The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Folk-Lore and Social Customs of the Western Somali Tribes

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By Capt. J. S. King.

I.—Forms of Oaths.

AMONG the numerous superstitions attesting the Pagan origin of the Somáli, may be mentioned two forms of oath in use among the Eesa and Gadabúrsi tribes:—

(A.)—By the Stone.

For this oath a special sacred stone is kept in the Fárih Mutallif family of the Hárlah sub-tribe of the Eesa; and when the tribe acquire any property by looting, or otherwise, one man's share of the spoil is set apart, in the name of the stone, for its hereditary keeper.

When making a solemn covenant, one of the parties hands the stone to the other, at the same time uttering the following formula in the Somali language:—

"Ahdigi Illáhi iyo ukútuki Amr Búr."

Meaning—"God is before us, and this stone is from Amr Búr," [name of a fabulous mountain] .

The person receiving the stone, says:—

"Inan kú sarin akuädín, sidás ku kádi,"

Meaning—"I shall not lie in this agreement, and therefore take this stone from you."

I never had an opportunity of seeing the original stone, but one shown to me in Zayla, and said to be its counterpart, was simply a smooth, dark pebble about the size of a pigeon's egg, such as are to be found on any shingly beach.

(B.)—On a Hole in the ground.

This oath, which also is considered peculiarly binding, is generally used when the Akils (elders) of several sub-tribes agree to join their forces and fight against another tribe.

A hollow is scooped in the ground, and the persons taking the oath place their right hands in the hollow, while uttering the formula:—

"Balanki Illáhi iyo borántas."

Which, freely translated, means—"God is among us, and if we fail in this agreement we shall go to the grave, even as our hands are now in this hole."

The above oaths are confined to the Eesa and Gadabúrsi tribes; but a third, viz. that by the divorce of wives, is common to all tribes of the Somáli nation.

The person administering the oath says:—

"Mahá helu ka yahin?"

Meaning—"What lawful wives have you?"

The other replies:—

"Sadeh talákod egattai."

Meaning—"I have given them (by this act) the triple divorce (if I break the oath)."

The inhabitants of Zayla (a mixed race) commonly swear by the Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Zarbé, whose remains lie under a white-washed dome on the south side of the town, erected in A.D. 1741-2. Ibrahim was one of the forty-four saints from Hadhramant who landed at Berbera, sat in solemn conclave upon Auliya Kumbo, or Holy Hill, and thence dispersed far and wide for the purpose of propagandism. He travelled to Harrar about A.D., converted many to El Islam, and left there an honoured memory.

The expression, "By Sheikh Ibrahim!" in asseveration is in everyday use in Zayla, and is to be heard as frequently as "By Jove!" and similar phrases among us.