Italian depiction of the capture of Boqor Cusmaan by Italian and allied forces in 1927.
Hoisting of the Italian flag following the destruction and capture of Bargal.
The Italian and British conquest of the Sultanates (in 1920-1927) suppressed the peoples’ resistance and destroyed all political, economic and commercial structures. The Italian fascist authorities were more repressive than the British, as reflected by the economic policies they applied to the northeastern regions. For instance, import-export trade and all the commercial transactions with the previously mentioned traditional markets were suspended and forcibly replaced with Italian trade companies, which imported consumer goods from Italy and exported salt, frankincense, hides, skin and agricultural cash crops (banana and cotton) to Italy through Mogadishu.
March 22, 1928. The arrival of Prince Umberto II of Italy to Alula.
Crown Prince in front of the monument to the fallen Italian forces (Bargal).
The suspension of trade markets and political structures of the former Sultanates by the colonial authorities had a devastating effect on the livelihood security, famine coping mechanism and employment/income earning opportunities of the northeastern communities. This time period saw the migration of large numbers pastoralists, merchants and fishermen to the southern regions of Somalia, as well as to the nearby Arab states and East Africa in order to seek employment and trading opportunities. Furthermore, the Sultan of The Warsangeli was exiled to the Seychelles Island by the British authorities and the Sultan of Obbio and the Boqor of Migiurtinia, their families, relations and key collaborators (such as the traditional elders) were forcibly deported by the Italians to Mogadishu.
The Sultan of Obbia ( right ) and family being exiled to Mogadishu.
The deportation and exile of the Sultans, the compulsory conscription of more than 25,000 pastoralists (Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-36) and destruction of economic, trade and political structures were all aimed to prevent or repress internal resistance & rebellion and to deplete & weaken the manpower resources of the conquered regions.
Boqor Cusmaan ( middle ) and family in Mogadishu with the Governor of Italian Somaliland (De Vecchi).
Due to its location, Hafun was selected as the capital of Italian Somaliland. The once bustling capital was later reduced to ruins through heavy shelling by the British in 1942 (during the Second World War) destroying most of the historical buildings.
In 1943, the Somali Youth League ( then known as the Somali Youth Club), the political party that brought Somalia to independence in 1960, was founded by Yasin Osman Sharmarke. Sharmarke was the son of a noble chief from the Sultanate of Obbio and cousin of Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who would later became President of Somalia. Timiro Cukaash Guleed, who many believe the fictional character ‘Hawo Tako' was based off of, was the first female member of the Somali Youth League. A poet and freedom fighter, Cukaash would play an integral part of the Somali independence movement. The Italian colonial masters murdered her husband and arrested a pregnant Cukaash, forcing her to give birth to her first child in prison. She spent the next two years behind bars.
In 1947, Ali Mire Awale wrote “Soomaaliyeey toosoo” ( the current Somali National Anthem). A few years later in 1954, Mohamed Awale Liban created the Somali flag.
First hoisting of the Somali flag 1954. Photo taken in the former territory of Migiurtinia, the last Somali territory to be colonized.
Liban chose the blue color to represent the United Nations who helped Somalis reach their dream of independence, the white color represented peace and prosperity, and the star represented the five Somali regions which had been divided by the colonial powers.
The northeast region of Somalia has, since August 1st, 1998, been referred to as Puntland State of Somalia. The territory is characterized by vast semi-arid range lands on which nomadic pastoralists raise herds of camels, goats and sheep. There are also a number of small towns and small coastal settlements where people practice rudimentary fishing.
The economy is primarily dependent on pastoralism, the livestock trade, and the import and export of goods at the port of Bosaaso on the northeast coast. Stretching from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to the north and east, to south Mudug region in central Somalia and bordering Ethiopia and Somaliland in the west, the area encompasses the traditional territory of the Harti clan group of the Darood clan-family and a number of other Darood clans and is considered one of the most homogeneous Somali regions.
Although pre-colonial Somali society did not have a national government with modern structures and clearly defined international borders, the northeast region had traditional structures of government dating from the 18th century. These traditional structures of government included:
These Sultanates had administrative and military structures, which safeguarded security, social welfare and political stability until they were disrupted by colonial powers (the Italians in the first two Sultanates and the British in the last two). As Prof. Said Samatar of Rutgers University put it:
In precolonial times the only states worthy of the name in the Somali peninsula had been the Migiurtinia Sultanate of Boqor, or king, Cismaan Mohamuud and the kingdom of Obbia (Hobyo) belonging to Cismaan’s nephew, the dour Yuusuf Ali Keenadiid. These were both highly centralized states with all the organs and accoutrements of an integrated modern state - a hereditary nobility, titled aristocrats, a functioning bureaucracy, a flag, an army and a significant network of foreign relations with embassies abroad.
