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Faarax Cawl: Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl (Ignorance is the Enemy of Love)

Considering this is the first full-length Somali novel, it is pretty good. It is set at the beginning of the twentieth century and is the story of Cawrala and Calimaax. Fate brings them together as they travel on the same ship to Aden. They get to know one another, particularly as both are accomplished poets. (Poetry is an important part of Somali life and figures very strongly in this novel, with several poems, particularly those written by Cawrala.) However, the ship runs into a storm but Calimaax is able to save Cawrala and, of course, they fall in love. However, Calimaax has a mission in life and that is to rid his country of the foreign invaders, the British and the Italians. (Part of the pleasure of this novel is to see the Somali point of view of the European invaders. His story of Richard Burton‘s discovery by the local Muslims as being a fraud when one of them spies on him peeing and sees that he is not circumcised is priceless.)

Calimaax is a brave hero (he is based on a real character) and his group, the Dervishes, also based on real life freedom fighters, carries out a raid in 1916 against the British. Calimaax is badly wounded and left for dead. Meantime, Cawrala’s father plans to marry off to someone local. Her protestations about Calimaax, particularly when it is learned that he has died, go for nothing. Calimaax slowly recovers despite adversity (he fights off a leopard that attacks him) and is, eventually, rescued. By this time, Cawrala has married but this has made her so sick that she is returned to her father’s house (her young sister replaces her). Calimaax hurries to her but it is too late.

Cawl tells an enjoyable story, replete with poetry and the myths of his people, in a distinctive Somali style. Its origins in the oral tradition are clear, with poetry being strong influence. It is well worth a read.

Publishing history

First published 1974 by the Somali Ministry of Culture and Higher Education
First English translation 1982 by Zed Press, London
Translated by B.W. Andrezejewski