Somalia’s greatest love story

Every people have great stories, in which they pass down to future generations. We Somalis are great storytellers. Come to a place of gathering with Somalis, especially the older generation and one will surly hear many stories being told. Somali’s love to tell stories. Poetry plays a central role as a form of expression and unfortunately that role in my opinion is lessening with the younger generation like myself. Although I love listening to the stories and great poems from our elders I am just not well versed in the language at the moment to appreciate the beauty and depth they convey. They get it, while I stay at the surface never reaching the core unless it is explained to me in broken down steps. I searched very hard for these stories and poems translated into English, but to no avail for the most part. One of my favorite stories and poets is the story of Climi and Hodan, a love that never was but has inspired millions and will live on forever with their people. A background of the story and poems by the love stricken Cilmi is provided below (Copied and pasted from Google searches)

“Her name seems to you so simple.
But to me it brings grief and woe.
I shall never give her up, not till the day they tread earth into her grave”
Cilmi Bodheri

Bodheri’s poems were inspired by a tragic and true tale of “forbidden love”. While working in a bakery in the northern port city of Berbera, a young woman of exceptional beauty named Hodhan came in to buy some bread. As she said “good morning” to him, instantly he fell in love with her. He could not sleep; he could not eat or drink. He was struck by her beauty.

In a conservative society, it was forbidden for any man to contact any woman or express his feelings without permission; and besides, he was a mere baker and she was from a richer family of higher social standing.
The tradition would have been for his family to approach her family and formally meet. But this was not possible due to their relative social standing. The descendents of his family are still poor today.

“A proud grace is her body’s greatest splendour.
Yet is she gentle, womanly, soft of skin?
Her (gun’s) dark gloss is likened to blackest ink.
And a careless flicker of her slanted eyes
Begets a light as clear as the white spring moon.
My heart leaps when I see her walking by,
Infinite suppleness in her body’s sway.”

So he composed poetry to confess his love for her. In a traditional and nomadic society, his words broke with taboo and recited by heart by many Somalis today.
He finally got a chance to see her again. He heard that she would be visiting a neighbour. But he never saw Hodhan, he fell asleep and was angry at himself for missing his chance to see her.

“I have heard that other men have stepped forward to claim the girl on whom my mind was set.
Wind, swear to be by the everlasting one that you will carry my words though the air.
Tell her that stone houses and walls would have felt the pain.
Tell her that termite hills would have sprouted green grass if they had but heard these words of mine.”

Courage and stoicism were valued in Somali nomadic culture, not talk openly about love and its afflictions. His clan became worried that he was now at marrying age, but was not interested in anyone other than Hodhan. They brought four beautiful young women to him, and they uncovered the top part of their dresses to show him their breasts, then he was asked to choose one amongst the four girls as his bride. He refused.

“If eyes could capture the splendour that could soothe the heart,
Or human beings could be satisfied by beauty alone.
I have seen already that of Hodhan.
And now, young ladies you have touched once more that wound.
The heart that I have been nursing, you have broken again.
Let God not judge you, cover your chests.”

Bodheri left behind an extraordinary collection of poems of unrequited love, inspirational to this day. Musicians have used his words to create music and dance from Somali, Ethiopia, Kenya and surrounding regions.
Later, he became distraught; a “different man” after learning that she was to be married to another man richer than himself and from the same social class as her. He was inconsolable. Hodhan used to cry too when she saw all these poetry and people criticizing her for not going to him.

Hodhan is said to have gone to him one day to see him, but Bodheri was sleeping. Hodhan didn’t want to wake him so she left, upon finding out he had missed Hodhan Bodheri wrote the following:

Sleeping during the day is not a wise idea
Unless I am cursed why did I miss Hodhan

Bodheri was finally persuaded to marry and leave Berbera, but he kept dreaming of Hodhan and talking to his wife as if she was her. Unable to tolerate this, she left him and Bodheri returned to Berbera. He became very emaciated and would not eat or drink. He had lost his mind.

“When the camels come back thirsty, from many nights of grazing in the pasture, they are brought to a halt just short of the well.
While a youth sings trying to keep them calm, but they want to press forward for already they hear the “hoobey! hoobey!” of the watering chant.
I am like that when I hear you say: Hodhan.
It is degrading to yearn for what you cannot have.
Alas! Alas! What disaster has befallen me?”
Cilmi Bodheri died in 1947; his body is buried in a dusty cemetery in Berbera. The tale says that Bodheri died of a broken heart, childless and still in his youth.

One poem I came across on Google:
When the camles come back thirsty,
From many nights of grazing in the Hawd,
They are brought to a halt just short of the well,
While a youth sings, trying to keep them calm.
But they want to press forward, for alrady they hear,
The “hoobay! hoobay!” of the watering-chant.
I am like that when I hear you say “hodan”!
Her name seems to you so simple,
But to me it brings grief and woe,
I shall never give her up,
Not til the day they tread earth into her grave,
Rapt in a deceitful trance,
I thought I was sleeping by her side,
But it was a jinn, not she herself,
A jinn made in the image of her sister.
I tried to catch her by the hand
But the place by my side was empty-
I found I was striving in vain,
For there was no one there.
I tossed from side to side, then suddenly awoke-
I rumpled my bed like a prowling lion,
I attacked the bedclothes and punded them,
As if it were they that had caused my loss.
Like a hero against whom men have combined
I covered my face, all but my defiant eyes.
I was humbled, like a boy who could not save from robbers,
The herd entrusted to his care.
I felt disgraced as a woman does
When the words “I divorce you” are said to her.
It is degrading to yearn for what you cannot have,
Alas Alas, what a disaster has befallen me!

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