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Modern Somali Mythology Ch. 05

Once upon a time, in the land that would one day be called Somalia, there lived a young woman named Sagal. The only daughter of Bashir and Lady Ayaan of the Garimarro clan, Sagal has always been a pious young woman. Long before contact with the Arabs and others brought Islam to Somalia, the proto-Somali people led nomadic lives, and prayed to Waaq, the ancient Cushitic God of the Sky. Unique among her generation, Sagal was a Seer, one born with the Gift of Prophecy, and she sensed dark times ahead for her people.

In those days, the Somali people wandered from place to place, always foraging for food and water, and there were few permanent settlements. The various tribes and clans were wary of each other, and often quarrelled over resources such as land, water, and of course, women. There was no unity in proto-Somalia. The people had no kings or queens, although the various clans and tribes had their chieftains. Proto-Somalia remained vulnerable to attack from the Arabs, the Berbers and wandering marauders from Sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa. In these treacherous times, a young proto-Somali woman named Sagal fell back on her faith…

“Waaq, Lord of the Sky, I beseech your aid in these dark times,” Sagal said as she fell to her face and prayed, on the arid Dollo plain, which borders the future nations of Ethiopia, known in these times as Axum, as well as Kenya and Western Somalia. Sagal has always been different, in more ways than one. Anyone looking at her would see a six-foot-tall, curvy young Africa woman with dark brown skin and long dark hair, wearing flowing red and white robes. Fervently the young woman prayed, and unbeknownst to her, in the Ether, beings of great power were listening.

It was not Sagal’s pious offering, which consisted of fruits and sweet meats, and a potent libation, which attracted the beings attention. Since time immemorial, Man has prayed, and the Divine has listened. Well, Sagal is one of a kind, and her prayers were heard by emissaries of the Divine. They were drawn to her, for mortal men and mortal women blessed with certain unique gifts have always interacted with the supernatural. It is simply part of an ancient pact between Man and the Divine…

“What is this?” asked Darod, one of the great Ayaanle, as the good spirits of proto-Somalia were once known. Invisible and quite powerful, they were thought to be omnipresent, and bringers of good luck. Darod had been flying about in the skies above the Somali plain, and saw the endless procession of nomads looking for water and food. When seen by mortals, a rather rare occurrence, the Ayaanle often looked like beams of light, and sometimes looked like giant birds. Truth be told, they rode the fence between animals and Man, flesh and spirit. They simply are what they are…

On this particular morning, Darod was not alone on his patrol, for the spirit Amel had been tasked with supervising him. The two of them could not be more different. Darod is smart and dedicated to his job, but he is also quite impulsive. Amel is cool and even-tempered, despite being a bit rigid at times. The two spirits balance each other out, that’s why their master sent them on assignment together. The union of opposites is often a beautiful thing…

“What are you fretting about, Darod?” demanded Amel, and she cast a sidelong glance at her acolyte. For the moment, Darod looked like a tall, slim young man with dark skin, clad in a red toga, and with huge, bat-like wings springing from his back. Like all of the Ayaanle, Darod is talented when it comes to shape-shifting, though his appearance was a bit over the top for Amel’s liking. Still, they were on duty, patrolling the skies above Somalia, as decreed by their master, Lord Waaq, Sovereign of the Skies.

“This mortal, there is something about her,” Darod said as he swooped down from the skies, and descended upon the plain. Amel alighted next to Darod, and for the moment, she adopted the form of a tall, slender female with brown skin and short, curly dark hair. In sharp contrast with Darod, silver wings protruded from Amel’s back. She shot Darod a coy look, and he frowned. Mockery was often reflected on Amel’s face when she dealt with Darod. He was the most tumultuous and impulsive spirit in their entire garrison.

“Darod, if you’ve dragged me down here to watch another mortal woman bathe, I will seriously singe your wings,” Amel said tauntingly, and Darod rolled his eyes. He walked into the thicket, removing the foliage from his path as he made his way to a rocky outcropping. Once there, Darod stopped. A mortal woman knelt and prayed, and her fervor was truly something to behold. Amel fell silent, and when her gaze met Darod’s, she nodded understandingly.

“This one is different,” Darod said, and, Amel nodded. The two spirits stood there and watched Sagal, silently observing the young woman as she completed her prayer. Sagal finished praying, and then rose to her feet. The young woman opened her eyes and smiled at the two spirits as though she could see them. Truth be told, the sun was shining and there were lovely roses near the thicket, right behind where Darod and Amel stood, and the sight of them brought a smile to Sagal’s face.