Nowhere else in Somalia did anything even remotely comparable ever arise, except perhaps the Ujuuraan on the Shabeelle valley and Adal on the northwestern coast, both states having reached the apogee of power in the sixteenth century. In modern times the Migiurtin stand alone, absolutely alone, in having created a centralized state.
The Warsangeli Sultanate was noted for its robust tax-based centralized administration and trade and commercial relations existed between the Sultanates, the Indian sub-continent and Arabian Gulf states. For instance, ad valorem taxation systems, export of livestock, animal and agro-forestry products and import of consumer goods thrived in the Sultanate of Migiurtinia during the second half of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th century.
In Puntland, “Isim” (singular) or “Isimo” (plural), the traditional titled leaders or paramount chiefs, are usually crowned in a traditional ceremony known as “’Aano-Shub” (meaning crowning with milk, pouring milk on the head) or “’Aleemo-Saar” (meaning showering with green leaves). The highest traditional position for the Darood clan is the Boqor (king), with other positions denoted as Ugaas, Garaad, Islan, Beeldaaje, Sultan, Qud, Caaqil (chief), Nabaddon, Samadoon and Oday.
Boqor Cusmaan Boqor Maxamuud (King of Migiurtinia).
Sultan Yusuf Ali Keenadiid (Sultan of Obbio).
Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire (Sultan of The Warsangeli Sultanate also know as “Sovereign of the House of North East of Somaliland Sultanate” and “Sultan of Sultans of Somaliland”).
The traditional life of the northeast regions was disrupted from 1900-1920 by the turmoil of battles waged by Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan against European and Ethiopian colonization of Somali territories, and subsequently from 1923-1927 by the resistance of the Sultanates of Obbio and Miguirtina to Italian direct rule.
In the beginning of 1920, the British struck the Dervish settlements with a well-coordinated air and land attack and inflicted a stunning defeat. The forts of Hassan were damaged and his army suffered great losses. The British Royal Air Force’s (R.A.F.) bombing Jidali Fort was the first aerial bombardment of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Soon after Hassan’s defeat, the British, dreading the prospect of another several decades of costly and difficult battles with yet another Somali potentate, set about attempting to neutralize Sultan Shire’s influence. Shire was secretly invited to a conference in Yemen, ostensibly to discuss possible ways of settling differences. After a short session before the meeting was scheduled to begin, he was taken into custody by the British authorities. Sultan Shire was later tried without proper representation in a kangaroo court.
In 1925, Omar Samatar, one of the military chiefs of Sultan Ali Yusuf of The Sultanate of Obbio, led a rebellion against the Italians that culminated in the recapturing of El-Buur on November 9, 1925. Soon the rebellion expanded to the local population and the region went into revolt as El-Dheere also came under the control of Omar Samatar. The Italian forces tried to recapture El-Buur but they were repulsed.
On November 15,1925 the Italians retreated to Bud Bud and on the way they were ambushed and suffered heavy casualties. As a consequence of the death of the commander of the operations and the effect of two failed operations intended to overcome the El-Buur mutiny, the spirit of Italian troops began to wane. Meanwhile, the rebellion was gaining sympathy across the country and as far a field as Western Somaliland.
The fascist government was surprised by the setback in Obbio (Hobyo). The whole policy of conquest was collapsing under their nose. The El-Buur episode drastically changed the strategy of Italy as it revived memories of the Adwa fiasco when Italy had been defeated by Abyssinia. Governor De Vecchi took the situation seriously, and to prevent any more failure he requested two battalions from Eritrea to reinforce his troops, and assumed lead of the operations. Rome instructed De Vecchi that he was to receive the reinforcement from Eritrea, but that the commander of the two battalions was to temporarily assume the military command of the operations and De Vecchi was to stay in Muqdisho and confine himself to other colonial matters. Fascist Italy was poised to re-conquer the Sultanate by any means necessary. To undermine the resistance, and before the Eritrean reinforcement could arrive, De Vecchi began to instil distrust among the local people by buying the loyalty of some of them. In fact, these tactics had better results than the military campaign, and the resistance began to gradually wear down. Given the anarchy which would follow, the new policy was a success.
