Forensic Fashion
(2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1900 Somali wadaad 
Subjectwadaad tribal sheikh / warrior
Culture: Somali
Setting: British, Italian invasions, Somaliland 1880-1920

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Samatar ed. 1992 p36-37 (Abdul S Bemath, "The Sayyid and Saalihiya Tariqa: Reformist, anticolonial hero in Somalia" p33-47)
"In traditional Somali society ... sheikhs played a religious role and were called wadaads.  They mediated between man and God, offered sacrifices, solemnized marriages, taught the Qur'an and offered prayers on behalf of the clan.  Their settlements, called jama'a or zawiya were a welcome sanctuary to travellers and outcasts, and the formative bonds forged here transcended divisions of clans and kinship.  In contrast to the wadaads, there were the waarrenleh (spear-bearers) or secular men more concerned with the solving of secular problems.  During the 1890s and after, these wadaads increasingly became involved in the affairs of the world and, according to Samatar, 'acted as heads of religious brotherhoods, and their involvement in secular affairs ranged from indirect influence over clan leaders like Dandarawi and Zayli'i in the OGaadeen to acquisition of actual political power like Muhammad 'Abdille Hasan.'"

* Knight/Scollins 1989 p41-42
"One Muslim leader who proved consistently difficult to overcome was Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, who led a religious and nationalist revolt against the British in northern Somaliland, in the 'horn of Africa.'  Inevitably dubbed the 'Mad Mullah' by the British, ... [h]e is thought to have been inspired by the Mahdi, and in 1898 he began preaching jehad against the ruling infidels, of the British [sic]. ...
    "Sayyid Muhammad faced a difficult task, since the semi-nomadic Somalis were divided into clans, many of whom waged complex blood-feuds with one another.  Nevertheless, he managed to rally thousands of supporters -- also known as Dervishes to the British -- to his banner; and the British were forced to wage no less than five separate campaigns against him between 1900 and 1920.  ...  Few of these campaigns were entirely successful, and some were downright disasters .... [...]  Sayyid's rebellion finally collapsed in 1920 following his death, not from military action but from influenza."

* Samatar ed. 1992 p33-34 (Abdul S Bemath, "The Sayyid and Saalihiya Tariqa: Reformist, anticolonial hero in Somalia" p33-47)
"The traditional Somali society was fragmented as it was beset with interclan rivalries for scarce resources, and clans were collaborating with the British and other imperial powers.  The Muslim resistance to Ethopian expansionism and colonial hegemony forged by the Sayyid into a united force nevertheless occurred in the midst of this clannish factionalism.  Facilitating this was the Sayyid's military expertise, diplomatic skill, and ability to reconcile (and also exploit to his advantage) varying and conflicting clan differences, as well as the utilization of a Sufi-religious tariqa, the Saalihiya, as an organizational and unifying base."  

* Featherstone 1992 p151
"BRITISH SOMALILAND  In February 1900 the Central African Regiment proceeded to British Somaliland, being the first African battalion to garrison that protectorate and sent because of a disturbing situation arising there as the fantastic and violent career of the man who came to be known as the 'Mad Mullah' began.  For the next 20 years this erratic militant leader was a thorn in the flesh of British authority, during which period he was never once seen by an Englishman.  Missing an opportunity to capture the Mad Mullah in July 1900 because he could not be pursued over the Abyssinian border, the British decided that the major operations in South and West Africa plus the need to organise an expedition against the Ogaden Somalis in Jubaland, would be abandoned for the time being and British Somaliland left to the protection of its own tribesmen."


Knight/Scollins 1989 p42
"Somali dress and armament were simple.  A cotton robe, the tobe, usually white, was wrapped around the body.  The head was usually left bare, although some wore an Arab-style turban.  ...  Most Somalis wore distinctive sandals of hide, with large flaps turned up at the front, although it was not unknown for them to go barefoot."

