Khat (also spelled qat or qaat) is a flowering plant native to the Northeast African peninsula (the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia). When chewed it produces a stimulant effect similar to amphetamines. The talkative high that emerges has made it popular for a variety of social occasions. Politicians and businessmen chew it whilst making deals, Sufis chew it to enflame themselves in prayer, and some Somali poets use it to inspire spontaneous verse.
This poem by Yuusuf Meygaag Samatar of Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) discusses the various benefits and drawbacks of chewing khat.
When I eat of this Qaat plant I find it to inspire
It helps me to take a seat among notable peers;
It opens my mouth to speak wisely and to sing verses to the genies of Gabay. (1)
It is good for conversation, better for courting the maids,
And best for laboring hands.
But …it can carry you far, far away …
And it profits not a man to sit by Qaat every day
When you rise up from it in the evening, it creeps through the body, overwhelms the mind,
Infecting you with sorrows of vain ambition.
Then you relive the losses, failures, and broken hopes;
It brings back memories, memories you’d fain forget, memories of lost causes.
My advice, in brief, to him who would have Qaat:
If you are in want of the wherewithal to guarantee you a good supply of Qaat
And you cannot reap a harvest of it in your garden,
Oh, man of modest means, let not Qaat unsettle your family.
Here is the original in Somali:
Anigaa furoo qaadka waa lagu fahmeystaaye;
Filkaaga iyo waayeeladuu kula fariishaye;
Afkana wuu furaa maansaduu kuu fidshaa abid e;
Fagaarihiyo haasaawuhuu aad u fiic yahaye;
Kolkaad haw1 faraha saarto buu sii fariid yahay e;
Hayeeshee hadaan fiirshay waa kula fogaadaaye;
Hadaad maalin oo idil fadhido faydo kuuma leh e;
Fiidkii kolkaad sare kacduu kugu fidaayaaye;
Fakar iyo wuxuu kula galaa faalla aan jirin e;
Markaasaad wax jeer hore fakaday dib ugu fooftaaye;
Ood soo faqdaa xaaja aan fari ka noolayn e.
Waxbase hadalku yuu ila fidine waxaan ku faygooyey:
Kol hadaadan maal fara leh oo fiicanna u haysan,
Asaanad faraq ka soo buuxsaneyn beer ad sii falatay,
Nin faqiirahaw reerka yuu kaa fadqalalaynin.
by Yuusuf Meygaag Samatar
from “Gabay-Hayir: A Somali Mock-Heroic Song”,
by Said S. Samatar,
Research in African Literatures, II, 4 (winter 1980), 460-461.
- The genies of Gabay: Gabay is one of the many distinct forms of oral poetry that Somali poets perform.