On the military front, on December, 26, 1925 Italian troops finally overran El-Buur, and the forces of Omar Samatar were compelled to retreat to Western Somaliland. Samatar led some followers across the border into Ethiopia and campaigned against Italians in the Ogaden at frontier posts.
By neutralizing the Sultanate of Obbio, the fascists could concentrate on Migiurtinia. In early October 1924, E. Coronaro, the new Alula commissioner, presented Boqor Cusmaan Boqor Maxamuud with an ultimatum to disarm and surrender. Meanwhile, Italian troops began to pour into the sultanate in anticipation of this operation. While landing at Hafun and Alula, the sultanate’s troops opened fire on them. Fierce fighting ensued and to avoid escalating the conflict and to press the fascist government to revoke their policy, Boqor Cusmaan tried to open a dialogue. However, he failed, and again fighting broke out between the two parties. Following this disturbance, on 7 October the Governor instructed Coronaro to order the Boqor to surrender; to intimidate the people he ordered the seizure of all merchant boats in the Alula area. At Hafun, the Italians bombarded and destroyed all the boats in the area.
The destruction of Hafun fort.
On 13 October, Coronaro was to meet Boqor Cusmaan at Baargaal to press for his surrender. Under siege already, Boqor Cusmaan was playing for time. However, on 23 October, Boqor Cusmaan sent an angry response to the Governor defying his order. Following this a full scale attack was ordered in November. Baargaal was bombarded and destroyed to the ground.
The bombardment of Baargaal.
The attempt of the colonizers to suppress the region erupted into an explosive confrontation. The Italians were meeting fierce resistance on many fronts.
October 30, 1925. Eritrean Ascari’s following the fall of Bargal to Italian forces. The Ascari’s landed on the beach of Bargal on Oct 28, 1925 but were attacked by rebel forces and forced to find safety inside in a mosque. The battle would last for 22 hour.
In December 1925, led by the charismatic leader Hersi Boqor, son of Boqor Cusmaan, the sultanate forces drove the Italians out of Hurdiyo and Hafun, two strategic coastal towns. Another contingent attacked and destroyed an Italian communications center at Cape Guardafui, at the tip of the Horn. In retaliation, and to demoralize the resistance, Italian warships were ordered to target and bombard the sultanate’s coastal towns and villages. In the interior the Italian troops confiscated livestock.
After a violent confrontation Italian forces captured Eyl, which until then had remained in the hands of Hersi Boqor. In response to the unyielding situation, Italy called for reinforcements from their other colonies, notably Eritrea.
Eritrean Ascari Ibrahim Mohamed Farag. For his heroics in the region, Farag was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valor and promoted to Muntar Ascari Corps of the Royal Navy.
With their arrival at the closing of 1926, the Italians began to move into the interior where they had not been able to venture since their first seizure of the coastal towns. Their attempt to capture the Dharoor Valley was resisted, and ended in failure.
De Vecchi had to reassess his plans as he was being humiliated on many fronts. After one year of exerting full force he could not yet manage to gain total control over the sultanate. In spite of the fact that the Italian navy sealed the sultanate’s main coastal entrance, they could not succeed in stopping them from receiving arms and ammunition through it. It was only early 1927 when they finally succeeded in shutting the northern coast of the sultanate, thus cutting arms and ammunition supplies for Migiurtinia. By this time, the balance had tilted to the Italians’ side, and in January 1927 they began to attack with massive force, capturing Iskushuban, at the heart of Migiurtinia. Hersi Boqor unsuccessfully attacked and challenged the Italians at Iskushuban. By the end of the 1927, the Italians had nearly taken control of the sultanate. Hersi Boqor and his troops retreated to Ethiopia in order to rebuild their forces, but were unable to retake their territories, effectively ending the Campaign of the Sultanates. Migiurtinia was the last region to fall to the Italian colonists.
Photo of Boqor Cusmaan Boqor Maxamuud ( Boqor Osman Mahamud) of the northern sultanate in Muqdisho following his capture by the Italians.
De Vecchi, the governor of Italian Somaliland, had to reassess his plans as he was being humiliated on many fronts. After one year of exerting full force he could not yet manage to gain a result over the sultanate. In spite of the fact that the Italian navy sealed the sultanate’s main coastal entrance, they could not succeed in stopping them from receiving arms and ammunition through it. It was only early 1927 when they finally succeeded in shutting the northern coast of the sultanate, thus cutting arms and ammunition supplies. By this time, the balance had tilted to the Italian’s side, and in January 1927 they began to attack with a massive force, capturing Iskushuban, at the heart of the sultanate. Hersi Boqor unsuccessfully attacked and challenged the Italians at Iskushuban. To demoralise the resistance, ships were ordered to raze and bombard the sultanate’s coastal towns and villages. In the interior the Italian troops confiscated livestock. By the end of the 1927 the Italians had nearly taken control of the sultanate.
