The abundance of horses in the Dhulbahante country and the prowess of the Dhulbahante as horsemen is recurring theme. Drake-Brockman, a colonial civil servant during the Darwiish wars remarks on this in his book, British Somaliland:
Previous to the expeditions against the Mullah, the tribes which were, in all probability, the best off in horses were the Dulbahanta, and after them the Ogaden. At all events, most of those in a position to speak are agreed that the Dulbahantas are the best horsemen among the Somalis.
The next visitor to the Dhulbahante country was one Harold Swayne in the 1870s. He wrote extensively about Northern Somalia in his books Seventeen Trips through Somaliland. Swayne wrote that "of the Somali tribes I have met on different expeditions those having the most ponies are the Dhulbahante, the Reer Amaadin and the Jibriil Abokor. In the Nugaal country we saw enormous number, one man sometimes owning 150"! This abundance of horses gave the Dhulbahante great strategic advantage which they pressed relentlessly. It allowed them to cover huge distances. Swayne records that the Dhulbahante were a tribe addicted to raiding and their horsemen rampaged down the coast molesting the coastal trade centres of Bullaxaar and Berbera. They also harried and looted the trade caravans coming from Mudug and Ogaadeeniya. When Swayne visited Caynaba then occupied by the powerful Ararsame lineage of Axmed Garaad he witnessed large number of caravans that were Ararsame Magan. The caravans were afraid to venture towards Berbera fearful of Maxamuuud Garaad horsemen.
Swayne writes that the people of Badweyn 'had just come from Gosaweine, driven from there by fear of Mahamud Gerad, and we were assured we would most certainly be attacked by that tribe if we held to our determination of going to Gosaweine. We were further told that the plains were very open and the horsemen "as numerous as the Sand" and that years ago a force of natives armed with 100 matchlocks had been completely wiped out there by a night attack'. In the event, Swayne's party did not meet the "the terrible Mahamud Gerad" but was instead given an escort by a detachment of Ararsame and Barkad horses who were themselves on the lookout against the Mahamud Gerad. Swayne's party made a bivouac on the plain that night. But caution dictated to them that they not light any fires to avoid attracting the menacing attentions of the Mahamud Gerad Cavalry.
Swayne in his travels comes upon and mentions in his book one of the most glorious Dhulbahante Battle victories. Upon visiting Caynaba, he writes that he "halted at a steep, flat-topped hill called Kabr Ogaden, or the Ogaden graves, where a great Ogaden army perished at the hands of the Dolbahanta". He continues that the tribe was here in "strength, with enormous droves of camels and ponies and flocks of sheep. For a mile round the wells were clouds of dust kicked up by the thirsty animals".
It was amid the splendour of this majestic, sprawling kingdom that Ismaaciil Mire Cilmi was born to the Guuleed Cali Geri branch of the Dhulbahante. At the time of Ismaaciil's birth the Cali Geri were recovering from the bloody conflicts that convulsed their family after the vanity of Aadan Galaydh and his expansive family lit the touchpaper to intestine wars that left an indelible mark on Somali history. The story has been immortalized by an aged Ismaaciil Mire in a poem intended as a cautionary tale against overweening pride, the kind that led to the Qabaal Wars that shook the Cali Geri family. It started when Cumar Aadan Galaydh 'Cumar Aji' was denied pre-eminence of place at the watering hole by one Maxamed Cabdille Liibaan who (to emphasize his point that Cumar Aji will not drink from the well) broke the Qabaal that was being used to water the Camels. Cumar Aji promptly murdered Liibaan for his effrontery in standing up to a member of Aadan Galaydh household.
This set off a chain reaction that led to Cumar Aji being murdered at the site of a Balli watering hole and settlement that to this day bears his name to commemorate this infamy (the name appears on some maps). It also led to massive Cavarly wars that pitted the two brawling lineages of the Cali Geri against each other. Aadan Galaydh, Qoorwaa Jaamac and Boos Illaawe were some of the personalities that took part in those wars and whose names were immortalized in those bloody and violent conflicts. Aadan Galaydh's rashness and his role in prolonging the conflict were redeemed by the courage and sacrifice of his numerous grandchildren (and some of his own children) who in later years embraced the Darwiish cause and fought valiantly in the majestic cause of Somali liberation. Xayd Aadan Galaydh and 3 of Baynax Aadan Galaydh's children were killed in Jidbaale, the disastrous engagement that nearly destroyed the Darwiish Movement in 1904. Portions of Sayid Maxamed's Gudban poem read as a moving dirge in memory of the fallen Cali Geri heroes who were lost in that bloody encounter.
Gambalaaligii bay warmaha nagu garraaxeene
Eebbow waa gumaadeen raggii gaanaha ahaaye
Eebbow waxay gabawareen Gaagguf iyo Xayde
Guuleedku wuxuu noo ahaa guurti loo hirane
Nimankii garaadada ahaa waa gadow jabane
Eebbow sidii gaanti maro waa la gaasiraye
Qoorwaa Jaamac, the legendary warrior, who put his mark on a Lebi(Poinciana Elata) tree that was thereafter named Lebi Suntaale, none allowed to sit under it, also had a role in prolonging the conflict. When a peace assembly was held he asked the provocative question: Can we have a living and breathing Cumar Aji restored to us? When the obvious reply came that a living Cumar Aji was an impossible notion, he responded: Peace will also be an impossible notion!! (Cumar Aji haddii la heli waayo, nabadna la heli maayo).
