Somali mythology

Somali mythology covers the beliefs, myths, legends and folk tales circulating in Somali society that were passed down to new generations in a timeline spanning several millennia. Many of the things that constitute Somali mythology today are traditions whose accuracy have faded away with time or have transformed considerably with the coming of Islam to the Horn of Africa.

The culture of venerating saints and the survival of several religious offices in modern Somalia show that old traditions of the region's ancient past had a significant impact on Islam and Somali literature in later centuries. Similarly, practitioners of traditional Somali medicine and astronomy also adhere to remnants of an old cultural belief system that once flourished in Somalia and the wider Horn region.

Pre-Islamic period

Caynabo ruins
Ancient temple ruins in Aynabo

The Somali people in pre-Islamic times are believed to have adhered to a complex henotheistic belief system, with a set of deities superseded by a single all-powerful figure called Eebe (God, also known as Waaq). Religious temples dating from antiquity known as Taalo were the centers where important ceremonies were held led by a Wadaad priest.

Deities

Waaq

(God)

Waaq is the Somali and was synonymously used for the ancient Cushitic Sky God Waaq. According to Somali Legend Eebo lived in the Heavens and whenever the nomads successfully prayed for rain it was known as Barwaaqo (God's rain)[1]
Ayaanle (Angels) The Ayaanle in Ancient Somalia were known as the good spirits and acted as mediators between God and humans. They were said to be bringers of luck and blessings.
Huur (Reaper) Huur was the messenger of Death and had the form of a large bird. The deity was akin to Horus of ancient Egypt and played a similar role in Somali society.
Nidar (Punisher) Nidar was the righter of wrong. He was considered the champion of those that were exploited by their fellow humans. The deity has survived in modern Somalia as a popular saying; Nidar Ba Ku Heli ("Nidar will find and punish the ones who are naughty").

Legendary kings, queens and saints

In Somali mythology, there is an abundance of tales about men and women who defied cultural traditions or acquired heroic and saintly status amongst the masses of the Somali Peninsula.

Amel Ali (Queen) Amel Ali was a legendary queen in ancient Somalia who is said to be the fastest woman in her time.
Wiilwaal (King) Wiil Waal was a legendary king in ancient Somalia known for his bravery and skills in battle.
Bucur Bacayr (King) Bucur Bacayr was a legendary king of the Yibirs in northern Somalia.

Giants and demons

Habbad ina Kamas

(Giant)

Habbad ina Kamas was a legendary cruel giant who ruled half of ancient Somalia. Habbad oppressive rule was the complete opposite to the kindness and care that was bestowed upon the other half of the land ruled by the giant Biriir ina Barqo. He was eventually defeated and slain in battle by Biriir, when the latter found out about Habbad's tyranny.
Biriir ina Barqo

(Giant)

Biriir ina Barqo was a legendary heroic giant in ancient Somalia known for his just rule and kindness. He lived in a cave called Shimbiraale (the cave of birds) and used to wear a heavy ring that no man could lift. He answered the pleas of those suffering under the rule of the giant called Habbad and defeated him in battle. He then united the two lands and ushered in a long period of peace.[2]
Qori ismaris ("One who rubs himself with a stick") Qori ismaris was a man who could transform himself into a "Hyena-man" by rubbing himself with a magic stick at nightfall and by repeating this process could return to his human state before dawn.
Dhegdheer ('"One with long ears") Dhegdheer was a female cannibalistic demon who hunted in Somali forests. Her victims were usually wandering or lost children.

Mythological places

Many regions of Somalia have cities or specific areas whose names corroborate the stories told in Somali mythology. Places such as Abudwaq, Ceel Waaq ("Well of God"), waaq-ooyi("north") and other similar towns with the name Waq in it suggest a relation to the old Waaq worship practiced in the Horn. The Tomb of Arawelo is another popular mythological place in Somalia said to be the final resting place of Queen Arawelo. In modern times, it is considered an important place for Somali women.

References

  1. ^ Culture and Customs of Somalia by Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, p. 65.
  2. ^ Folktales from Somalia by Ahmed Artan Hanghe, p. 144.
Giant

Giants (from Latin and Ancient Greek: gigas, cognate giga-) are beings of human appearance, but of prodigious size and strength common in the mythology and legends of many different cultures. The word giant, first attested in 1297, was derived from the Gigantes (Greek: Γίγαντες) of Greek mythology.

In various Indo-European mythologies, gigantic peoples are featured as primeval creatures associated with chaos and the wild nature, and they are frequently in conflict with the gods, be they Olympian, Celtic, Hindu or Norse. Giants also often play similar roles in the mythologies and folklore of other, non Indo-European peoples, such as in the Nartian traditions.

There are also accounts of giants in the Old Testament. Some of these are called Nephilim, a word often translated as giant although this translation is not universally accepted. They include Og King of Bashan, the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the giants of Egypt mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:23. The first mention of the Nephilim is found in Genesis 6:4; attributed to them are extraordinary strength and physical proportions.

Fairy tales such as "Jack the Giant Killer" have formed the modern perception of giants as stupid and violent monsters, sometimes said to eat humans, while other giants tend to eat the livestock. The antagonist in "Jack and the Beanstalk" is often described as a giant. In some more recent portrayals, like those of Jonathan Swift and Roald Dahl, some giants are both intelligent and friendly.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Shapeshifting

In mythology, folklore and speculative fiction, shapeshifting is the ability of a being or creature to transform its physical form or shape. This is usually achieved through an inherent ability of a mythological creature, divine intervention or the use of magic. The idea of shapeshifting is present in the oldest forms of totemism and shamanism, as well as the oldest extant literature and epic poems, including works such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, where the shapeshifting is usually induced by the act of a deity.

The idea persisted through the Middle Ages, where the agency causing shapeshifting is usually a sorcerer or witch, and into the modern period. It remains a common trope in modern fantasy, children's literature and works of popular culture. The most common form of shapeshifting myths is that of therianthropy, which is the transformation of a human being into an animal (i.e. werewolves or vampires) or conversely, of an animal into human form. Legends allow for transformations into plants and objects and the assumption of another human countenance (e.g. fair to ugly).

Sofia Samatar

Sofia Samatar (born October 24, 1971) is a Somali-American educator, poet and writer. She is an Assistant Professor of English at James Madison University. In 2013, she published the award-winning fantasy novel A Stranger in Olondria.

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