Europe was cool in the nineteenth century .They were all about inter-cultural conversations. So much so that they use to kidnap/force/pay entire communities and put them in zoos so that they may be observed by Europeans. The zoos weren’t actually called “zoos”. It was either a “world fair” or “world exposition”.
From the mid nineteenth century onwards, colonial powers began to hold these “World fairs”. The aim was simple: how do we introduce the metropolis to the colonies? How do we make it easier for our population (the British, the French) to understand that the “colonies” France/Britain rule over are tangible and very real. This is illustrated best by the French Colonial Minister Paul Reynaud’s opening remarks at the 1931 Expo where he declared that “the essential aim of the exposition is to give the French an awareness of their Empire”. OF course, part of the aim was also about boosting the confidence of both the Empire and the individual in the empire, by pointing out how varied and savage and bizarre the cultures were that they now ruled over.
This particular piece I’ve shared here was recorded in 1930 (exhibited 1931), and it comes from a long tradition of European faux-anthropology that had Empire at is centre. It was record by the Phonetics Department at Paris University, and the aim was to “record the music and dialects of the colonies”. But I promise, it’s much more sinister than that. They made hundreds of audio recordings, took hundreds of pictures and meticulously wrote LOTS of reports. Only a fraction of them are about Somalis. Here is one of them.
From what I gather, this man is describing “disagreements” with his neighbouring Qabiil, or even sub-Qabiil. I think it was common, in regions in the north and west, to have disagreements like this with your neighbours. Robbing their camel is the ultimate expression of just how pissed off you are with them.
Note: Think about the subject of the story. Think about why it might have “benefited” the recorders. Think about the problem with framing the existence of an entire people this way.
Once upon, we raided (a settlement) and we stole some camel. And the men we had robbed came after us, and they asked us to give them their camel back. And we said no. We’re not giving you anything back. We fought. They said give us our camel back. We said no. They said “us not getting our camel back isn’t really gonna work for us”. And we said, we’re not giving you your camel back, quit badgering us. We fought. They killed one of our men. So when they did that, we fought even harder. They then took the camel from us. We chased after them and caught up with them, and took the camel off them. There we fought. They killed three of ours. We killed five of them. They sent us a delegation who had some wise words to share. They said: “only three are eternal”. A man who has knowledge, a donkey, and a dog. Only those three will benefit. The man with knowledge, for he has has wisdom, and from livestock and his family comes much wealth. And donkeys, they said. And dogs, they said[This is a literal translation, but it seems that he has forgotten the particular proverb, so he’s filling it in with fillers]. We got compensation. We chased them, we scared them, that’s it! We kept the camel. We were stronger than them. We scared them. We became serious enemies. Years later [Lit: another day], they raided us, attacking us, families, livestock, and burnt our houses. And we went after them, and we burnt down their houses. And then matters became serious after that. And then British attacked us, and locked us up. They chased us, and we went on the run. We escaped. They caught five of our men. They locked them up. We then paid for them to be released. With the grace of God, through all of that, we were fighting. For five years, we were fighting. And then things got really difficult. We paid the “Mag” (Islamic compensation for killing someone). And we made peace there and then.