The culture of people of Banaadir (part 1) [Archives:2004/779/Culture]

October 7 2004
Banaadiri women weavering outdoors
Banaadiri women weavering outdoors
Golden armelt (Sharuuryo)
Golden armelt (Sharuuryo)
Necklace with pendant (Gablalow xarfo iyo gabasha iyo qasab)
Necklace with pendant (Gablalow xarfo iyo gabasha iyo qasab)
By Irena Knehtl &
Mohammed Abati*
For the Yemen Times
[email protected]

The Banaadiris (also spelled “Benadir”) are a people with their roots in ancient Arabia, Persia and South and Central Asia. Their name is derived from the Persian word “Bandar”, which means “harbour” or port, reflecting their origins as seafaring traders who crossed the Indian Ocean to the easternmost part of Africa and established centres of commerce which linked that continent with Asia. The first Banaadir communities were established in what is today southern Somalia about one thousand years ago. The first group of settlers originally resided in Al-Ahsa on the Persian Gulf near Bahrain. Further they were exclusively composed of 39 families, led by seven brothers. These 30 families belonged exclusively to four clans. There were 12 families from the Muqarri clan, 12 families form Jidati, 6 families from the Aqabi, and 6 families from the Ismaili clan. Successively other groups emigrated from different regions of the Arabian Peninsula at different times, but mostly from Yemen. During the tenth century along the Banaadir coast, shoe factories and textile plants were established and the production of clothes was exported to Arab countries, Persia, India, China and other centres along the East African coast.
The Banaadiris are a multi ethnic people from Horn of Africa. They are live along the south coast of that geographic area which Italians called “Somalia” in 1908. The real protagonists of the urbanization of Banaadir were the people of Yemen, who founded the first schools, and constructed the infrastructure of the area. They also developed the economy, introduced monetary systems, improved agricultural techniques to meet international standards, and linked it to Moslem and world trade. Banaadiri's historical profile started probably in Mesopotamia, crossed Yemen and reached the coast of Africa where the Banaadiri civilization grew in flourished.
Mohammed Ahmed H. Mohammed Abati, a Banaadiri scholar and co-ordinator of the Banaadiri Community in New Zealand, in this fascinating account further explorers the historical background, arts, crafts and lifestyles, and food of the people of Banaadir.
Yemen Times has in issue 727 of 12th April, 2004, published a full report about Banaadir, under the title “Banaadir, The Country of Harbours”.

Introduction Into The Area
Somalia is situated on the Horn of Africa. It stands at the crossroads between Africa and the Near East and lies within a region of great cultural diversity.
It can be divided into three areas
1. The Northern & Central Ranges: Pastoral nomads live in the country's northern and central ranges, where they herd camels, goats, cattle and sheep.
2. The Southern Arable Lands: Cultivatedor and semi-cultivator farmers produce grain, cotton and fruit in the southern arable lands between the Juba and Shabelle rivers.
3. The Coastal Urban areas: The group of urban people is formed by the inhabitants of the historical landing points on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Unlike other countries in Africa, Somalia too is undergoing a dynamic period of deep cultural and social transformation. This is leading, among recurrent conflicts and internal tensions, to the formation of a new ethnic identity within the context of its present national unity. Somalia is one of the rare African countries where culture, tradition and ethnicity are apparently homogeneous. However, some clearly defined differences can be perceived among Somalis, ethnic components and, as a consequence, some traditional forms of Somali culture. This is mainly due to the geographical and ecological context of Somalis ethnic groups.
In the past there were many other sites along the coasts of East Africa besides the above centres; from the archipelago of Lamu to Malindi, from Mogadishu to Sofala in Mozambique. They formed a chain of seaports normally visited by traders and travellers crossing the many routes of the Indian Ocean. This consistent encounter of people entailed a dynamic cultural exchange giving rise to a close cultural affinity of the entire population of the East African coast.

The Banaadiri Urban Communities
The urban people live in the following parts: Warshik, Mogadishu, Gendershe, Afgoi, Marka, Barawe and their surrounding areas, which extend further along the coast up to Kismayo near the Bajuni Islands of Chula and Chuaie and Bur Gao.
They are a multi-ethnic group which include Arabs, Persians, Cushitic groups and Bantu who have resided in what is today southern Somalia.
The main groups are the 'Rer Hamar' natives of Mogadishu, “Rer Marka' natives of Marka, 'Rer Barawe' natives of Barawe and the 'Bajunis' the original inhabitants of Kismayo and the Bajuni Islands. These groups of people are similar but have different dialects. The Banaadir communities live in ancient stone homes which their forebears built in the old parts of the cities. Many of their cultural traditions are similar to Arabic culture and Swahili(2).
The coastal strip of Somalia between Warsheikh and down to Ras Kiamboni had been always and throughout the centuries a distinct region different from the rest of Somalia.
The Banaadirs people who are the founders of these coastal cities lived in these areas since time immemorial.
They are made up of communities of diverse origin bounded together by centuries of common tradition, values and beliefs. The mainstay of the Banaadiri culture is peaceful coexistence, hard work and loyalty based on neighbourhood and deep association to their locality rather than blood affiliation.

Banaadiri Arts, Crafts & Lifestyles
The geographical proximity to the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, and the Banaadiris seafaring and trade practice resulted in constant traffic of commerce and human interactions and exchanges of ideas, which have profoundly influenced the motifs of the arts, crafts and lifestyles. Therefore, the workmanship of the Banaadirs, and their expertise in woodcrafts, jewellery production of the “Qallinshube” (well-respected silver-minter group) and mastery in fashioned clothes is well recognised (3).

