The Memory of a Nation
by Mohamoud A. Gaildon
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Silence is foolish if we are wise, but wise if we are foolish.
--Charles Caleb Colton
If you want to see where Somalia is headed, just see which voices sound loudest and travel fastest. No doubt, you will find that such are the times we live that the medium is set for divisive voices: “golden times,” you might say for clannish demagogues who want to divide the nation and hold it asunder. And the voices of division want us to see history and imagine the future only through the lens of the past four decades, whichever segment of it suits them. History, to them, is a manageable quantity that can be molded, if not altogether erased. These are the voices of men and women with trapped minds and cynical hearts. And these voices are having a field day, pulling us this or that way, because they run amok unopposed. Missing is the voice that could give vent to the memory of the nation.
This reminds me of one of Vladimir Nabokov’s books, titled Speak Memory, in which he delves deep into every nook and cranny of his luminous mind to lay bare his story and the story of his beloved and distant Russia. In a similar fashion, this is speak memory time for the Somali nation.
Books and historians cannot help us here. For these speak to the mind, and the minds of many of us are not set to receive history in a purely mechanical fashion. After all, Somalis of today would rather listen to charlatans than read a book. This can only be done by people with stories and images that can touch our hearts and move us to action; people who witnessed history or got it first hand from others; people who were there in the thirties, the forties, and the fifties; people who can attest to our shared experience and have a vision of our common destiny; people who felt the pain and saw the struggle; people who can remember the final years before independence; people who were there when the flag was raised in Hargeisa and Mogadishu; people who can remember the singing and the dancing and the memorable speeches; people who took it all in and know what it meant then and should mean now and forever. Those are the ones who should give voice to the memory of our nation.
I am under no illusion as to how far gone we are into the darkness of lies and bigotry. But this much is clear: In the addled minds of far too many of us, uplifting stories that can bond us as a nation are perceived as a real threat.
“I am ashamed to see a fellow clansman relating stories,” cautioned a respondent to an article I had written.
“We have no national heroes,” barked another, miffed at another story, “Only clan heroes!” Others agreed with him!
For most Somalis, unfortunately, this is has become the norm. Patriotic and healing stories are seen as mawkish endeavors best left to the naïve.
No wonder in these minds of distorted vision, SYL is a conspiratorial cabal, the likes of Abdullahi Isse clan chauvinists, the Sayyid’s epic struggle for liberation a myth created by Siyad Barre.
This is mass amnesia glorified. Welcome to Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 implemented to perfection, only, this time, achieved with the simple use of a tainted lens.
Memories, oh, dear memories!
I have vivid childhood memories of my mother (May Allah sustain her with happiness and good health in her remaining years) hand-weaving a dermo (derin) and in her melodic country voice singing:
And this in Sanaag, many, many miles from Mogadishu!
It saddens me that I have never met my icon of Somali nationalism, but I find reassuring the few pictures that depict him with all the dignity and heart I have invariably associated with the man. Later, I also learned of Haji Mohamed Hussein. And so, to me, it is these two men that form the face of modern Somali nationalism.
Should I erase my memory of Abdullahi Isse and Haji Mohamed Hussein simply because they were from the “wrong” clans? Not a chance! I would rather be labeled naïve.
These are only the childhood memories of one Somali. What about your memories, and the memories of every one of us? What about stories passed on to us through the generations? What about still living Somalis who, though a dying breed, bear terrible scars incurred in defense of the nation? Surely, not all memories can be tainted, distorted, poisoned, or erased. For such is the memory of a nation that it remains passed on from mother to child, enduring the violent twists of the ages. It is these memories of the nation that must survive if the Somali race is meant to survive in the face of all odds.
My faith is strong that we shall survive. After all, we Somalis stand as the only nation in the Horn of Africa that over the centuries repulsed the Abyssinians and lived in our lands as free men and free women until the Europeans came and did what they did. Nothing, in my opinion, defines the Somali nation as does its centuries-long struggle to remain free of Abyssinian rule: a great feat that we could have never achieved as clans. True, we may not have had one unifying state, but we still achieved what to other, much larger nations, proved impossible, as a nation united by one language, one religion, and one national heritage. If you do not believe these words, just imagine what would have been of your clan if none of the other Somali clans ever existed. Just, for a moment, close your eyes and imagine the unthinkable. I shudder!
If you’re nursing deep scars from events of the past few decades, I urge you to aim high and think big. The alternative is extinction of the Somali people as a free nation.
Let all know that we are but a small nation in a tough neighborhood, so far from God and so close to Ethiopia, to paraphrase that Mexican general. We cannot afford to fall apart, neither as separate countries nor as federal states. The key to our nation’s survival is to go back, all the way back, and rediscover Somali nationalism. For without Somali nationalism, there can be no Somali unity and, thus, no Somalia as we know it. It was the rise of Somali nationalism that led to the birth of Somalia as an independent nation; and it was the fall of Somali nationalism that was a prelude to the collapse of the Somali state; and it is Somali nationalism that once again has to rise, this time higher and stronger than ever before, for Somalia to rise from the ashes.
It pains me to think that today many Somalis are hurting to see Somalia’s persistent travails. Theirs is the trauma of failure: our failure. They are hurting because they, in their younger years, fought gallantly for Somalia, and they saw their comrades and loved ones die. They are hurting because they grew up as orphans, their fathers killed in battle by an enemy that refuses to change its ways. They are hurting because they were brought up with songs and stories of heroism and selfless struggle for the nation. And they are hurting because they themselves were there in flesh and blood when it mattered, in the forties, and the fifties, and in 1964, and 1977 (the ill-conceived war). They were there for you and me!
Still living, I am told, is the man who boldly stepped in for Abdullahi Isse to receive what was feared to be a fatal shot with a syringe, from an erroneously presumed assassination attempt by the Italians. This man was prepared to die for a man he believed was the better man for the Somali nation. And they were from two different clans. Such an uplifting story which those with the tainted lenses would love to erase!
Xasuus baa geela lagu xer geeyaa
Next month, will come the 59th anniversary of the founding of SYL. Let’s pause and think. Remember, our very independence started with their work. They were thirteen men who dared to dream and won a nation. Their unfinished struggle continues. Their enduring dreams shall never die. In the indelible memory of our nation, they shall remain our solid rocks of strength and comfort. In the hearts of all of us, young and old, in weal and in woe, in victory and in defeat, at home and in foreign lands, the Fathers of our Somali nation shall live to share in the agony of our tortured masses and to cheer us on, and on, and on, through thick thin.
Let’s, if only for one night, rise together, battered but healing, divided but not for long, violated but unbowed. Let’s raise and hold aloft the blue flag with the lone star. Let’s clear the stage for the custodians of the memory of our nation, and let’s listen and feel what once was the true pulse of the Somali masses.
And to those who truly know how it was that we became an independent nation, I say this:
Your silence is surrender to the forces of division. Your voices must be heard! For the sake of Somalia, and for the sake of Allah, speak up and tell us how it was we became a nation that we may yet once again become one, only this time healthier and stronger. May the Almighty bless you and bless Somalia!
Mohamoud A. Gaildon