OUT&ABOUT: A glimpse into the rich Somali architectural history

Monday October 16 2017

The traditional shelter was collapsible and

The traditional shelter was collapsible and dome-shaped. It was made from poles and covered with woven fiber, hides, cloth or tin. The hut was known as the Aqal. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA 

By TOM MWIRARIA
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The ancient Egyptians used to call Somalia the Land of Punt. They loved punt for her myrrh, frankincense and aromatic gum resins.

The Romans of yore called it Cape Aromatic. The legends say that the Father of Somali was a man only known as Samale.

Somalis are found in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Despite their geographical scatter, their unity makes them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa.

Since the Nomadic herders spent all their life herding, a large tree used to serve as a shelter from soaring temperatures synonymous to Somali land and Northeastern Kenya.

They would also gather under a tree shade for meetings. Sadly, even at this day Somali school children in parts of North Eastern Kenya learn under a tree shade for lack of classrooms.

A young Somali woman outside an aqal which was

A young Somali woman outside an aqal which was on display during the Somali Heritage Week, 2017 held at the Kenya Cultural Centre. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

TRADITIONAL SHELTER

The traditional shelter was collapsible and dome-shaped. It was made from poles and covered with woven fiber, hides, cloth or tin. The hut was known as the aqal.

The aqal was easy to collapse and reassemble. Whenever the nomads moved, they would move with it.

Women carry the mobile house and set it up in the next location. Somali traditional architecture is the feminine  During  the  Somali Cultural week  that  happened  on  October  7  at  the  Kenya  Cultural  Centre ,the dome-shaped  Aqal  was  displayed.

For nomads, wandering is their lifestyle. In their journey through life they carry few earthly possessions and each possession has a practical use.

They comprise of stools, woven mats, cooking utensils and water casks.

In the jungles they saunter through, fanged beasts roam. The howling, growling and prowling felines.

Slithers of venomous kind and animals that destruct with most abandon.

The aqal is thus be ringed by a fence made from thorn bushes to keep away predators.

Domestic animals are safely protected in corrals made from thorn bushes.

A prayer section may be set apart within the camp circumference, marked by a circle of stones.

Most Somalis profess Islamic faith.

PERMANENT SHELTERS

As Somalis interacted with the Bantus they sluggishly embraced farming in form of small vegetable gardens. Borrowing a leaf from the Bantu, they started making permanent shelters similar to the Aqal.

Round huts cake mandalas are constructed with poles and brush or vines plastered with a blend of mud and animal dung and polished with ash.

The roof is cone-shaped. The Somalis also construct rectangular huts called arish. The arish  have flat tin roofs and are built  stone, cement or from logs, stone, brick, or cement.

Modern Somalis are dwellers of towns and cities.

In towns like Mombasa, they live in Arab-style whitewashed houses made of brick or stone or brick covered with cement or plaster.

The middle class Somalis in Nairobi and other towns live in the ordinary rented apartments that has running water and electricity.



The roof in the aqal. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

The roof in the aqal. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

They live with the extended family comprising of great grandmothers, great grandchildren, uncles, sons, daughters and pets, a testament to their strong kinship ties.

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