Sagal left the rolling green hills and wandered across the vastness of the Dollo, heading to the Gorge of Wagar, where pious nomads erected a sacred sculpture associated with fertility. While walking across the sandy dunes, Sagal came across an asp, a rather dangerous snake commonly found all over Somalia. The asp reared its head, ready to strike. Sagal gasped, wondering if her life was about to come to an end…

“Waaq, Lord of the Sky, protect thy servant,” Sagal cried as she fell, shrinking before the advancing asp. In the skies above, Amel and Darod exchanged a look. As messenger spirits which acted as intermediaries between Waaq the Sky God and the mortals which prayed to him, it was not the Ayaanle’s place to interfere in the day to day affairs of man, unless told to do so. Still, as good spirits, the Ayaanle loathed to watch humans suffer…

“I’m on it,” Darod cried, and in a flash, he vanished from the sky, having teleported himself down to earth. Amel watched as Darod changed form, going from a winged man to a small animal which she recognized at once. The mongoose leapt from the bush, placing itself between the fallen young African woman and the serpent. Darod struggled with the snake, for although he had the form of a mongoose, he lacked the creature’s talents and reflexes. The asp was ready to strike and its bite would be fatal…

“Darod, looks like I’ve saved your ass again,” Amel said as she swept down from the sky, in the form of a hawk. The hawk seized the snake just as it was coiled around Darod’s mongoose, about to strike the fatal blow. Like all birds of prey, hawks hate snakes, but they never fight the snakes on their turf. The hawk rose into the air, until it was hundreds of meters above the ground. Only then did Amel’s hawk release the snake from its talons, and the vile reptile plummeted to its death, crashing on the rocks below…

With the serpent gone, taken up into the skies by Amel’s hawk, Sagal was safe at last. Darod changed form, going from mongoose to tall, comely, dark-skinned and winged young man. In changing shape before a mortal woman, Darod violated one of the cardinal rules of the Ayaanle. Mortals are not supposed to know about them. The Ayaanle are allowed to speak to mortals only under certain unique circumstances, and then per decree of Waaq the Sky God himself. Darod had just done a no-no…

“Great spirit,” Sagal exclaimed, marveling as the mongoose that saved her life turned into the most beautiful young man she’d ever seen. Darod looked at Sagal and smiled, then, realizing his mistake, he willed himself invisible. Darod leapt into the skies, unfurling his wings to remain aloft. Darod hovered in the air, a hundred meters above Sagal, who looked upward, smiling at him, even though arcane magic prevented her from seeing him.

“Farewell, beautiful lady,” Darod whispered, and he was still hovering when the beat of Amel’s wings snatched him from his train of thought. The male Ayaanle looked at his female counterpart, who’d just saved his life. The Ayaanle are beings that walk the line between Man and Beast, Flesh and Spirit, but they are not immortal. Waaq the Sky God granted the Ayaanle everlasting youth and eternal health, along with shape-shifting powers and vast knowledge, but like any living creatures, they can be killed…

“Hmm, well, Darod, aren’t you going to thank me?” Amel asked as she hovered in the sky in front of her acolyte. Darod nodded and expressed his thanks. As the day was winding down, the two Ayaanle joined the rest of their brethren in the Palace of Hubal, where the good spirits dwell. There were thousands of spirits there, and they shared tales of their journey. They’d gone far and wide, watching over the sons and daughters of the African motherland, especially in the Horn of Africa.

When Sagal returned home to her father’s camp, the old man reproached her for wandering the land so close to nightfall. In the Horn of Africa, there are many things that can kill a person, such as the spotted hyena, the leopard, and a species of vicious wild dogs that show almost no fear of a man. Bashir was worried for his daughter Sagal, his only offspring, and of course, the most stubborn person in the entire camp.

“Sagal, I know you are pious, but you should not go so far to pray, your mother and I were worried sick,” Bashir said firmly, and Sagal nodded sagely. Like daughters since time immemorial, Sagal knew how to get on her father’s good side. She nodded and put on a sad face, and the old man could not help but embrace her. A half-baked apology later, and all was forgiven between father and daughter. Sagal always gets her way. Well, almost always…

“Sagal, if you pull another stunt like that again, I will whip you with cowhide strings,” said her mother Ayaan, a portly, dark-skinned woman of about fifty. Ayaan looked at Sagal, who’d charmed her father and was now looking very contrite. Mothers see right through daughters in ways that fathers can. Ayaan is a proud Hooyo, and the matriarch of the clan, and her word is law, even if she appears to defer to her husband Bashir in certain things…

“Yes, Hooyo,” Sagal said simply, and Ayaan glared at her, trying to spot any defiance which Sagal might be feeling. Sagal gently bowed her head, and Ayaan nodded. Mother and daughter hugged, and then Sagal joined her friend Choukri in gathering firewood for tonight’s feast. The men had gone hunting and brought back a gazelle, a rather large one, and the whole camp would feast on its meat. It was a good day.