* Burton 1894 v 1p21 n1
"The Tobe, or Abyssinian 'Quarry,' is the general garment of Africa from Zayla to Bornou.  In the Somali country it is a cotton sheet eight cubits long, and two breadths sewn together.  An article of various uses, like the Highland plaid, it is worn in many ways; sometimes the right arm is bared; in cold weather the whole person is muffled up, and in summer it is allowed to fall below the waist.  Generally, it is passed behind the back, rests upon the left shoulder, is carried forward over the breast, surrounds the body, and ends hanging on the left shoulder, where it displays a gaudy silk fringe of red and yellow.  This is the man's Tobe. ... 
    "As regards the word Tobe, it signifies, in Arabic, a garment generally: the Somal call it 'Maro,' and the half Tobe a 'Shukkah.'"


* Burton 1894 v1 p31-32
The Somali spear is a form of the Cape Assegai.  A long, thin, pliant and knotty shaft of the Dibi, Diktab, and Makari trees, is dried, polished, and greased with rancid butter: it is generally of a dull yellow colour, and sometimes bound, as in Arabia, with brass wire for ornament.  Care is applied to make the rod straight, or the missile flies crooked; it is garnished with an iron button at the head, and a long, thin, tapering head of coarse bad iron, made at Berberah and other places by the Tomal.  The length of the shaft may be four feet eight inches; the blade varies from twenty to twenty-six inches, and the whole weapon is about seven feet long.  Some polish the entire spear-head, others only its socket or ferrule; commonly, however, it is all blackened by heating it to redness, and rubbing it with cow's horn.  In the towns, one of these weapons is carried; on a journey and in battle two, as amongst the Tíbús -- a small javelin for throwing and a large spear reserved for the thrust.  Some warriors, especially among the Ísa, prefer a coarse heavy lance, which never leaves the hand.  The Somali spear is held in various ways: generally the thumb and forefinger grasp the third nearest the head, and the shaft resting upon the palm is made to quiver.  In action, the javelin is rarely thrown at a greater distance than six or seven feet, and the heavier weapon is used for 'jobbing'.  Stripped to his waist, the thrower runs forward with all the action of a Kafir, whilst the attacked bounds about and crouches to receive it upon the round targe, which it cannot pierce.  He then returns the compliment, at the same time endeavouring to break the weapon thrown at him by jumping and stamping upon it.  The harmless missiles being exhausted, both combatants draw their daggers, grapple with the left hand, and with the right dig hard and swift at each other's necks and shoulders.  When matters come to this point the duel is soon decided, and the victor, howling his slogan, pushes away from his front the dying enemy, and rushes off to find another opponent.  A puerile weapon during the day when a steady man can easily avoid it, the spear is terrible in night attacks or in the 'bush,' whence it can be hurled unseen.  For practice we plant a pair of slippers upright in the ground, at the distance of twelve yards, and a skilful spearman hits the mark once in every three throws."

* Spring 1993 p104
"The spears of the Dolbahanta of Somalia have a long, slim, blade which superficially resembles those of the Maasai of Kenya, though the grip and shaft show no similarities, being completely free of metal sheathing.  In this the Dolbahanta weapons are a little unusual in that most other spears from the region have a weight of rough iron wound around the tip of the shaft to counter-balance the blade."

* Spring 1993 p112
"During the first half of the nineteenth century Somali invaders fought a prolonged war with the Maasai, Kikuyu, Kamba and other peoples of the region.  It is perhaps worthy of note that the spear blades of the Dolbahanta of Somalia show a striking resemblance to the later type of Maasai spear blade, though other features such as the grip and metal butt are not comparable.  However, there is not sufficient evidence to establish a possible link between the two types of spear.  The resemblance may be merely coincidental."

Sword / Dagger

* Spring 1993 p104-106
"The Somali short swords and daggers, belawa, are usually fitted with a straight, double-edged blade and are carried in sheaths of soft, white, sheep's leather which are occasionally decorated with patterns drawn onto the surface of the skin.  The hilts are of dark horn and bright metal, often interleaved in strata to produce a beautiful effect.  There are two distinct types of pommel.  Those with a single metal tang projecting from the center of the hilt which Duchesne-Fournet (1909) attributed to the Aberraouales.  Another variety has three metal spikes projecting from the pommel in the form of a crown."

