.’ The other men called Gaggab live with the Illaba and thus the ‘white freed.’ What are the ‘white freed’? They are men that, if you pay attention and look at their face, seem noble. But if the generations are counted, they are to be included with the freed. (Like the major part of the stripes of low caste listed here, these ‘white freed’ were not known until now. I have not had an occasion during my stay on the upper Scebeli /Shebeli/ to meet them. But it is permissible to suppose that this is a matter of freed originating from Galla and non-Suahili slaves and thus of superior race and akin to the noble Somalis. They and the Gaggáb marry each other. They and the freed do not marry each other. They and the rêr ‘Isa those of the north, marry each other. The Gabalollây and the blacksmiths marry each other. The Gabalollay and the Gaggáb do not marry each other. When the Waber is crowned, a cow is  given to the man who carries his gourd. *

It is interesting to know the bonds of matrimony between the peoples of low caste and between them and the freed. (It is known how the prohibition of marriage is the highest and most observed sanction of the nobles against the inferior peoples.) From the information in the text we have this situation:

Gaggab: they marry the ‘white freed: they do not marry the Gabaloll[unknown]ay.

– ‘White freed’ ( Habeso-‘ad  ): they marry the Gaggab, the Rer ‘Is; they do not marry the freed.

Gabalolläy: they marry the blacksmiths; they do not marry the Gaggab. Eylä: they marry the freed. Bon Marrehan: they marry the blacksmiths.

* The Eylä and the freed marry each other. The Eylä are those of the woodland who hunt the dig-dig. They hunt them with snares and with the net. The Eylä eat unclean meat. The Eylä are two, the  Halawo and the Gambaye: the ones who eat the unclean meat and become hyenas. The Bon Marrehân are the ones who kill the oryx and giraffe and make the shields. The blacksmiths and the Bon Marrehân marry each other. To insult an Elyä one says: Eylä ‘white chest.’ When God created all men, there appeared in the plain a dog and a boy. Then it was said: this one is to be called ‘dog’ that one is to be called Eylä (‘the one of the dog’).

2) The low castes among the Hawâdlä and the Galga‘ál.

“The Garyálä, who stay with the ugâs, are Bon of us Adän Warsáma. They hunt dig-dig, antelopes, oryx, and sew sandals. The ugâs,   who now has power over them, said ): ‘You will stay with me where I live. The one who will come to fight with me will come to fight with you.’ They do not know fear, they are brave. They said: ‘Provided that we are satisfied in what we desire, we shall go where we are sent. And, O ugâs,   we want some land.’ ‘The land’ was said to them ‘work!’ But they said: ‘We fear that the Adän Warsáma may take the guns,The ugâs answered: ‘Were not the Adän Warsáma Dervisci/Dervishes. Now they are of the Government. They will not take them. An ‘Ala Madahwena killed a Garyala. They said: ‘Let the blood price be paid.’ The ugâs   said: ‘I consider the blood price six guns.’ When ‘I consider the blood price six guns’ was said, ‘Take them from us! Let it be so!’ was replied. “A Garyala went out, he killed one from the stirps of that one an ‘Ali Madahwena. The blood price of that one [the Bon killed] had not yet been paid. The blood price of the noble was paid with ten head of livestock. It was said: ‘We shall kill an Adän Warsama. That a Bon has killed one of us is a disgrace.’ It was replied: ’You can not kill him.’ [The matter] was taken to the Government. The lands that were given to the Garyálä belong to the [unknown]ugâs.   They have arrows and guns. A Bon does not take a lance, it would be a disgrace. Their speech is different, their walk is different: quick, quick. It is understood that they are Bon. A Bon said: ‘May a beast bite me! May the viper bite me!’ Another replied: ‘When the viper bites you, will you rest your feet on the ground or rather will you raise them in a hurry [again].*

The noble jokes this way with a Bon who took an oath — according to the Somali custom — assigning to himself as punishment for perjury the bite of a viper. The skipping gait of the Bon is the very one of a person who fears serpents

* They are Mussulmans, but they pray now and again. These Garyálä and we were born together. They were born together with the father of the Adän Warsáma. They were two born together. When they were still two boys, they remained in a place from which people had emigrated. They were sought. The Garálä who carried the arrows was seen. The quiver on his shoulders was seen. The other one was seen carrying a lance and a white shield.Their father said: ‘This has to be a Bon!’ Then his walk became ugly, and he did not have shoes. The walk of the other one is nice. This one is a noble, that one is Bon. When the Garyálä became separated [from the nobles], it was said: ‘Do not marry the daughter of a Garyálä! They are Bon. And if you see a noble girl staying with one of them, let [the Bon] be killed!’

