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The Subordinate Role of Women in Somali Society in Nuruddin Farah’s Novels

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Close Sesame (1984) is Farah’s third novel of the anti-government trilogy. It is the most politically engaged of Farah’s third phase. The novel explores the protests against Siad Barre and secret mission of crucial assassination of Barre and the rationalization behind it. The plot of Close Sesame revolves around Deeriye, as a vantage point, he does not change throughout the novel. He is a nationalistic Muslim, Pan- Africanist and Somalist who had been a “Sayyidist” all his life. Deeriye is a patriarch of large family and a political figure with fragility, pious strength and freedom. He suffers from asthma for a long time and he spends time in his bed by meditating, praying, listening to tapes of prayers and classical music and talking with his relatives. As a consequence of defying the Italian Colonizers in 1940, he imposed to spend the next dozen years in prison which led to solitary confinement and psychological torture. He sustained in prison with his spiritual support and nothing eases him from a guilt of being an irresponsible father who is not there for his children when they are growing up. Deeriye comes to know about his son, mursal, who is plotting against Siad Barre’s regime. This effected to the death of Mursal and to vindicate justice Deeriye plots against the regime to defeat Siad Barre.

All of Farah’s novels incorporate certain themes: the subordinate role of women in Somali society and a need for their emancipation, the disastrous effects of clan competition and struggle, the role of the traditional authoritarian patriarch, and the pivotal nature of the educated intelligentsia in acting as both a force of opposition and of maintenance of the ruling regime. What differs among the novels is the amount of emphasis placed upon the various common themes. The social concerns of Farah’s earlier works, although represented in his later novels, have given way to explicit political issues in his evolution.

After the completion of the triology, Farah spent the years in restless travel and during this period he conceived plans for new triology. The future direction of Farah’s writings became clear when his sixth novel, Maps was published in early 1986. The continuation of Farah as a socially and politically engaged author willing to question the established status quo is clearly indicated by the quote: “Living starts when you start doubting everything that came before you.” A narrative is presented of the early childhood of an infant who has been taken in by a woman named Maliha, a “maidservant who came from somewhere else, up north,” and is treated despicably by the members of her new community. Furthermore, reference is made to the child’s father, who died in prison for his “political ideals” and to the North-South conflict evident in Somalia today.

The examination of female characters, as depicted in the novels of Nuruddin Farah reveals the social and political status of women in Somali society. According to their roles in the novel, these women characters are classified as the traditional Somali woman, the transitional Somali woman, the liberated modern Somali woman and the modern Western woman.

The traditional Somali woman is considered to be the second-class citizens who are suppressed by the men of their generation belong to a traditional Muslim culture. Because she is born into a traditional Muslim culture where women are not given equal importance as men. The women are not given formal education and are known to be as illiterate and superstitious. She has a negative image by world and it is also self – perpetuating. A woman cannot avoid the abuse because her power is limited either in her husband’s house or in her father’s house. She has to endure forced genital mutilation, polygamous marriage and frequent beatings. And also she has no right to question about all these violence which is imposed on her. She is not treated with sympathetic concern as brutality is in high-rise and she is kept in low esteem by their men.

Such treatments of women, with low self-esteem can be seen in the house of Grand Patriarch. The traditional women’s oppression is primarily found in the house of Grand Patriarch, either the father or the husband. According to the novels of Nuruddin Farah, the duty of women is to sleep with, to give birth, and to bring up their children. The women are imprisoned in their home bound with the same duties throughout their lives. They should not partake in any social activities as they are considered to be not good for any other purpose.

In Muslim society, a person who has unlimited power over his family is the Grand Patriarch. His authority was not shared by his wives or his children. He only imposes his thought over others. Such aggressive Patriarch will not accept the viewpoints of others. There are few exceptions apart from Farah’s portrayal of most of the Patriarchs as men, who frequently beat their wives, and children and abuse them in multitudinous ways.

There is a trivial escape called divorce which is not possible for a traditional woman unless her husband or her male agnates accepts to relieve her form the relationship. But few women are able to initiate divorce for themselves. Generally, the male agnates may initiate divorce proceedings on her behalf, only if a husband has failed to feed and clothe a woman properly or that his physical condition prohibits from carrying out his sexual obligations. The traditional women used to have a little hope on her grown up sons as they will protect them from those cruel and abusive treatments. She may expect resolute protection from them because her society frowns upon adult sons who do not protect their mother. Ironically, the traditional Somali woman considers that her main duty is to protect the traditional Muslim culture and her family which would be contaminated by the Western culture. She relies on tradition to defend herself as a traditional woman and that creates an identity for herself.

This study primarily focuses on the women suppression, male domination, female circumcision and few other themes that come under feminism. The first chapter in this study gives a detailed description about the central character in From a Crooked Rib, Ebla, who suffers and risks her life because of male domination and her struggle to attain identification as a woman made her to take challenging decisions in her life. The general odds that weigh against Somali female in a traditional Islamic cultural environment is experienced through Nuruddin Farah’s From a Crooked Rib.

The second chapter presents the life of a female character in Sardines, named Medina, who is an educated modern woman struggles to put an end to the female Circumcision and male domination. This creates contradiction between Medina and her family. Medina, in her locality, creates awareness about the female circumcision by defending her daughter from circumcision and she questions the customs that has been followed in their clan.

The female characters in both the novels struggle to attain what they want and the path they go which is filled with criticisms, curses by many people and the victimization. This made them to get their freedom and this can be seen in all the novels of Nuruddin Farah. He makes the women as a central character in a way which made others to think that Nuruddin Farah is a female writer and a feminist.

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The Subordinate Role of Women in Somali Society in Nuruddin Farah’s Novels. (2019, July 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from
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