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The East African : May 3rd 2015
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE MAY 2-8,2015 sho≥t sto≥y The fall of a hunte≥ IX COVER STORY How Somali-Ame≥icans a≥e keeping thei≥ cultu≥e TURN FROM PAGE VII and music, Somalis are confronting poverty, discrimination, cultural differences and the novelties of 21st century. They are also dealing with the stereotype image of Somalis as being pirates and the negative image of international terrorism that has rocked their community. While some artists, such as the musician Abdulkadir Said, strive to remain connected to their heritage by working in traditional ways, others are experimenting with new hybrid forms. The contemporary Somali-American music and poetry practised in the United States is a fusion of influences from Western, African and Caribbean cultures. Younger Somali artistes By CHRINUS OTIENO GENGA snarl and squeal in recognition. This familiar scene occurs every time we converge on a hunting expedition. The crowd fills up the open clearing by Nyahera dam. We hug and greet one another, then size each other up. It is early morning and the birds com- T pete with different songs. The haze of the morning mist covers the Migwena plains like steam from a boiling pan. Some dogs do short runs as a precursor to the main race. My uncle Alois arrives just as half of the yellow sun emerges in the distance brightening his dark face. On a short string, he holds his lean mean dog Mawego, which has seen many expeditions. Uncle Alois is a born leader with the air of command of a decorated general. At his age, his experience is irreplaceable. His voice sets the pace. “I cannot see Jobwese,” Uncle Alois says, referring to my dog, which competes on an equal footing with his Mawego on a good day. “Haaa it is here,” I say, “Today is the day. Wait and see how Jobwese will beat Mawego in the plains chasing Ngau (dikdik).” My uncle smiles. His canine is a gold one he got while pursuing his postgraduate studies in the former Yugoslavia. He is a beneficiary of the famous “airlift” of the early 1960s. Hunting game is his passion. He says “Ngoja (wait),” then laughs. The excitement is palpable. We number over 20 strong jubilant hunters, each with two hunting clubs. My uncle has two razor sharp spears and their double-edged blades glisten in the mid-morning sun. Jobwese emerges from a thicket, breathing in short rhythms that signal readiness he dogs have their tongues out in a mock yawn, curving their emaciated bodies in greetings to the other dogs on the journey. The mongrels for the job. It growls with clenched teeth at Mawego. Jobwese is a jealous competitor. My uncle barks at them to remain calm and they scowl and submit at his command. We set out on the hunt, wading through the knee-high Olenge grass on the plains. Our destination is Okiro forest but it is still hidden from view. To get there, we have to go through Chiewu swamp, Kothacha rocks and the whistling thorns of Dakwere valley. Occasionally a rabbit emerges from the thick undergrowth. They give us a chance to aim our spears and clubs. My uncle shouts, “Mawego kode, Mawego… Mawego,” and I respond, “Jobwese, Jobwesa, Jobwese… malo, make.” We are ecstatic as we chase and take aim with our crude weapons. The dogs are ready too and we have fed them on the entrails of the squirrels and the rats we have gathered so far. The small boys, our apprentices, are apprehensive of this outdated Kopada tradition. We keep them busy by tasking them with carrying the small game meat threaded on small sticks that dangle from their shoulders. Then, Okiro forest comes into view. It is a massive indigenous forest with big shady tress and tall grass. It stretches to the horizon as far as the eye can see. We start to spot the difference between a leopard paw and an antelope hoof. We begin to isolate the droppings of tamed goats and Colobus monkeys. My uncle interprets the squeals from Mawego. His on the upper part,” Uncle Alois shouts and the hunters move in to take aim... Two dogs howl in pain and we begin to count our casualties. ‘‘ instincts are almost always right. He gives hand signals and we spread out, our arms raised and ready. “Le Malo, there is big game on the upper part,” Alois shouts and the hunters move in to take aim. An enraged porcupine emerges and shoots its spikes in all directions. Two dogs howl in pain and we begin to count our casualties. Then Mawego gives a distinctive bark that signals he is in close pursuit of a big animal. “Kaman’gange, this is it. We have an ant bear. No, it is