The Geledi clan have lived for about 400 years in the town of Afgooye on the Shabeelle river. They are part of the Digil-Mirifle people, and also have strong ties with the nearby Benadiri communities of Mogadishu and Marka. For a long time they have been closely allied with the Haawiye Wacdaan clan, who also live in Afgooye. Before the colonial period,
the Geledi were a small city-state whose prosperity rested on farming and trade, since the land by the river is very fertile, and their settlement was located at the point where the important caravan route from the interior to the port city of Mogadishu crossed the Shabeelle river, making it a major market.
In the nineteenth century the Geledi became extremely powerful, and the leaders of a great alliance of many clans living along the Shabeelle river and in the plain between the Shabeelle and the Jubba, a kind of small ‘empire’. A later article will discuss this; the present article will deal with the origins and early history of the Geledi, as they tell it in their own stories.
Like all traditional legends that people tell about their origins, these tales mix fact with imagination. It is not possible to know at this date how much is true, but there is certainly some truth behind them. They are also entertaining and instructive stories. I tell them as they were told to me, when I lived in Afgooye in the 1960s, and in 1980 and 1989; some of them have also been recorded by other writers.
They are told in many different versions; here I have made choices and combined them to make a single story, but some day I hope to publish a more complete account, with the names of all the people who were my informants. Meanwhile if anybody who reads this knows any more, please get in touch with me as I would be happy to have further information.
I believe that it is very important to record stories such as these, that are known to older people, but often neglected by the young, otherwise those who remember them will die, and an important part of the culture of southern Somalia will be lost.
Ancestry and migration of the Geledi
They say that the ancestor of the Geledi, Cumar Diine, was one of four brothers, all men of religion endowed with divine blessing, who came from Arabia; hence they are known as Afarta timid, 'the four who came'. According to one tradition they were sons of az-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam of the Quraysh.
Cumar Diine is said to have lived in Harar, and by some is identified with a sixteenth century CE (10th century AH )Sultan of Harar with a similar name. Another brother was Fakhri Diine (Fakhr-ad-diin), who later became Sultan of Muqdisho.
There was indeed a Sultan of of that name, after whom the oldest mosque in Mogadishu is named who probably lived in the twelfth century CE 6th AH) . (It is clear that these identifications cannot all be true, as az-Zubayr who was a Companion of the Prophet, the Harari Sultan and the Mogadishu Sultan all lived at completely different times.) The names of the other two brothers are given variously as Shamse Diine (Shams-ad-diin), Umudi Diine, Alahi Diine and Axmed Diine.
A story is told about the brothers, which illustrates their miraculous powers. As they journeyed they were given hospitality by a Sultan. A serving woman brought them meat and milk; then she listened to hear what they would say. The first one said:'The calf whose flesh this is was suckled by a bitch'. The second said:'The milk came from a black cow'. The third said;'the woman who brought it in is menstruating'.
The fourth one said ; 'The Sultan was born a bastard.' The woman reported this to her master, who on questioning her discovered that the first three statements were true. He went to his mother, and made her swear by the Qur’an to tell him the truth about his birth, and she admitted that once when she had gone out alone to the bush to bathe, she had been raped by a herdsman and the Sultan was this man's son.
From Harar Cumar Diine travelled to the Gedo area on the Upper Jubba. The Sultan of the Digil there, Aleemo, had a daughter, Caasha, who suffered from a terrible curse: there was a snake in her womb, which bit any man who had intercourse with her; she had been married to seven bridegrooms, none of whom had survived the wedding night.
Cumar Diine wedded her, but before attempting to consummate the marriage he ordered them to bring in a bowl of the curds from which ghee is made, a fire to heat it, and a wooden ladle. He heated the bowl, made the ghee, and anointed his bride’s body with it, and - by the grace of God - the snake came out of her. At this she said, 'Galad aa la in galoowgey!' 'He has done me a favour!'. From this he became known as 'Geledi'. She bore him twin sons, called Dab (dab = fire) and Qarsin (qarsin = ladle).
The descendants of Qarsin Cumar Diine are the Kasar Gudda clan, who continued to live in Gedo; but those of Dab moved on. The son of Dab was Subuge (subug = ghee), and he had three sons, Yerow, Warrantable and Guriile. In the course of their migration, they repeatedly had to fight against the Gaalo Madow, the 'black infidels', who then lived in the country.
One of their chiefs, as they passed through his country, demanded an unmarried girl as tribute; but the girl who was chosen refused to go, and the people, led by Yerow Subuge, agreed to defy the demand. For his action he became known as Gob u roon 'the best of Nobles' - a title which was transmitted to his descendants.
