Sunday, August 5, 2007

History of Darwiish Ismaaciil Mire, Part 1

Ba'da gabay Ismaaciil Mirow adaa buuni ku ahaaye
Beyduu akhriyay weli ma odhan yaa bedela kaase

The words of Cali Dhuux Aadan paying tribute to the poetic abilities of Mujaahid and Wadani Ismaaciil Mire, the Great Darwiish General who fought for the majestic cause of Somali liberation, leading Darwiish armies into battle from Berbera(the very centre of the English Rule) to Hobyo and the Sultanate of Cali Yuusuf, the ruler of Mudug, and from there all the way to the valley of the River Shabeele in Hiiraan, Central Somalia.

Ismaaciil Mire, a son of the Dhulbahante, Reer Cali Geri, was born in the 1870s at the height of the power of the Dhulbahante. After the fall of the Kingdom of the Great Boqor Wiilwaal and sun had set on the Bartire, it might be fairly claimed that the Dhulbahante emerged as the most powerful and most feared tribe in Somalia. That reputation was solidified when Dhulbahante defeated the Ogaadeen in one of the most bloody, vicious and brutal battles in Somali history. The battle took place below Kabar Ogaadeen hills(Named after the battle). The Dhulbahante were left as the undisputed masters of Northern Somalia, occupying the land from Jiidali in the north of Sanaag to Ceelcad near the Mudug border in the south. From Kiridh in the west to Xalin in the Nugaal valley where they bordered the Majeerteen.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the English sent two explorers to prepare the way for English colonization of Northern Somalia. Richard Burton landed in the western part of Northern Somalia, among the Isaaq. To the east they sent his partner in exploration, a certain Mr John Speke who landed at Laasqoray with a brief to traverse the Dhulbahante country and meet up with his fellow explorer Richard Burton in Harar. Speke's mission was not a complete success as he was not able to proceed through the Dhulbahante country on account of hostility and suspicion that greeted his journey through their land. But he made many discoveries and recorded facts that are useful to us in reconstructing the condition and circumstances of the Dhulbahante clan in the middle of the 19th century.

Speke's arrival was greeted with suspicion as he advanced towards the Dhulbahante frontier in the spring of 1855. He received many alarming reports warning him about the Dhulbahante as being a "terrible and savage nation" who were unsettled by reports of Speke's marking out the Warsangeli land with paper. Speke wrote that he was delayed for eight days while his motives for travelling through the Dhulbahante lands were being established. He was eventually allowed to proceed and he recorded the internecine warfare that split the Dhulbahante Kingdom into two factions in those years. Until that time the Dhulbahante were under the Figurehead command of the hereditary Garaadship of the Baharasame kings but a schism developed in the early to mid 19th century that saw the rise and investiture of one Cali Xaram(Maxamuud Ugaadhyahan) who formed a breakaway Garaadship for the Maxamuud Garaad. It was a natural consequence of the growing vigour and rude health of the Dhulbahante clan whose lands, wealth and population became too large for their affairs to be run by a single Garaad. These birth-pangs of a New Order led to ruinous wars between the brother lineages of the Dhulbahante that exacted a heavy toll.

Despite these discords and intestine wars, Dhulbahante presented a united front in opposing what they felt any encroachment by suspicious foreigners. The Dhulbahante made it clear to Speke that he could only proceed through their land at their sufferance and authority and he was confronted with an ultimatum that he should pay for his passage through Dhulbahante or else turn back. As a demonstration of the hostile reception he could face the Dhulbahante arranged for Speke to witness a mounted Expedition of 4000 men being assembled for one of the dreaded Dhulbahante Cavalry raids that were periodically carried out by the descendants of Siciid Harti against their neighbouring tribes, both Isaaq and Daarood; Raids that spread fear and foreboding throughout the land as the thundering hooves of the Dhulbahante horsemen presaged terrible material and human losses:

The other people I met here were some Dulbahantas arming for the fight. They said they were 4000 strong in cavalry, and were slaughtering sheep wholesale for provision on the road. Each man carried a junk of flesh, a skin of water, and a little hay, and was then ready for a long campaign, for they were not soft like the English (their general boast), who must have their daily food; they were hardy enough to work without eating ten days in succession, if the emergency required it.

It gives us a flavour of the life of the Dhulbahante at the time that Siciid Qamax, the legendary Cali Naaleeye warrior and poet, composed his famous poem when the Dhulbahante reached the Indian ocean at Illig in a bloody march through Majeerteen lands, along the way exacting terrible revenge for a previous attack by the Majeerteen on the Dhulbahante. Before they reached the ocean they succeeding in sacking the historic capital of the Cismaan Maxamuud at Noobir(between Iskushuban and Beyla).

