Explorations in History and Society

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

Hereditary succession

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The Inheritance law of the Abgal

When one dies, the children belong to the paternal uncle. The wealth is inherited. If there are four children, five shares are made: one share belongs to the mother, the other four shares to the four children. If there is a girl, she also has one share. The father’s wealth is inherited. The girl has one quota, the boys have four quotas. The mother has one quota. The gifts that any of the children might have received from the father remain with the child. They are not counted in the inheritance. So it is. If there are two female children, each one has one portion of the two portions that a male child would take. If there is only one female, child, she takes as much as the male child takes. This falls to the only female child.

“Someone has died. His wife is married by levirate. Then the wife dies. The goods of the woman are inherited by the children of whom he [the bridegroom by levirate] is paternal uncle and whom the woman produced — the goods that the woman has: the ‘meher’   given by the deceased first husband, and the goods that have been left to her by her father — these goods are inherited by him [the bridegroom by levirate] and by the children that she has produced. He has one quota. The children, if there are four, have one quota each. That man [the paternal uncle] and the four children each have one quota. So they are equal. If he refuses the marriage by levirate, he does not inherit. Nothing belongs to him from the inheritance.

“If I die without children, my heritage is divided into three parts. The two male children and the female one born with me (my brothers and sister) inherit. The female one and the male ones have unequal parts. They inherit the goods. If my father is alive, my goods belong to him. If my mother is alive, nothing is given to her.

If one dies without either children or brothers and sisters, the woman that he married inherits and the paternal uncle inherits. No others inherit. The uncle has a bigger quota; they do not have equal quotas. To the woman are given six thalers of ‘meher’   and a head of livestock. The other goods belong to the uncle

“If one is alone, without brothers and sisters, without father, without mother, the tribe in which he was born and in which he died inherits. His flock is guarded. The money is taken out. From each thaler something is given to him: to the [deceased] man. And to him, with a funeral animal, the funeral honors are given. The ‘sulús’   is not read; the ‘fiddou’   is not paid. The Koran is read. Only one animal belongs to him for the funeral, nothing else from these goods belong to him.

“If one dies and his paternal uncle and his mother are alive, if Islamic Law is observed, something belongs to her (to the mother). If it is a matter of the customs of us Abg[unknown]al, none of the goods is given to her. She is sent away. Those goods [that are given to her] are an obol. If one dies and one has a maternal uncle, if he is a maternal uncle natively of another tribe, none of the goods belongs to him. If he is a maternal uncle also related through the father’s side [literally: son of paternal uncle] and there is no closer relative, three shares of the goods are made — for him, for the mother, and for the funeral of the deceased. The funeral honors are given to him with a head of livestock, a head of livestock is given to the mother, and the rest belongs to the maternal uncle.

“If one dies and his father is alive, one head of livestock belongs to the wife of the deceased, according to the Law. According to the customs of us Abgal, she is given the ‘meher.’   Nothing else is given to her. If the woman is pregnant, his goods are kept, one does not inherit. No others take them, they are afraid. If she gives birth to a boy, she keeps his goods. If she wants the marriage by levirate, she is married. If she refuses the man, the goods and the boy are taken from her. If she gives birth to a female child, an agreement is made about the goods. One share belongs to her (the mother); two shares are given to the daughter; the paternal uncle or the brother [of the deceased] claims the other goods.

These customary norms concerning succession among the Abgal, norms that are far removed from the Mussulman law at more than one point, are first to be clarified, in the sense that they refer only to the inheritance of movables. The immovables are excluded from these norms, since — as I have already said elsewhere the right to individual property has been introduced into the preeminent right of the tribe. Moreover, in the text translated here the Somali word adopted for ‘goods’ is holo, which literally means ‘livestock’ (the corresponding Galla hola means specifically ‘sheep’). The customs thus presented therefore concern only the ‘money’ and indeed not the ‘land.’