By the time of Ismaaciil Mire's birth peace and amity was restored among the Cali Geri and their prosperity revived an it was in this milieu that young Ismaaciil Mire was raised. In his formative years he spent learning the Koran as well as imbibing the culture, poetry and the ways of the Somali people. He was taught the indispensable arts of horsemanship, so vital to the warrior Dhulbahante way of life. In a very short time Ismaaciil Mire emerged as "a skillful leader of great courage and prudence".
When the aggressive and predatory European colonialists arrived in Somalia and opened their mission schools and strangled the coastal cities of Somalia, Ismaaciil Mire was one of the Dhulbahante leaders who were alarmed by this new development. When Sayid Maxamed Cabdille Xasan launched the Holy Darwiish movement Ismaaciil Mire was one of the first people to embrace the cause. For him, like all the Dhulbahante, it was a choice between Freedom and Servitude, Degeneracy and Morality, Treachery and Loyalty. In short it was a choice between Right and Wrong. The land of the Somalis can only be ruled by Somalis and it was in the defense of the Somalia, its religion and culture that he waged a relentless war of liberation that lasted for two decades.
In the first year of the Darwiish movement, the Dhulbahante, and Cali Geri in particular, formed a reserve elite force with modern arms numbering less than a thousand bolstered by additional thousands of spearmen from the various Somali tribes of Northern Somalia. As they moved into Ogaadeeniya large numbers of Maxamed Subeer embraced the Darwiish cause. The Ethiopians, upon hearing about the activities of the Darwiishes, sent out a large force from Harar. It was first feared that the Abyssinians were planning to advance as far as Dhagaxbuur. In the event, they stopped at Jigjiga and on March 21, 1900 a large Darwiish army made up of Ogaadeen spearmen engaged the Ethiopians at Jigjiga but they were eventually repelled by the better-armed Abyssinians, who themselves sustained not inconsiderable losses. The Abyssinian force was led by Garazmach Bante who sent a detailed report of the battle to the English, no doubt self -aggrandizing and painting the Abyssinians in the best possible light. He writes that the Reer Cali and Reer Haaruun abandoned the Darwiish movement amid accusations that the Darwiish leadership misrepresented the intelligence on Abyssinian fighting strength and sent the Ogaadeen into battle woefully under-armed.
With the assault on Jigjiga the battle for Somali liberation was well and truly joined. But it also dealt a heavy blow to the nascent struggle when the movement lost Ogaadeeni confidence. On top of the grievances we noted above, the Ogaadeens complained that the Dhulbahante had the better arms and were spared from the suicidal Jigjiga assault. The final rupture with the Ogaadeen came when Maxamed Subeer elders Guraase Xaaji Cali and Xuseen Yuusuf Xirsi 'Iljeex' conspired at Gurdumi to assassinate the Sayid. Sayid Maxamed was saved from walking into an ambush after being warned by a man named Cabdi Garaad Yuusuf. The Sayid was eternally grateful to this man. When the son of Cabdi Yuusuf Garaad came to visit the Darwiish Xarun, the Sayid composed a poem that included the following lines:
Maantuu ibleyskii Iljeex na ibtilaynaayay
Idilkii Subeyr maalintuu oboda ii dhiibay
Arbow ina Garaad Yuusuf baa aanaday galaye
waatuu akhbaartii i yidhi aaminka ahayde
Isna kaa maanta soo ambaday inankii weeyaane
Alaakoodsha oo wiilku yuu agab la'aan sheegan
Afka wuxuu ka dooniyo kuu uur ka rabo siiya
Ninkii loo ixsaan falahayaba iniq u dheereeya
The epilogue to the Jigjiga campaign was that the Sayid and 500 Dhulbahante Special Force that included Ismaaciil Mire, based at Haradigeed, were attacked by a large raiding party of the Habar Yoonis who were after the Reer Cali of the Ogaadeen. The Habar Yoonis and Reer Cali were engaged in a vicious war that unsettled the whole area. Unfortunately, for them they stumbled on the Darwiish reserve force, uniformly armed with modern rifles, and the Habar Yoonis were cut down, losing between 100-150 men before retreating. This incident poisoned Darwiish/Habar Yoonis relations for all time, compounded by the Dayax Weerar episode when Habar Yoonis in the Oodweyne district were looted.
Despite the Ogaadeen abandonment of the Darwiish cause, nevertheles the movement gathered strength in both men and materiel and the Sayid felt confident enough to take action against many of the tribes that were found to be intractable and refusing to join the Cause. A letter written to the J. Hayes Sadler, the British Consul at Berbera, by one Signor Gerolimato, an Amharic-speaking Italian, observed that the Ras Makonen and Garazmach Bante were not "sanguine as to the Abyssinians' succesfully establishing their authority in the Ogaden". Sadler observes that Darwiish domination of the Ogaden would spell ruination to British trade. He also believed that if the fears of the Abyssinian leadership were to materialize and the Sayid became the undisputed master of the Ogaden that it will 'mean that we shall be forced to have a permanent military occupation of the Protectorate.
By the middle of the 1901 the Darwiish Army swelled to 32,000 men and the British were so alarmed by the growing influence and power of the Darwiish Movement that they launched an Expedition headed by E. J. E. Swayne, the brother of Harold, explorer of Northern Somalia, to quell the 'rebellion' once and for all. From that time until 1904 when the fourth and last British Military Expedition ended, the British and the Darwiishes fought a series of inconclusive engagements that ended with Sayid being ceded large territory in from Mudug to Nugaal. The history of these campaigns have been essayed extensively and need not be recounted here. The principal matter of this narrative is the role played by Darwiish Commander Mujaahid Ismaaciil Mire in the struggle to liberate Somalia from Colonial Domination.
The second installment in this historic essay will trace the major military expeditions commanded by Mujaahid Ismaaciil Mire and the poetry he composed to mark those victories.