a warthog.” “No it is an antelope,” I correct my uncle as we both take position, our hearts beating with excitement. My uncle aims and sinks his spear into the animal’s neck. It goes down on its knees. “Duto,” he says, meaning “I have the whole of it,” he shouts as he rushes forward to lay claim to the kill. Mawego is holding the thigh firmly. I bolt from my position to congratulate my uncle on the kill. In a flash, barely a fraction of a second the unexpected happens. A hunter rushes forward his spear tacked under his arm to lay claim to the same kill. “Watch your spear, you will hurt some- one,” I shout from the rear, hoping to draw his attention. I am a second too late. As he launches himself forward to grab the meat, the blade of his spear sinks into my uncle’s stomach. “You silly fool, you have killed me for game meat,” my uncle shouts. The greedy man turns around to see what he has done. He freezes and drops the dead animal, his arms limp in shock. ****** “Do not grieve over me. It shall be well Le Malo, there is big game with my soul. Hunters never die. When this is done, go back to the site of the accident and plant Ochod Angiri (indigenous hard wood mostly found in savanna grassland). Do not press any charges. Forgive and forget,” he says then stops breathing. I try to respond but my emotions betray me. Inaudibly and with tears flowing, I mumble, “Ok.” such as Deeqa Miire and Nimo Farah choose to incorporate Western forms of art as an expression of their changing awareness and evolving identity: Somali-American. In Minnesota, there is a brigade of Somali elders who are pushing for the preservation and continuation of traditional Somali arts in their original form. The de facto leader of this group is Osman Ali, the curator of the Somali Museum of Minnesota, who bemoans that the glory of Somali poetry and music is waning. Osman Aziz, a Somali painter, points out that traditional Somali poetry is disappearing because the younger generation is not keeping it alive. “The new generation are doing Westernised poetry,” says Aziz. The Westernised poetry that Aziz is referring to is the spoken word recited or read in English or Somali. Traditional Somali poems were chanted, never written down. A prominent poet would sit down, and people would mill around him to listen to him. They composed the poems on the spot. The older generation is fearful that there is no one to carry on the mantle of Somali traditional arts. “Before we pass away, we want the second generation to take our role,” said Abdulkadir Said a Somali traditional musician. Persuading young people to uphold Somali culture is proving to be difficult, because many of the young people came to the United States when they were children and some were born in this country and grew up under the influence of American culture. “They don’t know what we are talking about,” said Ali. Kajoog, a non-profit youth organisation established by young SomaliAmericans, has created a platform for young Somali-American artistes. It holds arts and culture workshops for SomaliAmerican youngsters. Abdimalik Mohamed, Kajoog’s director of international affairs, says young Somali-American artistes have no hub to express themselves, and there is no chance of the young collaborating with the old. “There is a generation gap. They are still stuck with the Somalia mentality. Even the people in Somalia don’t think the same way as they did 20 years ago,” says Mohamed about the Somali elders. Nimo Farah shares Mo- hamed’s sentiments — a point of view that is more forward-thinking. “The narrative of when things were great and nostalgia is wonderful, but we should not live there,” said Farah. She feels that there is more than tension between the older and the younger generation. There is a disconnect. “Younger people are trying to figure out how to exist in America, and the elders are mentally in Somalia — only physically here,” she says. Farah believes that it’s difficult to get an appropriate forum where honest exchanges can take place on the situation of Somali arts between the two generations. The young Somali refugees raised in America are not Somali, but Somali-American. Their art constitutes authentic representations of what being Somali-American is — no longer Somali and yet not wholly American. Moreover, it is not only the Somali traditional art scene that is changing. The Minneapolis art scene has been shifting in recent years, through the rise of Somali influence. Just as America is altering the character of Somali art, Somalis are altering the arts scene in America.
Apr 27th 2015
May 10th 2015