Somali: The Yibir of Las Burgabo


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Book Review

The Yibir of Las Burgabo
By Mahmood Gaildon
153 pp. Red See Press INC.

By Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

In 1851, Uncle Tom’s Cabin the most popular, commercially successful and politically influential book in its time was published in the United State of America. In its first week of release, the book sold more than ten thousand copies in the U.S.A. alone (an astronomical number then) and later, Britain was not far behind. But it was neither the commercial success nor the popularity of the book that shocked the world. It was simply what the book was about and who the author was. The book was about the malevolently malicious practice of human bondage. The author was from the mainstream Americans (white). The book exposed the demonic cost that slavery was inflicting on people of African descent in servitude by humanizing their pain for white Americans who had so much to gain or lose from that human tragedy. Though the book had lost some of its literary status on racial equality enlightenment when in the early twentieth century prominent scholars and writers, both black and white, began to criticize it. Yet even today, it still towers of over the American classical literature.

In a similar fashion, almost hundred and fifty years later, a scientist from the mainstream Somalis, Mahmood Gaildon, with double Masters in Physics and Medical Physics from Columbia University, rolls up his sleeves, dives into the damp of Somali-dirt and digs-out a decomposing body about indignity that the rest of us dare not to touch. In his debut novel, The Yibir of Las Burgabo, Mahmood wades through the forbidden as well treacherous territory of Somalis’ social order, built on an arbitrarily brutal class and clan segmentation that bears sham and shame. Sham because we pretend to be all draped with natural pride; shame because we practically preclude part of us from that pride and boast about it. But Mahmood chooses to ride a road that no Somali writer, scholar and a very few Poets deemed necessary to test, by disposing the pernicious treatment that we exact on our minorities for all to see.

Mahmood, tapping into not-so-tasking prose, threads the plot of the book by mapping out the mold of Somalis’ social injustice and how we methodically administer oppression on our minorities: Midgan, Tumal and particularly Yibir. Not mentioned but palpably present are also the Bantus. Mahmood notes Midgan and Tumal clans but deliberately glosses over the indignity imposed on them, only to highlight the devastating darkness of unfairness dumped on the Yibirs. As though he is holding the reader’s hand, Mahmood takes us into the trenches, points to the pain we want buried and paints the picture of how the socio-class order puts the Yibir at the bottom of Somalis’ social ladder. “... the young boy lived in a world of loss and agony with no one to care for him except his sister who had little to offer besides love and tears,” in the voice of the narrator, Mahmood shadows us to share the woes of an innocent boy, the protagonist of the book.

In the book, two parallel plots are running simultaneously. One Ali, an orphaned Somali boy who was born to a Yibir family, only knows, in the beginning, that his father took a trip that claimed his life. On the other, Ali’s sister Amina who had conspired with their father to keep a family secret from Ali as well tries to protect her brother from egregious, social prejudice that could break him down or scar him for life while nursing her grief ridden, social injustice wounded self, back to a mundane life. Yet is it’s the family secret that she astutely guards, as the narrator wails, reminding us of what both, the sister and father had known prior to his death, stating “Unlike Ali, Amina and Geedi [the father ] knew what all three of them had lived through years earlier. And the two, father and daughter, colluded to protect Ali from the secret they guarded carefully. ‘Too young’ the father would say. ‘Too young’.”

Swimming against the viscous current of social bias, Ali tries to be a normal child, but is submerged, at times, within the waves of despair, let loose by a cruel culture trying to keep him down. “Dark shame of his Yibirness followed him like a shadow. And he was made to feel that, somehow, it was his fault that he was a Yibir,” Mahmood illuminates the point elegantly.

Ali’s sister Amina however, refuses to let her brother swallowed by social whirlwind of gloom. She gets a job as a maid to feed him and courageously brings the principal of his school into the fold. The principal succeeds investing on Ali’s passion for the game of succor. Remarkably, Ali responds rewarding both the principal and his sister by triumphantly excelling in academics as well as athletics.

On the other hand, what is no less remarkable and utterly creative (though not commercially stylish, as we know that English speakers are inclined to ignore the names they can not pronounce) is how Mahmood came up with the title of book. The Yibir of Las Burgaabo is the combined names of Laasqoray, Burco and Ceerigaabo, (three major cities in the northern Somalia that shaped the author’s luminous mind); lest anyone lashes out against yet another victim if the city is known.

Though the book is small in size, its resonant writing style bares the unjustifiable pain we inflict on Yibirs. It should have been written a century ago, but now that it is here, every Somali should read it, every learning institution in Somalia ought to make room in its curriculum and it should be taught in every classroom. The crimes that we have committed against Yibir as well as Midgan, Tumal and Bantus are a mountain high. There is no way to compensate their loss of dignity and the psychological trauma they suffered for centuries. But what we can do is to start learning about their plight of pain. This writer has done his part by paving the way. Recommend the book to anyone you know or pass a copy on to a friend. Tell him/her that his only a mirror to hold up against a tainted social conscience of Soomaalinimo (Somaliness) and Somali culture. Tell him/her that is not a solution but a beginning.

Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

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