Waa loo shuhuud NOOBIR inay shaxi ka jeexnayde.
Badda shaqafka inaan soo darsaday sheegyay aadmiguye.
Iidoorku waa midaan shidiyo midaan shiddeeyaaye.
Shan haddaan ka dilo, waa anoo neef shidhow qalaye
Turki baan u shoolaye nin kale shuufay hadalkiise

Speke eventually turned back after his fate was spelled out to him in the starkest terms by his native guides:

They (the Dhulbahante) did not fear guns. The English could not reach them; besides, their fathers had driven Christians from these lands; and if an army was to attack them, they would assemble so many cavalry, and ride in such rapidity around them, that their gunners could not take aim in consequence of the clouds of dust which this feat would occasion!

Shortly thereafter Speke turned back and made his way to Harar by some alternative route. He and Burton ran into a hot reception from the Habar Awal and their mission ended acrimoniously amid bitter recriminations between the two explorers.

Another explorer who had a better time of it in Dhulbahante country was the man sent by the Royal Geographic society to survey the northern part of the land of the Somalis. He also noted the bitter intestine warfare that was ravaging the Dhulbahante Kingdom amid the schism between the two great Lineages of the tribe. But his impressions were in similar vein to Speke, highlighting the overwhelming martial nature of the tribe and their superiority as fighting force occassioned by their use of Cavalry charges that gave them great mobility and an irresistible battlefield presence. Cruttenden wrote:

Dhulbahante are a nation who fight chiefly on horseback their arms being 2 spears and a shield. Their horses are powerful and courageous; the breed descended, according to Somali tradition, from the stud of Suleiman, the son of David, and consequently highly valued. The Dulbahante, as far as I have seen them, are a fine martial race of men, second to none of the branches of Darrood either in conduct or appearance, and they are described as being courteous and hospitable to the stranger who visits them.

The abundance of horses in the Dhulbahante country and the prowess of the Dhulbahante as horsemen is recurring theme. Drake-Brockman, a colonial civil servant during the Darwiish wars remarks on this in his book, British Somaliland:

Previous to the expeditions against the Mullah, the tribes which were, in all probability, the best off in horses were the Dulbahanta, and after them the Ogaden. At all events, most of those in a position to speak are agreed that the Dulbahantas are the best horsemen among the Somalis.

The next visitor to the Dhulbahante country was one Harold Swayne in the 1870s. He wrote extensively about Northern Somalia in his books Seventeen Trips through Somaliland. Swayne wrote that "of the Somali tribes I have met on different expeditions those having the most ponies are the Dhulbahante, the Reer Amaadin and the Jibriil Abokor. In the Nugaal country we saw enormous number, one man sometimes owning 150"! This abundance of horses gave the Dhulbahante great strategic advantage which they pressed relentlessly. It allowed them to cover huge distances. Swayne records that the Dhulbahante were a tribe addicted to raiding and their horsemen rampaged down the coast molesting the coastal trade centres of Bullaxaar and Berbera. They also harried and looted the trade caravans coming from Mudug and Ogaadeeniya. When Swayne visited Caynaba then occupied by the powerful Ararsame lineage of Axmed Garaad he witnessed large number of caravans that were Ararsame Magan. The caravans were afraid to venture towards Berbera fearful of Maxamuuud Garaad horsemen.

Swayne writes that the people of Badweyn 'had just come from Gosaweine, driven from there by fear of Mahamud Gerad, and we were assured we would most certainly be attacked by that tribe if we held to our determination of going to Gosaweine. We were further told that the plains were very open and the horsemen "as numerous as the Sand" and that years ago a force of natives armed with 100 matchlocks had been completely wiped out there by a night attack'. In the event, Swayne's party did not meet the "the terrible Mahamud Gerad" but was instead given an escort by a detachment of Ararsame and Barkad horses who were themselves on the lookout against the Mahamud Gerad. Swayne's party made a bivouac on the plain that night. But caution dictated to them that they not light any fires to avoid attracting the menacing attentions of the Mahamud Gerad Cavalry.

Swayne in his travels comes upon and mentions in his book one of the most glorious Dhulbahante Battle victories. Upon visiting Caynaba, he writes that he "halted at a steep, flat-topped hill called Kabr Ogaden, or the Ogaden graves, where a great Ogaden army perished at the hands of the Dolbahanta". He continues that the tribe was here in "strength, with enormous droves of camels and ponies and flocks of sheep. For a mile round the wells were clouds of dust kicked up by the thirsty animals".

