Even this story has an old timer in it, like many of the stories I have been telling of late—something about old age and the absence of what millennials like to call “chills” that is just the perfect mix for a good story. This particular old timer was a gentleman and a prince, as you will come to discover. He was Somali and he lived—I am guessing—somewhere in the Horn of Africa or maybe it was called the Land of the Punt at the time: it was eons ago.
The old gentleman lived in this homestead with his wives. He, however, for some reason loved one less than the others and so he would spend all his nights at the hut of his preferred wives. The other, she would spend her nights alone in her hut. As I said, he was a gentleman and a prince.
The family subsisted on camels. As was custom, the man tended to the camels all day; the women stayed home weaving mats, making ghee out of expired milk, and of course, discussing the Kardashians.
“Abaay, I feel for you,” said one co-wife to the ostracized one—I assume after doing a round on Kevin Spacey. Or Louis C.K. “Spending your nights all alone in that lonely hut, she carried on. With no human companionship. ”
“Waa mashaqa aduun. Shib deh!” replied the other. It’s a problem. Just shut up [Read: You can’t imagine.]
“Walaay waraabahaa kujiithankaraaba.” My sister, #issaproblem. You can even be eaten by the hyenas [I am tempted to extend the meaning of “hyenas” to Team Mafisi but I will let it go].
“Men,” the ostracized wife said, with a sigh. “I hate their guts.” Her co-wife remained silent.
“Abaay, I have an idea,” she said after a while. “You stay in my hut tonight. Pretend to be me. Here, borrow my clothes. When the old champ comes, he won’t recognize you. Will be hours past sunset. ”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“No, not at all. Knock yourself out.”
“You are a grand woman. You know that?”
“Just don’t forget, when you leave just before dawn, take one of his shoes with you.”
“And a wise one too.”
“Get going then. Go gerrit girl.”
Later that night, our old prince brought the camels home. Just as the last she-camel went into the camel pen, and the dust settled in quietly for the night, he went into one of his favorite huts thinking it was one of his favourite wives that was in the hut as usual: it was dark as a grave. But it would soon get lit. If you know what I mean. Just before dawn, she crept out of the straw bed, picked up one of his sandals and went back to her hut.
A few moons passed. It could no longer remain hidden. Her tummy was showing. But how could it be? Asked the old timer. This must be a Jon Snow! What? She asked. It is a bastard, he remarked. Do you never watch Game of Thrones? She rolled her eyes. It is not the fruit of my loins, he maintained.
Drought hit. Bit the land hard. The family had to move. In search of rain. On the morning of the journey, just as the last of the household items was strapped on the back of he-camels, and the last rope was tied into place, and the groaning camels rose from the ground, the expectant wife went into labour. The timing was just impeccable. It was comical—cosmic kind of comical. But, of course, nobody laughed. Certainly not the expectant mother. And certainly not the old man.
The family, nevertheless, set off on the journey to their new home. Well, except she who was in labour. May be the old man was punishing her for having a bastard, as he believed so. Or maybe he looked over at the field where he grows his “chills” and found it completely barren. Regardless, she was left on the deserted homestead, convulsing, right between the circles that have become the footprints of the just-uprooted huts. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, on her own. But there was no water, no milk or food for mother and baby to survive on. But the story goes, a gazelle (cawl in Somali) that was nearby, mammaries dripping with milk, came to where she was. Mother and baby drank the milk to their full.
After a few days, when the moving family had settled in a new homestead, and the huts were set up, the old man sent his servant, a man named Lahan, to go and fetch the wife that they had left behind. On arriving the deserted former settlement a few days later, he found her holding a healthy baby boy on her bosom. A big bowl of milk next to her. Looking okay, considering the circumstances. He asked where she got the milk from. From a gazelle, she said. Laughing, Lahan took the mother and baby back home. They arrived at the new settlement safely.
The family gathered to discuss the big matter of the baby, for the old man maintained it was not his. It is yours, the mother said to the old man. As everyone sat down in suspense, she produced a lone sandal, an elegant Tom Ford job, an oddly familiar one.
See this? She said. This is proof that this is your child. Laba Cali ismaweydiineyso (Two Ali’s will not ask each other), she pressed on. No two people will argue over it. This was clearly way before DNA technology. Remember that morning, she continued, exactly four moons and seven nights ago, that you lost your left sandal when you woke up? I spent the night before with you in that hut. The old chap has this memory that was sharp as Arya Stark’s Needle. He recalled the night in question with remarkable clarity. And since the nomads of the old days used to settle disputes in such practical, logical manner. If the shoe fit, as it were, then there was nothing to argue over. The lost sandal was something he couldn’t argue with it. It was well choreographed. Almost to Caraweelo-like perfection. The boy is mine, he agreed. He named the boy Cawlahan, derived from cawl and Lahan. The old man’s name was Ogaden.
[This, at least as I gather, is a Somali folklore, a legend Somalis tell about the origin of the name Cawlahan, one of the six sub-clans of the larger Ogaden clan. At least most of it is, except the parts about the Kardashians and Jon Snow. Obviously. I am not sure whether it is mere folklore or something that actually happened.
The Somali musician Cumar Yare has advised: “Waayaha aduunka iyo taarikha kaawein waxaa loowakiisha qofka waaya aragga (When you want to know about the days of the world and it’s old history, consult someone who has seen many days, literally). Or something like that. So when I heard this story, I asked a few of those who have seen many days. They said it is a story that Somalis tell. A folklore perhaps. Or something more. I’m not sure. Perhaps there are folks here that can enlighten us more.
The moral of the story: Your shoes may testify against you. And no matter how much the odds are against you, you can still go ahead and father an entire clan.]