It is to be remembered further that, with regard to the women, the right of succession is limited to the institution of the levirate ( dumal in Somali), which we find in full force here among the Abgal So the woman married to her deceased first husband’s brother, if she dies in turn, has as heirs of her goods the second husband (formerly her brother-in-law) and the children of the first and of the second marriage, since, according to the Somali custom, contrary to Hebraic law, the children of the two marriages are all considered to belong to the second husband. If, instead, the brother-in-law did not exercise his right to marry her (or, of course, if the widow redeemed herself from the right of the levirate), he, the brother-in-law, does not share with the children in the inheritance from his brother’s widow. Under another hypothesis, considered by the customs, the widow, upon the husband’s death, if she is pregnant, retains possession of the movable goods of the husband in the interests of the newborn child, without the inheritance being opened. At the birth, if a child is a male, the brother-in-law asks to marry her (by levirate): if she accepts, besides keeping her own property (nuptial gift from the first husband, etc.), which happens in any case, she comes into the familial inheritance, acquiring rights to the goods of the first and second husband. If, on the other hand, she freed herself from the levirate, she loses any right to the inheritance from the first husband and she also loses the ‘custody’ of the male child.

But there also further intervenes in the norms concerning inheritance the importance, which in the belief of the Somali pastoralists is traditional, of the solemnity of the funeral. The very ancient ideas about survival after death with the vital necessities analogous to the earthly ones, as I have said elsewhere, cause a part of the patrimony of the deceased to be used for the funeral and the ceremonies that mark the beginning of the life beyond the grave of the one who died. Thus, in fact, various consuetudinary norms reserve a quota for these expenses, which may even be substantial, according to the rank of the deceased in the tribe. That in such ceremonies, besides the sacrifice of livestock, readings from the Koran are also imposed is a good indication of the elaboration of these ancient ideas adopted in the Islamic religion.

The Assembly of the Tribe

During the assembly of the tribe, which used to be held once a year on a particular date fixed for each tribe, and in a traditional locality, groups of armed participants in the assembly made a tour of the clearing where the gathering took place and, passing in front of the leaders, used to sing in distichs in warlike rhythm the problems that were especially to be dealt with.

Thus during an assembly of the Barisä Mantan (Abgal people of the Hintiro) in February, 1920, Barisä warriors sang about a quarrel that set them against the Yusuf (another Abgal people) because a Yusuf was responsible for the death of an old Barisä woman, and thus the Barisä people were waiting for the payment of the blood price by the Y[unknown]usuf people. The assembly ( sir ) met in the clearing of Kudkudalä.

“Consider the old woman! they tell me. Otherwise your throat will be cut!.”

And a crowded throng of archers sang:

“From Weririllo I am leading the throng. To the river and to the well you carry my word!   Because of this poison of the arrows (wabayo) I am mad. To the river and to the well you carry my word!   The vessel of poison is this one! The numbered days of life are these.   The Warfay Barisä are these. The ones who restrain the mad are these.  Your word has restrained me. (Otherwise) before dawn I would have gone (to take revenge).

Another group of armed men also asked not to be held back any longer from avenging themselves against the Y[unknown]usuf, here also designated with the name of their ancestor Dabruba.


“The people who refuse your authority, the Dabruba: they want to kill.   The old woman whom they have killed had delivered children. One should not delay. Let me!   You have made my voice delay within me. I shall kill the Dabruba. Let me!”  


“I am taking my debt from the Dabruba! My land is not a wilderness.”  
For their part, the Yusuf some days later held their meeting in the clearing of Ger; and their armed men responded to the songs of the Barisä with these distichs:
Whom shall I ask for the old woman? And now you are raving at me?   The old woman was carried off by the vulture. And now whom will you ask for her?   Malediction and bad night (you will have), if ever you ask me for the old woman.   If ever you ask me for the old woman, could you then spend the night at Habay
Habay is a group of wells of the Mantan (thus also of the Barisä) along the coast of the Indian Ocean north of Mogadiscio
Another group of Y[unknown]usuf boasted, in distichs, of their obedience to authority and asked in turn to be left free to act against the Barisä.
“The Dabruba follow their leaders. I do not reject your advice. Whether you hit me or whether you let me (act), I do not reject your advice.   You have caused injustice and the emissaries to be delayed ( ) I do not reject your advice.  The Dalas provoke me. I do not reject your advice. Can I not be left free against the Dalas? I do not reject your advice.”  
The Barisä are designated in these distichs with the nickname of “Dalas.”
A third group of armed men sang:

“I am the floor of the Dabruba. I want to reject injustice.”  
The first verse means that that group declares itself the very base on which the tribe could rest.




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