The Sayyid established `an empire‘ (Thesiger, 1910) in the interior and gave `rough usage’ to those he suspected of sympathy to the British. The result was a great famine, `Haraame Cune’ (The Era of Eating the Unclean) (Samatar, 1982). The famine lasted from 1910 to 1913. The massive movement of people, the endless raids of the Sayyid’s forces against the people and the hunger and destitution of the people, created the social conditions for the 1910±1912 smallpox epidemic. The epidemic was most severe in the Southeast and decimated both the dervishes and the pastoralists (Byatt, 1911a,b). Even the baboons contracted the disease and were often found dead near wells with all the symptoms of the disease, thus spreading the disease even further. Dr. Drake-Brockman treated 4,447 cases in Berbera alone, of which 1,609 died. In the interior, refugees reported `heavy mortality’ due to the disease (General Staff, 1925, p. 38). Almost one-third of the population, as Douglas Jardine pointed out, died as a result of gunshot wounds, the spear, hunger and smallpox infection (Jardine, 1923, p. 198). He characterized the high toll in deaths as a `holocaust’ (Jardine, 1923, p. 189; Lewis, 1988, p. 77; Samatar, 1989, p. 39).

Colonial officials and postcolonial scholars had accepted the argument that one-third of the population died. However there had been no concrete data to back up the argument. The traditional sources for historical demography such as censuses, rates of death, birth, fertility, vital registration, parish registers, and demographic surveys, are unavailable to students of Somali history (Fyfe and McMaster, 1977; Miller, 1984; Cordell and Gregory, 1987; Turshen, 1987; Zeleza, 1993, p. 54). The administration attempted a few times to collect data systematically. However, the people always refused to collaborate with census takers owing to their fear of the political intentions behind the census. Moreover, the staff of the medical department was small and incapable of maintaining a continuous statistical file. As the 1930 medical report put it sarcastically, “the population follows the grass, which follows the rains and there is not the medical staff to the follow the population” (Kuczynski, 1949, p. 648). An attempt was made to undertake a formal census of the population in 1931. The Governor appointed a Chief Census Officer and eight District Census Officers (Kuczynski, 1949, p. 641). They produced tribal statistics, which were based on guesswork and estimation. They tried to estimate the number of people of each tribe constituted such as the Musa Abdulla, Sad Musa, Musa Ismail and Musa Abokor. Smith estimated that the Musa Abdulla is 5,000, while Bradley estimated them to be 9,600; they estimated the Esa Musa as 30,000 and 37,880, respectively; Musa Ismail as 20,000 and 13,000; Musa Abokor as 15,000 and 13,800 and the Rer Idleh as 1,264 (Smith and Bradley, 1931). The estimate was of limited value. First, it did not involve the counting of individuals, or even the creation of statistics about the rates of death, birth and fertility. Secondly, it was limited to a small number of tribes. Therefore, it was considered as unreliable. The administration then attempted to focus more narrowly on the few towns: Berbera, Burao, Erigavo, Bulhar, Zeila, Hargeysa and Sheikh. Statistics were collected on deaths from 1931 to 1935. Thereafter, reporting became slack. In 1937, another attempt was made to use the Aqils (tribal representatives) to report on deaths (male and female) of their tribes’ people. However, the experiment ended quickly as the reports were “hopelessly incomplete and inaccurate” (Kuczynski, 1949, p. 647). The demographic data that appeared before 1937 and thereafter was based mostly on guesswork. Overall, the reported demographic data for the country from 1901 to 1911 were as follows: 500,00 in 1901; 153,000 in 1902; 153,000 in 1903;

300,000 in 1903; 153,000 in 1905; 352,000 in 1906; 363,300 in 1907; 348,000 in 1908; 348,000 in 1909; 340,500 in 1910 and 344,300 in 1911 (Kuczynski, 1949, p. 641). None of the figures for any year were based on systematic census. They were, nonetheless, based on informed guesswork and on an understanding and even sensitivity to the political and social conditions in the country. For instance, the decline in the 1905 figures was considered by colonial reports as a result of the 1904±1905 smallpox epidemic, while the rise in the figures for 1907±1908 was explained in terms of the prevailing political stability and peace in the country. (This was the period in which the Sayyid was exiled to Northern Italian Somalia as a result of his defeat in 1906 at Jidbale.) The increase of the population thereafter reflected general `favorable conditions’. There were no figures for 1911±1912 because of the instability in the interior (Kuczynski, 1949, p. 648). However colonial officers, such Jardine, who were witnesses to the atrocities and destruction that took place during the period of `Harrame Cune’ were adamant that the population declined drastically.


There are also literary sources that give us an insight into how the people viewed the period. Ali Jamac Haabiil related the violence of the period in a poem in which he scolded the Sayyid as an `a crazed priest’ and in which he portrayed the death of large numbers of people. He stressed, in particular, the large number of Dhulbahante and Isaaq that died in the fiasco. He portrayed the period as one of death and destruction. As he put it, “the sound you hear/is that of the other world” (Sheikh-Abdi, 1993, pp. 52±53). Ciise Damash stated simply that the weak died: “miyaa aniga lay tudhay/ninkii taag yaraa dhimaye” (Was I protected/ the weak died). However, death, disease, and hunger spared neither the weak nor the strong. The Sayyid called the period time of `death and woe’ in his poem “Perhaps the Trumpet Has Sounded”. He characterized it as one in which “Men run wildly in pursuit of vengeance” and “shameless robberies are committed” everyday. “Each dawn brings outrage and injustice/wreaked by men upon each other/they roam the land invoking God/with oats of triple force/but it is lies they are spreading, only lies”. For him the source of the whole fiasco was the unholy alliance between Somali factions and the British. They “declare themselves men who belong to Swayne/meekly accepting his rule in the places where he makes his camp”. Overall, this was a period, according to the Sayyid, in which “the observance of Tradition”, binding obligations, the feeding of guests, charity, wise discourse, Sufi piety, “and goodness… is forsaken”. The result was robberies and death as men “pierce(d) each other’s flesh with spears” (Andrzejewski and Andrzejewski, 1993, pp. 42±42). However, smallpox and hunger also pierced men’s flesh. The scourge of diseases and hunger continued to haunt the people in the post-Harame Cune period.

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