Soon after the First World War, the Italians realized that the shallow bay of Hafun, which had a long, low beach along the mainland side, was a perfect place for a large salt works. The Società Saline e Industrie della Somalia Settentrionale built on both sides of the peninsula of Ras Hafun ( Hafun and Hurdiyo) what would be the largest salt-works in the world. The firm, constituted in Milan in 1922, built a town for 5,000 inhabitants called Dante. Construction began in 1922 and was completed by 1929. In 1931, production began at the salt factory and soon the enterprise at Ras Hafun was exporting by sea over three hundred thousand tons of salt a year for industrial use. In 1941, during World War II, the British, who had lost British Somaliland to an Italian attack, sent north into Somalia from Kenya an expeditionary force that captured all of Italian East Africa and in the process destroyed the salt works.
Maryan Muuse Boqor (b. 1938) and the Women Who Inspired Her
Lidwien Kapteijns and Maryan Muuse Boqor
In light of Somalia’s recent history, Maryan Muuse Boqor’s recollections of her coming of age, as recorded by Lidwien Kapteijns, seem to describe a paradise lost. This is not at all to say that Maryan’s early years were without challenge and loss. Rather, it is to say that, as the country struggled toward independence, Maryan’s family and people around them believed in a brighter and more hopeful future. The descriptions of these times inevitably lead us to ask if we can see the elements of future developments in Somalia through the details of everyday life in the middle twentieth century recounted in the pages that follow. Is it possible to connect the local lives of Maryan and her family and friends with larger issues that may help Somalis recover from the civil war that began in 1991 and rebuild their state?
Maryan also tells a wonderful story of inter-generational solidarity among women. Her mother, her aunts, and older women friends of the family provided encouragement to her and served as crucial role models in her youth. She indeed emphasizes that she would not have become the woman she is today without their example. It is also true that she had close ties with some men in her family, notably her father, and that some of them also encouraged her to think beyond the boundaries often assigned to women in Somalia. These dimensions of the chapter lead us to ask how similarities and differences in age and gender roles between women and men influenced Maryan’s early years and transition to young adulthood.
Finally, Maryan’s tale, with its wealth of detail recorded by Lidwien Kapteijns, shows how the roles and possibilities open to women in Somalia were perhaps more various and more public than might be expected in a Muslim society. What paths were open to Maryan for personal and professional development? At what point did she strike out in new directions on her own? What were the benefits and burdens of being part of a generation that spearheaded such changes for women? Were the very high expectations of women only positive or perhaps at times also constraining? What specific aspects of Maryan’s story change our impressions of Somalia and growing up there in the years between World War II and Somali independence?
To be a Somali in this era of civil war and communal violence is hard and heartrending. In the diaspora of Somalis living abroad, many people, especially women, fight the bitterness in their hearts with the memories of earlier solidarity and try to repair the social fabric through innumerable and never-ending small acts of kindness and mutual support. Nevertheless, since the civil war, even presenting a narrative about an individual or family exposes one to the mistrust that remains among people representing the many sides of the civil war. The complex civil conflict has also left distorted hate narratives in its wake, constructed especially by people with bad consciences or unsavory ambitions. Although women, generally speaking, played a different and less destructive role in the civil war than men, no man or woman, insider or outsider, has remained untouched by what we know, or think we know, about the war. In addition, although Somalis generally acknowledge the value of oral history, many still frown upon anyone who makes the personal public and the ordinary special, and even more so if that person is a woman: "Maxay dadka dheertahay?” (“What makes her better than other people?”); "Yay is moodday?" (“Who does she think she is?”). Despite these obstacles, we must tell the life stories of real women. Unless we do, the collective historical experiences of Somali women and their efforts and contributions to Somali history will remain unknown and unacknowledged.
Invented in the 1920s by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, the Osmanya Script was one of 3 main contenders (others being Arabic and Latin) to be the written Somali language after independence in 1960. The writing script transcribes the Somali language in its original alphabet and borrows heavily from Semitic writing scripts.
In the 1950s, the nephew of Osman, Yaasiin was very influential in lobbying for the script to become the written language but just before independence a decision couldn’t be reached however the script remained influential and widely used in intellectual circles. Later in 1972, Siad Barre chose the Latin script to be the sole Somali writing script.