“The Bon of the Galga‘él are the men called Barbaro. They became Bon in this way: An expedition was made. It was said: ‘The one who stays today [without coming] is to be Bon!’ Then the Galla of Abyssinia were raided. They left. When the expedition was made, the men against whom war was waged, who were Galla, arrived first at the place where they were going. Then the Barbaro slipped away. Then the Galla and the Galg‘él fought. The Galla were Waralläy, who live to the west. The Galla were vanquished. They were destroyed. Then it was said: ‘The Barbáro are not noble, today they are separate from us. Do not marry their daughters! They are not to marry ours! If they marry ours, they are to be killed. The one who marries theirs is to be killed!’ Thus are the Barbáro.

The Eylä and the Gambálä are of the Galgä‘él. The Gambay (clients) of the Abtisama. They eat unclean meat. The Eylä are of the ‘Alôfä; when they butcher livestock, they take the skin, sew the sandals; they kill the dig-dig, hunt the oryx. The Gambalolläy are Bon, descended from the Adän Yäber. The Yaylä are Bon of very short stature; their women do not marry among them; they live with the Adän Yäber. They live with the Isma‘fi Adän.

“The Gaggáb who sew the sandals and the blacksmiths feel loathing between them. The Angallaye say: ‘We do not want you.’ An Angallaye and a Gaggab girl went away together. They were pursued. People went to the one who had married her. It was said: ‘Divorce our girl! Do we Gaggab marry the Angallaye?’ There was fighting. There intervened the Hawâdlä, who said: ‘Let each one marry his girls!’

“If a noble marries a woman, the Bon come to him. If an animal is killed, some meat is given to them. Some thalers are given to them. If the lady is to give birth, she says to them: ‘Ask even three thalers, two thalers!’ Then they pray to the Lord. A child is born. When a child is born, they come. They say: ‘Give me what was told me!’ It is given to them. A child has come into the house. ‘Recite the fatiha!   May God make him grow for me! When he has grown, I shall give you two thalers.’

“A noble girl, when she reaches eight years old, is infibulated. A Gaggâb infibulates her. A thaler is given. If, on the other hand, a man is circumcised, our people circumcise him.

“When there is an assembly, the Bon come. They say: ‘You are our Gabar; give us something! Be generous with us!’ It is said: ‘What do you want?’ They say: ‘We want camels and sheep and oxen; what will be given to us?’ Then it is said to the [unknown]ugâs   who is in the assembly: ‘Let something be given to these people!’ Camels are brought. ‘Butcher these four head!’ They butcher the four head. The four camels are given to them; they eat them, but they speak only for food, for other things they do not speak. When expenditions are made, they are taken along. If some livestock is taken away, some is given to them.

“I have four Bon. When one of my Bon kills someone, I pay the blood price. When one of my Bon is killed, the blood price is paid to me. I take the livestock with which the blood price is paid. If one of my Bon steals something and is caught, I make restitution. If one has a Bon and kills him, there is no blood price. It is said: ‘His patron killed him.’ If a Bon kills his patron, he is killed or he is tied. In our ancient law, the man who coupled with a Gaggab was killed. The man who coupled with a freed woman was killed. If a Bon raped a noble woman, he was killed. If a child was born, it was strangled. It was thrown away. Now one is afraid of the Government. One can not make dissension. One can not kill. The wedding of a Bon is like ours. If one marries a Bon girl, one speaks with her patron. If he refuses, enough! The livestock is taken by the girl’s father.”

The historically more important datum that follows from this text is that some stripes of low caste are considered directly connected genealogically with the noble Somali stirpes. The reduction to low caste is due: to the violation of food taboo (as for the Ukkuray) or to cowardice in war (as for the Barbaro). This information, which is preserved by tradition, also attests to how pariahs of different origin have come together in the low castes, having in common only the condition of infamy in which they are kept or have fallen.

One of the stirpes of low caste under the patronage of the Galgä‘el has the name: Barbaro. This seems to be linked with Barabir, the name applied to the Somalis in the Arab Middle Ages. And remember that another trace of this name is found among the Ribi, hunters of low caste of the Rahanw[unknown]en, who in their jargon call the Somalis of high caste Beriberi ). Why was this Arab designation adopted by the Rahanw[unknown]en lower castes for the noble Somalis, and, on the other hand, among the Galgä‘el, more to the north, to name a stirps of low caste? It is difficult to say now, but it is to be noted that — according to the tradition — the Barbaro today of low caste are genealogically connected with the noble Somalis and represent only, as was said, a group of impoverished ones who were reluctant to fight against the Galla.

