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The Basket Weavers of Somalia and the Legacy of Hooyo Hawa Nur Hirabe

April 14, 2015

It is with sadness that I read in Somali websites the passing of hooyo Hawa Nur Hirabe (1931-2015) one of the lovely basket weavers portrayed in the 1000 shillings banknote.  

 It was reported that hooyo Hawa has been severely ill in the last five months as she was hospitalized in the Keysaney Hospital in the Kaaraan district of the capital city Mogadisho. The defunct lady left behind a daughter as the rest of her offspring succumbed to the harshness of the civil war. She had three girls and two boys. The sad reality of it all is that even though she was supposed to be a national icon, no government representative attended her funeral only neighbours and immediate kin were present. Just like Saado Ali Warsame, the famous singer killed by alshabaab, she will soon be forgotten by main stream society.
The significance of hooyo Haawo iconic image lies in the industrious category she represented and how it is epitomized in the kun shilin, 1000 bill. The basket weavers of Muqdisho that is. I would say that it is very rare to find a female representation in any current form of currency starting from the US dollar, especially an ordinary woman making ends meets in such a humble way. 
The basket weaving practice is a very important aspect of womanhood in Somalia. Each region has its own specialty and it is regarded as an artistic form of expression. 

 Starting from the nomadic women and how they produced beautiful mats for their households and raar for protecting the skin of the camels being loaded as the family, reer, was getting ready to start the long journey to find greener pastures and rains. In the southern regions, women assembled different forms of woven objects combining different elements of fibrous materials (xaaskul and caw) as well as natural dyes,rinji. Women dutily interlocked and waved beautiful patterns to make baskets (danbiil), mats (derin), fans (babis) and different containers (haan) for their houses.   
Hooyo Haawa Nuur Hiraabe took this practice to another level as they were selling their products to tourists and visitors of Somalia in the Lido beachfront and throughout the Cabdulcasis District. I have vivid memories of these ladies and how they were sitting in the burning sun for hours carefully interlacing those green, purple, indigo blue and earthen colours in intricate patterns to form such incredible works of arts. 
My paternal grandmothers’ hobby was weaving her baskets (danbiil) as she sat near the burjiko sipping tea, cooking her meals and conversing with her friends. Getting up from time to time to check the status of her muufo bread in the tinaar, earthen oven made of reddish clay terracotta. An amazing way of life that seems to be lost somehow but still omnipresent in the collective memories of so many of us who were blessed to have experienced their childhood in Somalia.
Basket weaving was more than a subsistence means of survival, it was a way of life, an artistic expression and a symbol of how things were set but it is slowly giving way to plastic made in china products that are of all things bad for the environment. Then again that would be another story!

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