fate, fire and Somali calendars

In Time by Sun Sheikh Hussein

I smell something burning. At the same time, fresh new snow falls, replacing the rainfall promised by man. There is an ineffable relief that Time keeps going and seasons reign in their spotlight when they are due. You’ll know where you are in time. Time locates the self in a myriad of revolutions tugging back and forth between day and night, divine and demonic, and the oppressed overturning the oppressors. There is a saying in Somali: khayr wax kaama dhime shar u toog hay – good times do not take anything from you but be ready for bad times. Times are always changing and we hang in its tumultuous balance, waiting for things to turn over.

I used to think that time wasn’t real at all. Hours, days, and months went by and I was on autopilot for much of my life. I never liked writing in school agendas and I never liked tracking my days because time was already slipping from my fingers. It started off as a joke to refute it but time is one of those constructs to be sure of. Time proves our place and the places we’ll be in. Time to wake up. Time to pray. Time to sleep. Time to link up. Time to yourself. Time to start again.

It wasn’t until I come across this hadith that I stopped contesting and denying time: “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ‘Allah said, ‘The offspring of Adam curse the Dahr (Time), and I am the Dahr; in My Hands are the night and the day.’”

Time to rethink where we are in the fabric of the intervals we have to face.

Sometimes we rush through our days to evade the past by filling up our time with distractions. Sometimes we evade the future. Evading, either or, erases your presence in the present. I wanted to find my own place through time again – so I decided to burn a letter to my past. I wrote: “these memories are far too much for me,” and the embers rush across the corners of the page, cremating a language and a time that can now be put to rest. Time to start again.

Learning that Somalis created a solar and lunar calendar revitalized my place with time. The new solar year or New Year’s Day, Dabshid, marks new beginnings with a celebratory fire and its essence invites the hope of a good year. Spiritually, this allowed me to let go of the things that loomed in the past. No longer guarding my future in the place of hurt or being haunted – I can have the chance to start again. I want to manifest better times.

Dab, shid.

Fire, grind.

Burn, reduce.

Let go, to small particles.

Nothingness, anew.

Timekeeping as a tradition in Somali culture mirrors the act of preserving one’s self and the community. Anticipating what the year will bring had Somalis clinging to the movement of the celestial bodies, paired with their respective seasons – linking the sun, moon and stars to omens, losses, famines and storms. But with the bad and with divinations enacting preparation over times that cannot be helped, there is hope. There is navigation, direction, and there is proof of our presence. The solar calendar, amin-tiris, is used to pinpoint and oversee the weather, the seasons and travels by boat. Weatherlore experts in traditional pre-Islamic Somalia were also considered seers and “human calendar[s], collating the observations which [they make] sky and weather with oral record of past years to define the start and end of specific seasons, and to calculate the exact days on which certain events, holy days and so on should occur,” (Galaal 2).

It was crucial for Somali weatherlore experts to consider the past when facing their future. One year, in Somali calendars, depends on the rest of time.

The natural balance of time always left remarkable impressions and inventions of timekeeping and restoring our presence. Somalis distinctively and traditionally honed in on the idea that when there are good times, there will be tough times, and the cycle continues. If the weatherlore expert notes that it will be a bad year, an abundant one would be underway. As human calendars and time-logs, we can have a lot of expectations over time, but there is a hidden quality of fate that presides over the perception of time, also known as nabsi.

nabsi ha qaadin

“Take care that fate does not cause your downfall.”

Just like there are ideas of good years and bad years – Somalis traditionally marked the days of the week as “pairs” of good and evil, with Friday being the odd, neutral one out. It is known as the redeemer. The days are tied to the years, such as Thursday year and Friday year, to denote a cycle. These cycles redeem and relieve nomadic timekeepers.

Nabsiga aan daahinow

“Oh fate that never tires.”

It was not Dabshid when I was burning the letter. The night of fire is traditionally around the Gregorian summer. But in the heart and heave of winter, I reflect on the past to keep up with an imagined, near future, waiting for things to turn over. Time to start again. Fated as a flame over the past, I realized that the years I spent in hurting and loss did not define me. They defined my perception of a better future and how to process. In some ways, when healing from the past, we must let it go, ceremoniously. Time for something new.