Somali culture fete in Mandera provided stage for community to celebrate age-old traditions in a region that has suffered scourge of terrorism.
A symbolic gesture that peace was taking root in Mandera County and the entire North Eastern region happened recently. A refurbished Moi Stadium that featured everything but grass literally pulsated with white gowns during the first Somali cultural festival.
Men, from Governor Ali Roba and the county leadership, to invited guests and performers retrieved from the past, wore white outfits with matching head scarfs and green belts holding ceremonial knives in keeping with Somali traditional attire dating back to a past dominated by Arabs.
Women also spotted white, amid impressive gaudy colours that enhanced their beauty. The governor’s wife topped it all with a resplendent crown.
The three-day cultural extravaganza last week consummated with songs, dances, poems, games of yore and escorted with traditional Somali foods and drinks was viewed as the epitome of efforts by the national and county governments to curb the orgy of Al Shabaab that had created an atmosphere of near paralysis.
Disappearing cultural activities such as best practices in milking camels, goats and cows using the right implements and age old methods to preserve milk and meat were on display for the younger generation to learn and copy how their forbears survived in times of scarcity and plenty.
For milk, the incontrovertible primary food of pastoral communities, it was shown how everything from squeezing the stuff out of the udder to cleaning its container was an art passed down the generations.
It was the preserve of women to extract ghee, an exercise that took them hours on end to accomplish juggling a wooden container called diil. Any grown man found tinkering with diil to extract ghee was liable to a punishment by spending his life without a wife, cultural experts explained.
To give milk the best smell and taste, twigs from particular trees were pushed into fire and the smoky end used to fumigate and clean the containers.
Not to be left behind were migratory huts known as erio, walled and roofed with grass. It was quite a fascination when a traditional Somali wedding was held in the erio, with camel milk and meat taking the centre stage to eclipse conventional wedding cake.
A live migratory caravan comprising several camels (orofa ile) in a Somali dialect lit the stadium when the animals and their handlers clad in traditional gear lumbered around. It was excitement galore when the governor and his wife descended from the dais to join the caravan as the animals strode past.
Dancing styles that had been long forgotten were performed to deafening cheers. A case in point was one where a man gyrated on his head undaunted by the dust, his legs flying like wooden marionettes in the air as women clapped and shouted praises to him.
A play on how the Somali protected their animals and families left people cringing in apprehension, as young warriors armed with bows and arrows made menacing gestures that disturbed the Adrenalin in an area recovering from bloody attacks by the shadowy Shabaab. The master of ceremonies had to give reassurance that all was well.
Speeches were done in Somali, with translations for the media, amid fears that the younger generation domiciled in urban areas could hardly express themselves in mother tongue.
“It is a pity that young educated mothers prefer to speak to their children in English without giving a thought to the fact that they are killing an important component of our culture and identity,” said Senator Mohamed Mohamud.
He described as misplaced the argument that traditional languages encouraged tribalism.
Governor Roba said the success of the inaugural cultural festival was a bold indicator that security had not only returned, but was flourishing in the county.