This Somali gabay was composed by Muhammad Abd Allah al-Hasan (1856 – 1920), the religious and military leader. Known to the British as the “Mad Mullah”, he established the Dervish state in Somalia, and fought against British, Italian and Ethiopian forces, before eventually being defeated by the British in 1920. The poem may have been inspired by an incident in 1899 when some British officers sold al-Hasan a gun, which they later accused him of stealing, making it the pretext for an attack which al-Hasan got the better of.

To begin with, I had neglected poetry and had let it dry up
I had sent it west in the beginning of the spring rains.
But let me set forth what prevented me from sleeping last night
God’s Blessing are more numerous than those growing trees.
I will remind you of the victory he gave us
Listen to me my council, for you are most dear to me
If the unwashed left handed one had died yesterday,
if I had cut his throat – may he taste hell in the grave itself
And the wild animals had eaten him, he and his ilk would deserve this
I would salute the hyena that would gorge itself on his flesh,
As it’s doing me a favor, it is dearer to me than any other animal of the wild.
If could I would reward it every day
That deformed one wasted a lot of my wealth
since he kept committing wrongs again and again
I knew all along that the hyena would devour him
It was their insincere refusal to acknowledge the truth that put them down and destroyed them
And made me attack their best man with a dagger
If they had not become ungrateful, I would have not become enraged with them
I would have not lost my generosity and respect for them
I would have not have withheld anything from them, if they desired peace
But when they acted disdainfully, death marched straight at them.

from Oral poetry and Somali nationalism:
the case of Sayyid Mahammad ‘Abdille Hasan.

by Said Sheikh Samatar,
Cambridge University Press, 1982.