“Sagal, you must stop pissing off your parents, otherwise they’ll marry you off to that annoying goat herder Marwan just to get rid of you,” Choukri said, as she helped her friend gather firewood. Sagal grinned, for she’d noticed the way Marwan looked at her. He was tall and gangly, and not quite ugly, but not handsome either. Some of the young ladies in the camp considered Marwan a catch, but he only had eyes for Sagal. More than once, Sagal caught Marwan looking at her derriere, and pretended not to notice. No need to be a Seer to guess what Marwan wanted.

“I saw a handsome man today,” Sagal said dreamily, and Choukri grinned, pressing her for details. Sagal hesitated, wondering if she should tell Choukri, her best friend, about what she saw. The Ayaanle are the guardian spirits of proto-Somalia, and everyone believes them to be messengers of Waaq the Sky God, and bringers of good luck. Still, no one had ever seen one. Like the Djinn and other fantastic beings, they were neither of the mundane world, nor of the next world. Spirits are a decidedly unapproachable lot…

“Tell me all about him, and don’t skimp on the good parts,” Choukri said insistently, and Sagal relented. Closing her eyes, Sagal saw the face of the creature that looked like a handsome young African man, only with huge bat-like wings on his back. The same creature that turned into a mongoose and saved her from the asp, one of the most terrible serpents to be found in this part of Africa. When Sagal finished her tale, Choukri stared at her, mouth agape in shock and incredulity.

“You asked for it,” Sagal said, shaking her head when Choukri laughed and accused her of drinking too much maize beer. Sagal did not care for those vile concoctions which were quite popular with both men and women at the camp. After the young women finished gathering the firewood, it was their duty to skin the gazelle and roast it. The delicious smell of roasting meat rose in the air, and the members of the camp gathered around the fire.

“We thank Waaq the Sky God for this meat and a successful hunt,” Bashir said, and as chieftain of the clan, it was his right to the first and best morsels of the gazelle meat. Bashir, Ayaan and Sagal ate first, and then everyone started slicing off portions and joining the feast. As the camp feasted, savoring the pieces of the gazelle and washing it down with coconut juice, maize beer and smoking Khat, everyone seemed happy. Sagal should have been happy too, but the young woman looked around at the darkness around the camp, and wondered if someone or something was watching her…

Darod stood in the darkness just outside the camp, and watched the mortals enjoy their feast. Darod had been alive for thousands of years, and during that time, he’d been a faithful servant of Waaq, the Sky God. The Ayaanle, or good spirits, aren’t immortal, but they can potentially last forever due to their everlasting youth and health. The life of an Ayaanle may seem easy, but it isn’t. In fact, Darod felt quite lonely nowadays…

Darod once loved a female spirit named Malika, one of his fellow Ayaanle. A long time ago, the Horde of Demons, led by a devilish female monster named Dhegdheer, sought to usurp the throne of Waaq the Sky God. The Ayaanle were called upon to fight on the side of good. Thousands of Ayaanle dueled with the Demons led by Dhegdheer, and although they won, many of them lost their lives. One of those casualties was Malika, whom Darod loved more than life itself. Even for nigh-immortal magical beings, there are certain things they cannot come back from. Darod thought himself doomed to loneliness for all eternity after Malika’s death…until he met Sagal.

Darod was blown away by how much Sagal, the mortal female Seer, resembled his long lost Malika. A lot of cultures believe that the spirits of people can be reborn, and come back to the flesh. Darod has never given much thought to such beliefs, but there’s always a first time. The Ayaanle willed away his wings, and took on a purely human aspect. Feigning tiredness, Darod approached the Garimarro campfire. He managed to get within ten paces of the fire before some of the young men grabbed their spears and confronted him. One of those young men was Marwan the goat herder.

“Who are you?” Marwan demanded as he held Darod at spear point, and he placed himself between the stranger and the clan chieftain Bashir. Darod held his hands in the air, and then, looking at the entire camp, he addressed them flawlessly in classic Somali, even though it had been many centuries since he’d made conversation with mortals. Truth be told, all of the Ayaanle have a magical ability to understand every language. The languages of man are easy compared to the countless languages spoken by the beasts, the birds and the fishes.