Just as also in the text published here, as we shall see elsewhere the Somalis of high caste are also called Gabaro, which is the name by which the Galla now in Ethiopia designate the non-Galla people vanquished and adopted’ into the Galla tribes.

Such an exchange of names leads one to think that in the valley of the W[unknown]ebi too, the Somali invasion and the superimposition of the conquering Somali group on the vanquished Galla and on the Negroes, earlier predecessors of the Galla, happened gradually and through various vicissitudes, not all necessarily of wars, but rather also of adoption into the tribes or by other means of infiltration into the territory and into the ancestral structure of the preceding populations. The Galla named in the text are, as usual, the Worra Daya, here adapted dialectically into Warallay (and elsewhere into Warday), that is, a Borana tribe also named in the Cronache Etiopiche /Ethiopian Chronicles.

3) The low castes among the Abgal.

The Bon live with the Abgal. The head of the animals that are butchered is given to the Bon called Gabôya. The heart belongs to the weavers, and they also have the tripe, the head, and the meat of the neck that is called gorguzzule / gullet, throat/. If an animal dies, they eat the meat. They do not eat with the Abgal. Bowls are put aside (for them). The Gabôya and his son are placed to one side, and nothing is eaten with them.

“The Gaboya make the sandals and make bags (they are the ones that are put on camels and one goes to look for durra). They make baskets (they are the ones with the tassels; they are sewed sheep skin; the women put them on their shoulders). They make girth straps for the camels. They are put under the belly. They make ‘kora-rara.’   The ‘korarára’   are ties that are put on the bags 295   with which the camels are loaded. They make the ties for the ‘h[unknown]an’ They make a thing called ‘sidda hanêd’   which is turned over. They make the skin dress (du), which is tied, and the tassels with which it is tied. The Abgal women wear it. Tassels are sewed to the skin dress for ornamentation.

The Gaboya, the blacksmiths, and the weavers are distinguished. The weavers make the clothes. The blacksmiths make the lances, make the knives, make the pincers sidibo it is a thing with which the beard is pulled out); they make that with which the beard is shaved, which is called a razor; they make the scythes with which the fields are worked and the plants are cut. They make the hoes with which the ground is hoed.

“Marriage is not contracted with the blacksmiths, with the Gaboya, and with the Dardo; there is repugnance. They marry among themselves. A blacksmith marries a Gaboya woman; a Gaboya marries a woman of the blacksmiths. They eat with the blacksmiths. They eat with the weavers. They do not eat unclean meat.

Food is eaten with a Gaboya who has fasted, who has prayed, who has given the ‘zakat.’   In ancient times he was separated (from the others) because of the unclean meat, but he was noble. If he once repents there will be eating together. In fact if the Law is considered, it is a Gaboya who was separated [from the others] because of the unclean meat. If, then, one goes on and judges, he was a noble that the occupation and the unclean meat separated [from the others]. Once he has left the occupation and has left the unclean meat and has fasted, offered the prayers, and given the ‘zakat,’   then the Law is that food is eaten with him.”

This text concerns the Abgal ‘Abdallah Agon-yär, from whose notables I collected it in July, 1919. The lower castes living with the ‘Abdallah Agon-yär are, consequently:

a) the Gaboya, who practice the occupation of tanner. The name Gaboya   means ‘quiver’ in Somali, but it would perhaps be imprudent to draw consequences from this imaginative etymology, because it is also not to be excluded that Gaboya may be a popular Somali modification of an ethnic name of some other origin.
b) the Dar-do (literally ‘weave-clothes’), weavers;
c) the blacksmiths, Tumal
Our text confirms the prohibition of marriage between the Somalis and these stirpes of a low caste, and confirms also the prohibition of contact with them, such as, for example, eating from the same wooden bowl. Characteristically, because of the influence of Islamic law, the second of these prohibitions is attenuated in our text, because it is permitted for an individual of low caste who has fulfilled all his religious and ritual obligations of Islam and who has renounced the traditional occupation of his caste (occupation considered degrading) to eat with the Somalis. The double condition set for this concession (a religious one and one from the ancient customs) shows very well the intermingling, in this development too, of the ancestral social structure of the tribes, of the intensified influence of Islamic law, and, at the same time, of the ancient customs, which have evolved, but within their own forms.
References; Enrico Cerulli “How a Hawiye tribe use to live”

Written by daud jimale

May 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm

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