The Hintire between 1880-1910
Like the nearby Geledi, the Hintire were a clan of mixed pastoralists and farmers. They occupied a compact stretch of territory flanking the Shabeelle River town of Mereerey.
Although the Hintire were considered raaciye (“followers”) of the Geledi sultan from the early nineteenth century and had supported him in the Baardheere campaign of 1843, they themselves claim that their ancestors never accepted the religious supremacy of the Gobroon shaykhs. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the recognized leader of the Hintire was Shaykh Madow Mahad.
According to Hintire traditions, it was this higher education that enabled Madow to surpass even the Gobroon shaykhs in knowledge of the mystical arts. The religious rivalry between Shaykh Madow and Shaykh Ahmed Yusuf of Geledi—who is also said to have studied at Baraawe as a young man—is the subject of numerous anecdotes, some in the form of Sufi stories extolling the superior insight of one or the other.
Although the Hintire could not hope to match the warrior strength of the Geledi, Madow’s religious esteem proved helpful to the Geledi, at least initially. When Ahmed Yusuf became sultan of Geledi in 1848, Madow is said to have given him some land as a sign of friendship and a token of their school days together at Baraawe.
And the Hintire claim that the prestige of their shaykh aided Ahmed in regaining the loyalty of many clans that had defected after the Biimaal victory over his father in 1848.
However, at the same time, Madow was acquiring a religious following of his own, notably among the Hober clan of Daafeed, a district where the Gobroon shaykhs had been dominant for several generations.
Limited political cooperation between these neighboring clans thus did not prevent competition between their leaders for spiritual ascendancy. Without some awareness of this traditional religious rivalry, the particular response of the Hintire to the colonial occupation would be less understandable.
Madow was succeeded as head shaykh of the Hintire by his eldest son Ashir, who from all accounts was every bit as gifted as his father. Ashir was truly a man of religion; where his father had combined the roles of shaykh and islao (politico-military head), Ashir gave the responsibilities of managing day-to-day affairs to one of his kinsmen, though he continued to be regarded by outsiders as spokesman for the Hintire.
(Until very recently there had existed among the Hintire both an islao and a head shaykh. In 1970 the revolutionary government abolished honorific titles, replacing them with the more egalitarian term Aw, a word signifying “respected elder”.)
Ashir had little sympathy for the military exploits of his Geledi neighbors; when Sultan Ahmed Yusuf tried to mobilize a large army to attack the Biimaal in 1878-79, Ashir refused to allow his people to participate.
This refusal appears to have marked the end of whatever cooperation had existed between the two clans. During the last two decades of the century, there occurred a number of skirmishes between the warriors of the Hintire and Geledi. The verdicts were mixed, although the Hintire won a last-minute victory in a battle in 1903-4, which proved to be the last between these riverine rivals.
The Geledi themselves admit losing the battle of Axad Mereerey (“the Sunday [year] of Mereerey”) because one of their warrior contingents attacked prematurely. The dating of a year by the battle suggests that it was one of the more important events that year (1903)
This background of antagonism toward the Geledi influenced the initial Hintire response to the “Italian problem.” Immediately after the battle of Lafoole in 1896, the Wacdaan sent a courier to Mereerey to solicit Shaykh Ashir’s support in their continuing struggle with the colonials. The courier asked Ashir to use his spiritual influence to help defeat the infidels. The Hintire leader refused on the grounds that the Wacdaan had assisted the Geledi in earlier battles with his clan. Ashir abruptly spurned the Wacdaan’s conciliatory offer of a gift of one hundred cows; the messenger is said to have ridden off without a parting word.
Shaykh Ashir’s position toward the colonials remained consistent throughout his lifetime and gives the lie to all simplistic views of Somali resistance. He felt that the Hintire, as good Muslims, should go to war only if their territory were invaded.
This policy he had applied in his dealings with other Somali clans as well. He had declined to participate in Sultan Ahmed’s aggressive campaigns against the Biimaal. He had counseled patience when his militant son and other kinsmen wanted to raid Geledi herds and seize land in dispute between the two clans. And as late as 1904, when acts of open resistance were becoming commonplace in the Benaadir, a colonial informer reported that Ashir refused to join the resisters: it was claimed that the shaykh would encourage his followers to take up arms only if the Italians moved inland and directly threatened Mereerey.
While Ashir sought to avoid endangering the lives of his kinsmen, he nonetheless wanted nothing to do with the infidels. He consistently rebuffed messengers sent to him by the Italian authorities.
Even his Somali enemies praised his nonaccommodating stance. A poet of Afgooye, recording the attitudes of the various southern clans toward the foreign invaders, said
Yet Ashir was aging, and his sons had begun jockeying for succession to his position of authority. At his death in May 1907, the three sons of his youngest wife decided to take a stance that was openly hostile to the Italians.
These three sons did not enjoy as much influence in Hintire clan councils as did Ashir’s older children. It is also possible that they had been excluded from Ashir’s political inheritance, for his eldest son, Muhyeddin, had become head shaykh of Mereerey while the second oldest, Isma’il, had assumed the leadership of the Hober at Daafeed. As a result, the three junior sons may have sought increased prestige and power by taking an independent stand on the colonial issue. The three began cooperating actively with the ever-growing group of Benaadir resisters, and Mereerey soon became a major center for the gethering of dervish recruits. Those Hintire who chose to fight still invoked the name of their deceased leader: oral accounts recall how one warrior rose during a shir and vowed that he would never offer an infidel the hand he had used to greet Shaykh Ashir.
At the news of his father’s death, another son, Abokor—soon to become the most famous—returned to Mereerey from the upper Shabeelle, where he had been assisting some kinsmen in their struggle against Ethiopia’s imperial armies. Already at this time Abokor was a declared dervish; nonetheless, he counseled his kinsmen to observe his late father’s dictum and refrain from following the example of the three younger brothers. Only when the Italians began to march inland in August 1908 did Abokor and his brothers reach an accord: they decided to oppose the occupation with arms. The town of Mereerey was one of the few places along the Shabeelle which met the Italians with a united show of force. More than seventy Hintire perished in a field outside the town, which was later burned to the ground. Several of those involved in the fighting were self-proclaimed supporters of the northern dervish leader Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, among them Hussein Muhammad Yahiyow, nephew of Abokor Ashir, and Ibrahim Sha’ayb, who fired the first shot with a newly acquired musket.
A local poet recalled the battle some years later:
Abokor Ashir Madow said, I will not hoist the [infidels’] flag; The Hintire preferred death to disgrace. When the infidels came thundering into Mereerey, We saw many young men confront the barrels of guns; They were fired upon and silenced forever. We saw many people wearing mourning cloths, And many children who became orphans.
Lee Cassanelli “The shaping of Somali society”