It was amid the splendour of this majestic, sprawling kingdom that Ismaaciil Mire Cilmi was born to the Guuleed Cali Geri branch of the Dhulbahante. At the time of Ismaaciil's birth the Cali Geri were recovering from the bloody conflicts that convulsed their family after the vanity of Aadan Galaydh and his expansive family lit the touchpaper to intestine wars that left an indelible mark on Somali history. The story has been immortalized by an aged Ismaaciil Mire in a poem intended as a cautionary tale against overweening pride, the kind that led to the Qabaal Wars that shook the Cali Geri family. It started when Cumar Aadan Galaydh 'Cumar Aji' was denied pre-eminence of place at the watering hole by one Maxamed Cabdille Liibaan who (to emphasize his point that Cumar Aji will not drink from the well) broke the Qabaal that was being used to water the Camels. Cumar Aji promptly murdered Liibaan for his effrontery in standing up to a member of Aadan Galaydh household.

This set off a chain reaction that led to Cumar Aji being murdered at the site of a Balli watering hole and settlement that to this day bears his name to commemorate this infamy (the name appears on some maps). It also led to massive Cavarly wars that pitted the two brawling lineages of the Cali Geri against each other. Aadan Galaydh, Qoorwaa Jaamac and Boos Illaawe were some of the personalities that took part in those wars and whose names were immortalized in those bloody and violent conflicts. Aadan Galaydh's rashness and his role in prolonging the conflict were redeemed by the courage and sacrifice of his numerous grandchildren (and some of his own children) who in later years embraced the Darwiish cause and fought valiantly in the majestic cause of Somali liberation. Xayd Aadan Galaydh and 3 of Baynax Aadan Galaydh's children were killed in Jidbaale, the disastrous engagement that nearly destroyed the Darwiish Movement in 1904. Portions of Sayid Maxamed's Gudban poem read as a moving dirge in memory of the fallen Cali Geri heroes who were lost in that bloody encounter.

Gambalaaligii bay warmaha nagu garraaxeene
Eebbow waa gumaadeen raggii gaanaha ahaaye
Eebbow waxay gabawareen Gaagguf iyo Xayde
Guuleedku wuxuu noo ahaa guurti loo hirane
Nimankii garaadada ahaa waa gadow jabane
Eebbow sidii gaanti maro waa la gaasiraye

Qoorwaa Jaamac, the legendary warrior, who put his mark on a Lebi(Poinciana Elata) tree that was thereafter named Lebi Suntaale, none allowed to sit under it, also had a role in prolonging the conflict. When a peace assembly was held he asked the provocative question: Can we have a living and breathing Cumar Aji restored to us? When the obvious reply came that a living Cumar Aji was an impossible notion, he responded: Peace will also be an impossible notion!! (Cumar Aji haddii la heli waayo, nabadna la heli maayo).

By the time of Ismaaciil Mire's birth peace and amity was restored among the Cali Geri and their prosperity revived an it was in this milieu that young Ismaaciil Mire was raised. In his formative years he spent learning the Koran as well as imbibing the culture, poetry and the ways of the Somali people. He was taught the indispensable arts of horsemanship, so vital to the warrior Dhulbahante way of life. In a very short time Ismaaciil Mire emerged as "a skillful leader of great courage and prudence".

When the aggressive and predatory European colonialists arrived in Somalia and opened their mission schools and strangled the coastal cities of Somalia, Ismaaciil Mire was one of the Dhulbahante leaders who were alarmed by this new development. When Sayid Maxamed Cabdille Xasan launched the Holy Darwiish movement Ismaaciil Mire was one of the first people to embrace the cause. For him, like all the Dhulbahante, it was a choice between Freedom and Servitude, Degeneracy and Morality, Treachery and Loyalty. In short it was a choice between Right and Wrong. The land of the Somalis can only be ruled by Somalis and it was in the defense of the Somalia, its religion and culture that he waged a relentless war of liberation that lasted for two decades.

