It’s different when you’re in Somalia

In Modernity/Tradition by Amani Omar

When we think about tradition, some think of it as a set of old fashioned ideals that misalign with the ideals we have today.  That’s not the case for me, when I think of tradition, I remember the smell of laxoox fresh off of the stove and onto a plate. The sound of somali music playing in the background as men and women dance, vibrant fabric with arrays of patterns adorned on their persons. I remember the sound of my language and I remember it’s stories.

How do these pieces of tradition fit in modern settings? In a multicultural hub such as Canada, can tradition really stay exactly the same over the years? Or, does it mold to fit itself in its place in society?

My father says that ”it’s different when you’re in Somalia” rather than here in Canada. In fact, even over there, there are differences in tradition in big cities and small villages, whether it be the dialect or even the food. Somali people are ethno-religious, and though we may be divided by dialect or tribes, we are united in the religious belief of Islam. While parts of our traditions may change over time such as farming, food and fashion, our people have always passed down the Somali language to younger generations along with the stories and poems they carry. 

I remember the songs we used to sing and nursery rhymes about trees and the environment in somalia. How music evolved from simple strings to full blown trumpets in the background, yet each melodic word still created poetry in the air. I remember the fables that would talk about trust and intellect through animal characters like camels, fox, cats and mice. 

Though traditions change, I realize that fundamentally they teach us about how to navigate society and how to treat and interact with others and our surroundings, and because of long travels and new encounters, it’s a way to teach younger generations our people have learned and discovered through the land.

The Somali were nomadic people with a strong sense of oral traditions. Poetry and storytelling late at night under trees and stars, with cathay soomali in our mouths and fire by our feet, led our nation to be known as the Land of Poets. Our silver tongues are something we have carried with us throughout the generations, and throughout the world, Canada being no different. However, in a large multicultural setting with traditions from all over the world, Canadians have become a melting pot of traditions, language and values that have such different spices picked apart to create a new culture. 

A big example of this is in our language. Slang has become a dialect used in modern settings. With ebonics and foreign words, the English language has become a part of a base of shared traditional languages to add on to. 

The Somali traditions have also found a way to be weaselled into Torontonian culture, through music, language and even food. Though we have assimilated into western culture, we have not lost the spices that we carried with us overseas, whether it’s religion, language, or even the homemade baaris and hiilib that we share with our friends and families. 

Tradition is about sharing. Symbols, values and beliefs—none of these would be traditions if they were not passed on to others. Maybe the traditions we have today are different from 100 years ago, but maybe 100 years ago was different than 200 years ago. Through generations, traditions change and evolve, and some things stay the same, however, tradition has never been old-fashioned. If anything, it’s refurbished, it’s the definition of modernity because it’s constantly changing through the generations yet still teaches us to remember the past. 

We all have a story written in our bones, a story that has been passed on to us through blood. While we may not understand it just yet, we are all connected and are sharing history through our interactions and bodies. We are learning, our tongues are slowly catching up to our ideas, and we turn those ideas into magic. Because they are a part of us, and tradition is nothing but pieces of individuals meshing into each other, like pieces of a puzzle. It’s a part of our identity, a part of our story. 

We carry our stories along, teach them to others and turn them into symbols of our lives in the moment. And just like our ancestors, we have learned about the world through our travels and our experiences. As we travel through life we navigate society and new forms of evolved culture, creating our own traditions based on experience and sharing new stories while still passing on old ones. We are marking our moments because it’s tradition, and who knows maybe some of our stories will become historic in the future.