“My name is Darod, I am lost and tired, I beg of you, please help me, a poor lost soul,” he said calmly. Chief Bashir stroked his graying beard thoughtfully as he looked at Darod, this handsome stranger with a sob story. Standing beside her father, Sagal looked at Darod as though transfixed. The strange young man standing in front of her was the spitting image of the good spirit who’d saved her from the serpent earlier.

“Please don’t hurt him, I know this man,” Sagal said sharply, and she left her father’s side and approached Marwan, who still held Darod at spear point. Marwan glared at Sagal, and wondered how the pretty girl who made his heart sing might know the stranger who stood before him, seemingly unafraid, even though he had his spear near his throat. Sagal laid a restraining hand on Marwan’s arm, much to his dismay…

“Chief Bashir?” Marwan asked hesitantly, without taking his eyes off the stranger. Chief Bashir looked at his daughter Sagal as though she were some strange creature instead of the fruit of his loins. In deeply patriarchal proto-Somali culture, headstrong daughters are only tolerated to a certain extent. Sagal was causing a dangerous situation and embarrassing her father in front of the entire clan. Chief Bashir had to take control…

“Sagal, come to me,” Chief Bashir said, and Sagal shook her head, and continued to place herself between the stranger, this Darod, and Marwan. Darod continued to hold his hands in the air, but moved surreptitiously. When Marwan glanced at Chief Bashir as if to express his confusion and frustration, Darod was provided with the opening he needed. He grabbed the spear and shoved Marwan, sending the goat herder flying. Marwan crashed ten meters away, and lay still…

“I mean you no harm,” Darod said, and he looked at Sagal and Chief Bashir, and then handed him the spear he’d taken from Marwan. Chief Bashir took the spear from Darod and marveled at the young man’s speed. He’d never seen a human being move like that. Tariq and Jamal, two young hunters from the camp, went to help Marwan back on his feet. Sagal looked at Darod and smiled, then explained herself.

“Father, earlier, I got attacked by a snake, an asp, and this is the man who saved me,” Sagal said, grinning. Chief Bashir looked at Darod, and then at his daughter. After witnessing Darod’s speed first hand, the old man could believe that this stranger could have taken out one of the deadliest snakes in the Horn of Africa. Solemnly, Chief Bashir held out his hand, and Darod shook it.

“Brother Darod, it would appear that we are in your debt, I am Chief Bashir, and you are welcome by my fire,” the old man said firmly. Thus, Darod the Ayaanle was introduced to the Garimarro clan. That night, Darod slept on a cot outside the huts, with a leopard skin blanket provided to him by Sagal out of charity. Two of the camp’s hunters, Mahfouz and Karim, kept watch as Darod slept. They didn’t want any funny business from the stranger. Darod slept peacefully. Although the humans still didn’t trust him, he’d made contact. Everything was going according to plan…

In the stories and mythologies of a thousand cultures, there are tales of beings that stride the fence between Man and the Divine. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are the Angels. In Arabian mythology, there are the Djinn. In ancient Greek myths, there were the demigods like Hercules, Achilles and Perseus. In proto-Somalia, there are the Ayaanle, neither human nor fully spirit, yet made by Waaq the Sky God to be his intermediaries. The Ayaanle have always been messengers and voices of inspiration, bringers of luck, and nothing more than that. Until now…

Darod remained with the Garimarro clan, and proved himself an exceptional new ally. When the men of the clan allowed him to join the hunt, Darod proved himself a swift and capable hunter. With spear, bow and arrow, or his bare hands, Darod caught wild pigs, birds, gazelles, antelopes and even wild buffaloes. The beasts of the plains were no match for Darod’s skill and strength. He was also a capable healer, well aware of the plants that cure ailments, and those that killed. Twelve months after their first meeting, Chief Bashir formally welcomed Darod into the clan…

“Darod, my son, you have proven yourself capable and loyal, and I do believe you to be a good man, you are one of us, now and for all time,” Chief Bashir said, as the men gathered by the fire after a successful hunt. Darod looked at the old chieftain and smiled, then shook his hand and embraced him. The announcement was welcomed by Mahfouz and Karim, for the young hunters had come to respect Darod for his skill at the hunt, and his kindness. The greatest hunter of them all, Darod always gave most of his kill away to others, taking little for himself. It was almost as if Darod did not need to eat…


Modern Somali Mythology Ch. 05

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