In the first year of the Darwiish movement, the Dhulbahante, and Cali Geri in particular, formed a reserve elite force with modern arms numbering less than a thousand bolstered by additional thousands of spearmen from the various Somali tribes of Northern Somalia. As they moved into Ogaadeeniya large numbers of Maxamed Subeer embraced the Darwiish cause. The Ethiopians, upon hearing about the activities of the Darwiishes, sent out a large force from Harar. It was first feared that the Abyssinians were planning to advance as far as Dhagaxbuur. In the event, they stopped at Jigjiga and on March 21, 1900 a large Darwiish army made up of Ogaadeen spearmen engaged the Ethiopians at Jigjiga but they were eventually repelled by the better-armed Abyssinians, who themselves sustained not inconsiderable losses. The Abyssinian force was led by Garazmach Bante who sent a detailed report of the battle to the English, no doubt self -aggrandizing and painting the Abyssinians in the best possible light. He writes that the Reer Cali and Reer Haaruun abandoned the Darwiish movement amid accusations that the Darwiish leadership misrepresented the intelligence on Abyssinian fighting strength and sent the Ogaadeen into battle woefully under-armed.

With the assault on Jigjiga the battle for Somali liberation was well and truly joined. But it also dealt a heavy blow to the nascent struggle when the movement lost Ogaadeeni confidence. On top of the grievances we noted above, the Ogaadeens complained that the Dhulbahante had the better arms and were spared from the suicidal Jigjiga assault. The final rupture with the Ogaadeen came when Maxamed Subeer elders Guraase Xaaji Cali and Xuseen Yuusuf Xirsi 'Iljeex' conspired at Gurdumi to assassinate the Sayid. Sayid Maxamed was saved from walking into an ambush after being warned by a man named Cabdi Garaad Yuusuf. The Sayid was eternally grateful to this man. When the son of Cabdi Yuusuf Garaad came to visit the Darwiish Xarun, the Sayid composed a poem that included the following lines:

Maantuu ibleyskii Iljeex na ibtilaynaayay
Idilkii Subeyr maalintuu oboda ii dhiibay
Arbow ina Garaad Yuusuf baa aanaday galaye
waatuu akhbaartii i yidhi aaminka ahayde
Isna kaa maanta soo ambaday inankii weeyaane
Alaakoodsha oo wiilku yuu agab la'aan sheegan
Afka wuxuu ka dooniyo kuu uur ka rabo siiya
Ninkii loo ixsaan falahayaba iniq u dheereeya

The epilogue to the Jigjiga campaign was that the Sayid and 500 Dhulbahante Special Force that included Ismaaciil Mire, based at Haradigeed, were attacked by a large raiding party of the Habar Yoonis who were after the Reer Cali of the Ogaadeen. The Habar Yoonis and Reer Cali were engaged in a vicious war that unsettled the whole area. Unfortunately, for them they stumbled on the Darwiish reserve force, uniformly armed with modern rifles, and the Habar Yoonis were cut down, losing between 100-150 men before retreating. This incident poisoned Darwiish/Habar Yoonis relations for all time, compounded by the Dayax Weerar episode when Habar Yoonis in the Oodweyne district were looted.

Despite the Ogaadeen abandonment of the Darwiish cause, nevertheles the movement gathered strength in both men and materiel and the Sayid felt confident enough to take action against many of the tribes that were found to be intractable and refusing to join the Cause. A letter written to the J. Hayes Sadler, the British Consul at Berbera, by one Signor Gerolimato, an Amharic-speaking Italian, observed that the Ras Makonen and Garazmach Bante were not "sanguine as to the Abyssinians' succesfully establishing their authority in the Ogaden". Sadler observes that Darwiish domination of the Ogaden would spell ruination to British trade. He also believed that if the fears of the Abyssinian leadership were to materialize and the Sayid became the undisputed master of the Ogaden that it will 'mean that we shall be forced to have a permanent military occupation of the Protectorate.

By the middle of the 1901 the Darwiish Army swelled to 32,000 men and the British were so alarmed by the growing influence and power of the Darwiish Movement that they launched an Expedition headed by E. J. E. Swayne, the brother of Harold, explorer of Northern Somalia, to quell the 'rebellion' once and for all. From that time until 1904 when the fourth and last British Military Expedition ended, the British and the Darwiishes fought a series of inconclusive engagements that ended with Sayid being ceded large territory in from Mudug to Nugaal. The history of these campaigns have been essayed extensively and need not be recounted here. The principal matter of this narrative is the role played by Darwiish Commander Mujaahid Ismaaciil Mire in the struggle to liberate Somalia from Colonial Domination.

The second installment in this historic essay will trace the major military expeditions commanded by Mujaahid Ismaaciil Mire and the poetry he composed to mark those victories.

be continued...

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Mahad Abdul's said...

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