The descendants of Warrantable Subuge travelled in one party, and those of Guriile and Yerow (Gobroon) Subuge together in another; the former became the Tolweyne, one of the two moieties into which the Geledi clan is divided, the latter became the the Yabdhaale moiety. Finally they arrived near the River Shabeelle, though they did not realise it. The Tolweyne were camped at a place called Aw Ismaaciil, the Yabdhaale at the spot called Sheik Aw Jirow - both these are now cemeteries.
This was how they discovered the river, where they were to make their home. There was a white she-camel which used regularly to escape and then come back. They noticed that she was thriving when the other livestock were short of water.
A certain slave woman used to look after the camel and gather straw for it; she was sent to look for it; when she did not return her master tracked the footprints of the camel and found the old woman sleeping under a big tree, whereupon he exclaimed ‘Here is balgure = the straw-gatherer!’ (bal = straw gur = gather’) and so the place was named ‘Balgurey’. This is now a part of Afgooye town.
In this way they discovered where the camel had been drinking, and after this both Geledi groups settled by the river, and started to cut down the thick forest on its banks and build their town. Coming from inland, they occupied the right or north-west bank, that is to say the side furthest from Mogadishu.
Later they were joined there by the Wacdaan, a Haawiye clan, who seem to have arrived in the 18th century CE (12th century AH). According to one tradition, they had originated far to the north in the Mudug region; but at all events they had for some time been living further up the Shabeelle, near Balcad. They had retreated from there after a losing conflict with the Abgaal.
The Wacdaan occupied the left or south-east bank of the river (the side nearer to Mogadishu), as they still do. The majority of them were pastoralists and grazed their animals in the deex, the strip of sandy land between the river and the coast, however some settled by the river and built a small village that was called Afgooye. (It was only later, under the Italians, that this name was used first for the whole town, and then for the district.)
The reason for the name is not difficult to guess. Whereas the Geledi speak a version of the Maay-Maay language, the Wacdaan speak Mahaa-tiri – so their language (af) is cut or divided (gooye) from that of their neighbours. However a story that the Geledi and the Wacdaan tell gives quite a different reason.
The war against the Silcis
At that time the area, which was then known as Gooble or Arundale, was ruled by the Silcis clan under their Sultan. They were perhaps allies of the Ajuuraan – who famously once ruled over much of southern Somalia – or perhaps they were a ‘successor state’ after the fall of the Ajuuraan.
The Silcis had certain peculiarities: they used to tie their garments on the left shoulder instead of the right; the main partition of their houses was on the left instead of the right of the door (facing out), and their sandals had no heel pieces.
The Geledi were forced to pay them half their harvest, and a measure (suus) of grain and one of oil every Friday from each household, and a toll was imposed on all who came to water their stock at the river. This certainly seems likely to be a fact; in the last 20 years the groups controlling Afgooye have imposed similar taxes.
The last Sultan of the Silcis was Cumar Abukar Abroone (or Cumar Cusmaan Abukar). The story is that his daughter Imbia used to go around collecting the tribute of grain, accompanied by slaves armed with whips, in case anyone refused. She also used to sit by the river on a silver stool, and people were ordered to bring her bun (fried coffee beans). In between the cooking place and the river bank it of course began to cool, but if it was not hot enough for her liking she had the bearers whipped.
The Sultan used to claim the right to sleep with every virgin bride for seven nights before she went to her husband. In the end one bridegroom, man named Moordiinle Xuseen, refused to send his bride to the Sultan’s bed, and roused the people to rebel. They attacked the Sultan’s daughter as she went on her round, threw the grain she had collected on the ground, beat her and threw her silver stool into the river. She ran weeping with indignation to her father:
‘Aabow, Aabow, amiirnimmo waa ka suushay
Amiir waa Moordiinle Xuseen !’
‘O Father, Father, your rule has fallen from you,
The ruler now is Moordiinle Xuseen !’
Sultan Cumar was enraged and called his men to arms and attacked the Geledi village of Ceelqode. In the war that ensued the Geledi were supported by the Wacdaan, who had recently arrived in the area, and between them they defeated the Silcis. The Wacdaan however say that it was they who humiliated the proud princess and began the war, and that the Geledi only joined in later. Whatever the truth of it, all agree that the tyrannical Silcis were beaten and driven out.
The Sultan seeing his defeat said,
‘Afkay gooye - afkooda Allah ha gooye!’
‘My mouth is cut, may Allah cut their mouths!’
meaning that he had lost his food supply. And that according to the story is the origin of the name ‘Afgooye’.
It was during this joint war of liberation that the Geledi and Wacdaan made a pact of alliance, in spite of the differences between them of descent and dialect, which has lasted ever since. Only during the tragic events of recent times has it come under strain.
Virginia Luling firstname.lastname@example.org