Far From Africa titled its first post back in 2013 Where is the Gambia? And after two years of publishing, today’s post could be titled Where is Djibouti? There are two plausible theories to explain the name of Djibouti and its capital city, Djibouti City. Some claim that it can be traced to the Afar word Gabouti meaning ‘a kind of doormat made from palm fibre’. Others would say that it comes from the Land of Tehuti after the name of the Ancient Egyptian god of the moon and knowledge.
Me’ad, a Djiboutian living in Melbourne talks about his country and how in such a small country there is a vast and rich culture. Despite the desert-like appearance of Djibouti, he portrays the country as a potential tourism destination offering a variety of landscapes from the breathtaking rugged mountains of the north to the incredible white landscape of the salt lake Assal and the beautiful beaches on the Red Sea.
When asking Me’ad where Djibouti is, he laughingly responds “I stopped telling people that I am from Djibouti and I just say I am from the Horn of Africa.” He also describes his country as “a small country between Somalia and Ethiopia on the coast of the Red Sea.”
Comfortably proud of his African and Djiboutian identity, his name Me’ad coincidentally is an Arabic word meaning ‘appointment’ and a Somali name literally signifying “lots of rain drops” as a time of prosperity. He tells that growing up in Djibouti was very interesting thanks to the mix of cultures. This mix initially came from Yemeni traders due to Djibouti’s proximity to the Middle East, the Afar ethnic group from the northern lands of Djibouti, the French and Somali people. Strategically, the French kept Djibouti under their administration to counteract the British influence in the region. Me’ad has very fond memories of the strong sense of community that existed and still exists in Djibouti as “we were very much supported and protected by my family in Djibouti and in Somalia.”
Somali people speak a more literary and classical Somali and are more connected to the Somali culture. The Somali (as an ethnic group) of Djibouti were more influenced by the West and other cultures through the French, the Arabs and other local ethnic groups. On 27 July 1977, Djibouti gained its independence and the 9 year-old Me’ad still remembers the excitement at that time. He particularly recalls the popular emergence of a Somali band with patriotic songs that he saw the concert of in Djibouti.
Proud Djiboutian with a passion for music and arts, Me’ad shares with Far From Africa his anthology of Somali and Afar music through the following extracts.
“This song is titled ‘Hooyooy La’aanta’ (without mother – the importance of maternal love) is interpreted by a famous and one of the best Somali singers, Mohamed Souleiman Tubeh. His debut started in Djibouti in the late 50s before he went to Somalia. I like this song because of all the affection I have for my mother.”
“This a video of traditional Somali dance. It revives memories of my childhood as it was a way to socialise and we often attended this kind of spectacle. It was very funny to see adults seducing each other.”
“This is traditional Afar dance. I grew up in a multicultural suburb of Djibouti City and some of my neighbours were Afar. Sharing this video is a way for me to pay tribute to some of my Afar childhood friends and my nieces and nephews who are Afar too.”
“This song is extracted from a theatre play titled ‘Gar caadawe iyo caashaq’ and it is the first play I saw in my life in 1973 when I was 5.”
He describes this music as very rhythmic with lyrics on patriotism or on various topics going from societal issues to honesty and unity. “The language that singers use is very metaphoric making the lyrics very poetic. I don’t know how they do it!” Today, Djiboutians still appreciate Somali and Djiboutian music as well as folk dances and young people tend to listen to the modern version of those songs.
After being in Australia for almost 20 years, Me’ad now works in democracy advocacy and policy, another passion of his. He believes that good governance and electoral system are “critical to help a country develop and change. It is the foundational basis for effective and successful development projects and societal change.”