The Weaver's Cloth “Futa Benaadir”
The first industry established along the Banaadir coast was weaving, dating back to the tenth century and today cloth weaving remains one of the area's main art forms.
In 1330, the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta wrote of Somalia's thriving cloth industry:
“In this place (Banaadir) are manufactured unequalled woven fabrics named after it, which are exported from there to Egypt and elsewhere.”
As a crossroads between Africa and the Middle East, Somalia, especially the Banaadir coast, was a pivotal point of trade, linking ports from Egypt to India. Its capital of Mogadishu sits on the Indian Ocean, 1300 kilometres from the Gulf of Aden and equidistant from Cairo, Baghdad and the trading cities of India's south-western coast. It was once a major centre of the trade in spices, aromatic gums, ivory and textiles. Somalia had rich crops of papayas, grapefruit, bananas, and mangoes and, above all, cotton. The fields of the Juba-Shabele land plain were dotted with cotton plants. Somalis produced over 350,000 pieces of cloth annually from the fertile ground. Because the ginning and weaving processes traditionally fell to lower-caste Somali tribes, the product was cheap enough to export successfully to countries like India, Egypt and Kenya.
The white cloth was also the Somali national dress. One length of it, known in traders Arabic as “Futa”, wrapped every man's waist as a long skirt. Another shorter piece, called “Go”, draped the torso like a shawl. Women wore a long wrap called “Guntino”.
By the last decade of the last century, however, the white futa Banaadiri had been completely replaced by western clothes, a grey sheeting manufactured by western countries to the dimensions of the Somali skirt.
The Italian colonists introduced European style clothing. A drop in the world cotton market made production and transportation elsewhere very competitive. These market forces led to the near eradication of the Banaadiri futa.
Today, as a result, Somalia's southern ports of Marka and Barawa no longer bustle with commerce and their medieval fortifications crumble in the wind and tides. So far, the weavers have survived against the odds. They have survived because, resourcefully they introduced design and colour into their weaving, developing – or discovering – a new substantial market among their own people. Using locally grown vegetable dyes such as saffron and imported dyed yarns from India and Pakistan, the Banaadiri weavers began, in the late 1950s, to weave brilliant reds, blues, yellows, blacks and purples into their futas and guntinos, giving their people traditional cloths to use for marriages, funerals, furniture, war dancing and everyday farming.
Nowadays you see men wear a “Macaawiis”, a brightly coloured cloth, similar to an Indonesian sarong. With this they may wear a Western shirt or wear Western dress and cover their heads with “Kofia Barawe” a Banaadir cap.
Weavers invented dozens of patterns with names like “teeth” and “goats in the sand dunes”. These have become standard, and today are worn in major ceremonies and the religious festivities that keep the national spirit of this Islamic stronghold alive. The weaving methods are the same; the weaver first takes the dyed yarn in 24 batches of eight metre lengths, each tied together and marked with spittle and kohl. He dunks them into a sizing of flour and water to make the fibres stiff and strong. Then, in a stretching method called “darisi”, the threads are wrapped from one strategically placed vertical stick in the building to another and left to dry like a long L-shaped blanket
When the yarn has dried, it is wound onto a wooden spindle called the “furfure”, then unwound and tied into the heddle loops, following the colour pattern indicated by loose strings on the bamboo heddle. The weaver affixes the heddle to the loom and stretches the threads of the new warp out behind the loom to a single iron hook set in the floor seven and a half to eight metres away. There all the warp threads are gathered into one far knot, tied to a length of rope and attached to the hook. The other end of the rope is led back to the weaver's seat. As weaving progresses and cloth is wound onto the cloth beam, the warp is fed towards the loom, anchoring it to the hook each time with a new knot further down the rope.

The style forms of Banaadiri jewels are typical of all the historic centres of the Indian Ocean coasts. Production techniques are traced back, generally to the technique used by the artisans of the Middle East and India. Jewels highlight the aesthetic sense of dress; many African people excel in their choice of clothing and the Banaadiri, especially their women, stand out for their regal bearing and dignity.
Most of the jewels are used in the coastal towns of Banaadir (Mogadishu, Marka, Barawe and Kismayo). They belonged to the rich merchant class of those centres, which, at the beginning of this century, appeared, at least outwardly, to be heavily influenced by Arab customs (5); women used to go out veiled and wrapped up in black cloaks.
In the first decades of our century, we see therefore, that many families had strengthened their economic position and had accumulated considerable property, both moveable and immoveable. Also women, particularly through donations and heritage, had considerable wealth.
The wealth of gold displayed by the women of the Banaadir coastal towns was a sign of the favourable economic situation and served a double purpose; firstly, to stress the social status of the owner, in an environment characterized by a very stratified system of social classes that contrasted sharply with the “pastoral democracy” of the interior; secondly, to constitute the woman's own capital on which she could rely in the case, far from infrequent, of repudiation by her husband.
Gold ornaments were worn in everyday life, pairs of bracelets, one on each wrist, of the kinds called “Buf-Buf”, “Gos-Gos” and “Gablalow”. Very widespread was the “Murriyad”, a choker necklace made of hollow gold beads, which were filled with frankincense and gums and gave off a pleasant scent. It is especially during wedding festivities that, even nowadays, a great quantity of jewellery is displayed; the female guests wear rings on almost all fingers, two or three necklaces of different kinds and large heavy armlets (Sharuuryo).
During the dances, which mark the wedding ceremonies “Rajuul”, thick silver anklets with little bells are worn. Each dancer wears one Rajuul on the right ankle and moves, beating the time with her foot, so that the bells tinkle. This custom came to Banaadir coastal towns from Hadramut (Yemen).
*The author is a Banaadiri scholar and Coordinator of the Banaadiri Community in New Zealand.