* Burton 1894 v1 p32-33
"The Somali dagger is an iron blade about eighteen inches long by two in breadth, pointed and sharp at both edges.  The handle is of buffalo or other horn, with a double scoop to fit the grasp; and at the hilt is a conical ornament of zinc.  It is worn strapped round the waist by a thong sewed to the sheath, and long enough to encircle the body twice: the point is to the right, and the handle projects on the left.  When in town, the Somal wear their daggers under the Tobe: in battle, the strap is girt over the cloth to prevent the latter being lost.  They always stab from above: this is as it should be, a thust with a short weapon 'underhand' may be stopped, if the adversary have strength enough to hold the stabber's forearm.  The thrust is parried with the shield, and the wound is rarely mortal except in the back: from the great length of the blade, the least movement of the man attacked causes it to fall upon the shoulder-blade."

* The secret museum of mankind v2
"AFRICAN GLADIATORS: A WONDERFUL SOMALI WAR DANCE  One of the most striking dances in the Somali repertoire, called the 'Bororoma-Boromsi' dance[.]  Surrounded by an ever-restless chorus of chanting spearmen, the two combatants -- one attacking fiercely with cutlass, the other desperately defending with his small Somali shield -- seem to be in grim and deadly earnest, and none would believe them to be at play."

* Capwell 2009 p212 (describing a Somali "Billa" knife, c.1900)
"This Somali knife was produced by Arab cutlers who imported the skills of silversmithing from Oman.  Arab interaction with Africa's east coast occurred through trade and traders; indeed, Zanzibar was ruled by Oman and Muscat during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Only the finest of these knives have hilts of ivory and silver; others are made from horn or wood."


* Benitez/Barbier 2000 p106
"The Somali warrior carried an iron spear, a short sword called a belawa, and a shield called a gãschãn.  These shields were bleached white and are smaller than those of the Afar (formerly called Danakil) and Esa, which are larger and darker but similarly etched.  ... [T]ypical ...small Somali shields [are] made from giraffe or oryx hide and elaborately incised with concentric circles and short parallel lines.  Some gãschãn shields are painted with black patterns on the reverse.  The sturdily constructed rim and paired handles allowed the bearer to parry blows and use the shield as an offensive  weapon.  When not in battle, the Somalis wore the shield on their upper arm or hung it across their shoulders by means of a leather string.  They also performed a war dance called bororoma-boromsi that simulated a fight between two fully armed warriors surrounded by a ring of chanting Somalis."

* Spring 1993 p106
"The hippopotamus or buffalo hide Somali shields, gaschan, were very much smaller than the average Ethiopian shield, being not much larger than a dinner plate.  They were bleached white in contrast to the shields of the Danakil which are almost black.  Despite their small size, Somali shields were extremely strong and may be looked upon ... almost as offensive rather than defensive weapons.  Somali shields also had a very large hand grip which would allow the warrior to push the shield up his arm when he was not in combat."

* Burton 1894 v1 p33 
"The Gashan or shield is a round targe about eighteen inches in diameter; some of the Badawin make it much larger.  Rhinoceros' skin being rare, the usual material is common bull's hide, or, preferably, that of the Oryx, called by the Arabs, Wa'al, and by the Somal, Ba'id.  The shields are prettily cut, and are always protected when new with a covering of canvass.  The boss in the centre easily turns a spear, and the strongest throw has very little effect even upon the thinnest portion.  When not used, the Gashan is slung upon the left forearm: during battle, the handle, which is in the middle, is grasped by the left hand, and held out at a distance from the body."


* Burton 1894 v1 p33
"The 'Budd,' or Somali club, resembles the Kafir 'Tonga.'  It is a knobstick about a cubit long, made of some hard wood: the head is rounded on the inside, and the outside is cut to an edge.  In quarrels it is considered a harmless weapon, and is often thrown at the opponent and wielded viciously enough where the spear point would carefully be directed at the buckler."