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You are here: UMWiki>WorldInTwoCities Web>LocalMusicScenes>SomaliCommunity>WomensIdentitiesInTheSomaliCommunity (23 Dec 2009, schu1778)

Women's Identities In The Somali Community (Fall 2009)

On This Site

The rich, cultural diversity of women in the Somali community manifests itself in myriad ways. Many Somali women identify themselves proudly as both mother and professional, educator and political activist, musician and Muslim, sometimes just one and sometimes all of the above. With a geographical range across the globe, the Somali diaspora encompasses many different countries and cultural traits beyond the narrow scope that is often assigned to it. Minneapolis and St. Paul, an urban center of less than a million people, boasts the largest Somali population in the country. A federal census in 2000 reported the population of Somali immigrants in Minnesota at 11,164, a number which is now estimated to have tripled. Over a semester long mini-ethnography our group of researchers embarked on a journey of intense participant observation and self-reflection to delve into the world of Somali culture from a woman's prospective, both as women and getting to know women of Somali heritage. Because the Somali language is rooted in oral tradition, i.e. poetry, proverbs, and storytelling, our initial research question began, "What role does music play in the lives of modern Somali women in the local community?" We searched for answers through personal interviews, attendance to community events, and even participated in a five-week kaban class (a traditional Somali instrument) from renowned Somali musician Muhumed Ali Magan. The answer to our question came in the form of many new questions that touched on issues of not only gender but also the wider political spectrum of what constitutes music, and where differences lie in musical identification in the private sector (women's homes) as opposed to public concerts and performances. Somali musical categories are more complex than say, a simple set of genres one might see in a typical music store. Instead, the rich history of oral tradition has since diversified in the complex cultural discourse of the Somali diaspora. The line where poetry ends and lullabies or songs begin is a subjective albeit fascinating subject.

"Mukulaal mininkeeda joogta miciyo libaax bay leedahay."
"A cat in her house has the teeth of a lion." -Somali Proverb

Excerpts From An Interview

(Interview conducted by Amanda Anderson, the female Somali woman being interviewed requested to remain anonymous)

Interviewee: Everything is poetry. We have our rich Somali language. I don't know if there's a generation gap but the Somali language is more about poetics. Everything is kind of, as I told you, a metaphor. There's a gabaay there's a burambur (types of poetry) and their traditional dances. It was a lot more common before than now. A lot more common when I was growing up.

Amanda: And what kind of settings do you hear Gabay and Burambur in? Is it just at celebrations?

Interviewee: Gabaay is more of a lamenting, it's like poems in a song way. Burambur is more of a female thing in a traditional wedding. You know, the bride and the groom, it's kind of pride by their own tribes or how dignified they are- in the Burambur. I know burambur is very common and Gabaay is even more common. Also verses, I don't know what they call it- the mahmah- a kind of a poem. When a wise man or wise woman says something to someone they use gabaay it is a type of metaphor, not applying it in direct verses.

Amanda: Yeah, when the people in the class were at the wedding, they had heard Burambur. There was a woman there who was singing songs about the family.

Interviewee: Yes, the family and their lineage, how grateful they are, how beautiful they are, things like that.

Amanda: Are there particular reasons that gabaay is more suited to men and burambur to women? Or is that just sort of a tradition?

Interviewee: I think the way they sing. Gabaay is more to give you a message. If there's a war or a grudge or a mediation. Gabaay is mostly a message.

Amanda: Is it political, or is it generally not considered political?

Interviewee: It could be political. Or it could be somebody else who wants to say something in that situation. For example one of the gabaays, old gabaays, is Said Muhammed del Aksan. One of the legendary gabaays. He said how we can't diss people. Gabaay is more political. But not really political in an American way. It's like, to give you a message. Burambur is more of a festivity-wise. It's like that situation. It's like weddings or to welcoming somebody. And burambur is more of a dancing way too. Not gabaay.

Amanda: In Gabaay you wouldn't really dance?

Interviewee: No you rarely dance.

Amanda: Would you consider Gabaay or burambur music or just poetry?

Interviewee: Poetry.

Amanda: How is the Koran taught, to children usually?

Interviewee: Koran is taught to children when we are young. By six, seven years old, you have to memorize the whole Koran before you go, it's like a preschool for us. You just memorize the whole verses. And then you might not understand the whole thing but it depends on the teacher, Mostly it's about memorizing the fundamentals of the Koran, for children.

Amanda: Is it usually taught by parents or in school?

Interviewee: In school. It's called madrasaya.

Amanda: Are there children who grow up, in Minnesota for instance, that hire personal teachers?

Interviewee: Yes, they do hire teachers.

Amanda: I have heard a very beautiful sort of the chanting of the Koran. It sounds musical, you know. But, our class was told by some of the people that we have spoken with that they didn't consider that to be musical. It's more chanting.

Interviewee: It's more of a chanting. That's true.

Amanda: I think maybe there can be very different views about music. In western ideology, what constitutes music and what is poetry, there exists a definite line between the two. And it seems to me like the poetic nature of the Somali language makes things sound very musical but they're considered poems only, even the chanting.

Interviewee: Yes, even in traditional nomadic society they have their own music. By the drums and by the dancing. I think a long time ago in Somalia- when it was stable- there was a lot of festivities going on. There's sort of a kind of dying out now because we re scattered all over. The kids who grow up in Minnesota or London, or anywhere else, they don't know about that. If you go to a real Somali wedding, you will see the older ladies performing dances. We might not know very much about it, but they will know.

Amanda: Minnesota elementary schools usually require students have to take general music classes of some sort and/or play an instrument. Is there a similar tradition in Somalia?

Interviewee: In Somalia? No, unfortunately we didn't have that luxury. It's kind of a luxury thing.

Amanda: Right, it requires a lot of money for the programs definitely

Interviewee: Yes, you have to be able to buy an instrument, you have to be able to devote the time to the children to teach them. And that luxury's not available there yet.

Amanda: So music was never really incorporated into education generally?

Interviewee: No. I remember in school back home we had to sing a song before, we all gathered in front of the school, and sing a little bit, either the national anthem or something else, in that setting- but not really in a formal way.

Amanda: Are there any taboos in terms of instruments, for women specifically?

Interviewee: No I don't think they are taboos. The Koran might say its taboo- it might say in an indirect way, in a sense. In the Koran to move your body in a certain way- kind of lustrous- I can't just go to the mall and dance all of a sudden and just move around. It's just not suitable for that. But when you go to a party, a Somali party, and there's singing and they're celebrating something. Oh yeah, people love that music.

Amanda: So do you think that listening (to music) at home is not really considered improper then, if you're just sort of enjoying it?

Interviewee: I don't think its improper. It depends on the situation. I mean if the person is in a very traditional Muslim setting, they might not be able to do that. Some people are moderate, they should be able to that. I think it depends on who.

Amanda: Well just like in Christian traditions, there's such a huge variety of the way people interpret things. You know, what things they think are improper, and of course there's a huge variety. Its the same thing.

Interviewee: Like Lutherans are different than Catholics, it depends on the situation and how you raise your children.

Photos of Kaban Class

Me_and_Maia.JPG Researchers Raysh and Maia PICT0382.JPG Instructor Muhumed Ali Magan demonstrating a tune to researcher Nicole Ottjes

Link to a Video of Somali Performance

Somali performances

General Links For Somali Media


Links for Somali Mothers and Families


Amanda Anderson
Raysh Weiss
Maia Hamann

Topic revision: r8 - 23 Dec 2009 - 21:47:52 - schu1778
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