The South Bank Review Winter 2017 | Kanaw fiqi ma tahay?
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Kanaw fiqi ma tahay?

(Below is a recording of ‘Kanaw fiqi ma tahay?’ narrated by my father)


Kanaw fiqi ma tahay?

Are you a fiqi?


It was said that once upon a time, there was a courting between a squirrel and a puff adder. He stood majestically before her and she was immediately taken with him. They had hailed from lands that had no relation.

A few days before, during the barqadda, just before the sun was at its peak, they had come before each other in an alley. When the adder saw him, she burrowed into the ground. When his eyes fell on her, he retreated backwards, gripped with terror. He raised himself on his hind feet and curled his wrists. Here ensued a pause.

They received from one another a verbal greeting while remaining in their individual places. Thenceforth, they informed each other of the reason for their walk and took relief from the shock that had initially overtaken them. Subsequently, they engaged in flirtation.

When they had come to an agreement on how they would come to share a home, the adder said: ‘Is there fiqi close by to wed us?’

The squirrel, who was very pleased with the direction of their conversation and desiring to act the part of a good man, replied, ‘You are no doubt tired from your journeying, therefore rest by this tree a while.’

At the passing of every living being, he straightened his back, raised himself on his hind feet, curled his wrists and asked, ‘Are you a fiqi. This lasted until Asr time, just as it was nearing sundown, when a mole rat fiqi, known as ‘sharp-teeth’, who had been in the process of digging a hole, emerged. The squirrel informed the mole rat of his predicament: the adder was waiting for him by a nearby tree and that they needed to be wed before nightfall.

The mole rat listened to the squirrel’s case, welcomed him with spirit, and immediately took it upon himself to gather the relatives of the snake and the squirrel, so there would be witnesses present from both families. He sent the squirrel to bring the snake and they began the work of the marriage ceremony.


Mole Rat: Do you consent for me to marry you and the snake?

Squirrel: Yes, if she takes care to not abuse the marriage covenant. (1)

Mole Rat: Snake, do you accept this?

Adder: I will have nothing to do with him unless he stops this obnoxious business of puffing himself up. (2)

Mole Rat: What will the price of your meher be?

Adder: The weight of my appetite (3)

Mole Rat: Squirrel, what do you say to the meher that the snake has stated?

Squirrel: There is nothing cheaper. I can afford two nuts.

Mole Rat: I declare you husband and wife. There is nothing forbidden to you now in regard to one another. That which is on the top half of the body is permissible for the two of you. However, that which is on the bottom half of your body is out of the question. (4)


After the celebrations were complete and the relatives had congratulated the newly married couple, a house was built entirely of alool and sweeped in every place.

The snake laughed from deep within, and told herself that so long as he had bound himself to her, there was no one more prosperous than her. She assured herself that if they ever failed to come to an understanding, she would simply place him in her mouth.

Upon entering their new house, the squirrel was suddenly struck with fear and realised that he had to come up with a solution for there seems no way for him to back out. He had become wearied of singlehood and the absence of a place to call home, and yet the snake failed to appeal as someone he could rely on as a trustworthy companion. When it became time for them to come together, they began retreating from one another.


Adder: My dear, stop this going in circles and take shelter from the harsh winds and cold.

Squirrel: First, what is the relation between you and that man who wed us?

Adder: What makes you say that?

Squirrel: I couldn’t help but notice the relation between his protruding incisors and your huge fangs.

Adder: My dear, that is old news, let us speak of us.


The squirrel, still in a fearful and uncertain state, witnessed the snake awaken at daybreak from her slumber with hunger in her eyes. What he saw in her left him in disbelief. Completely shaken, he snuck a second glance her way. His heart almost stopped, and he made a promise to himself that he would never go near another snake.

When the bride saw that her groom was creeping back in fear, she decided that she would shed her mask and reveal her cunning nature.


Adder: Why are you up on that tree? Why don’t you come and lie down beside me?

Squirrel: Oh Snake, from this day on we will remain a family from up here.

Adder: What has changed? Hadn’t we agreed to share a home?

Squirrel: Snake, you are not satisfied with the sands of god, and I will not entrust my life to you.

Adder: Why do you refuse me?

Squirrel: I have resolved to flee your mouth and your very existence


Hence, the union that had overcome both distance and difficulties, was broken by lack of trust and subsequently disintegrated. Even now, it is said that the reason the squirrel remains so pertinaciously perched on trees is because he is fearful of his bride, the adder.



(1) The squirrel is asking for the impossible because the snake is naturally disloyal

(2) The adder, too, is asking for the impossible because it is in the squirrel’s nature to puff himself up.

(3) In Somali culture, it is a well-known belief that snakes are never satisfied. Therefore, the weight of her appetite is infinite.

(4) They can kiss/kill each other with the top halves of their bodies. However, they will never be able to consummate their marriage with the use of the bottom halves of their bodies.



Meher: This is a mandatory payment, whether in the form of money or possessions, paid to the bride by the groom or his family before the marriage has taken place. Once a meher is agreed upon, the groom is legally bound to pay the amount.

Fiqi: A leader in a Muslim community.

Barqadda: The time between the Fajr and Duhr prayers. This is usually between eight and eleven in the morning.

Alool: A material consisting of wood and fabric often used to build nomad houses.

Asr: Asr prayer is the third prayer of day. Asr time is usually between four or five in the evening.

Suad Aden

Suad is an English student at London South Bank University. She loves the creative writing part of her degree course and is slowly working her way towards becoming a teacher in the near future. She loves writing in her spare time but has yet to be brave enough to share most of what she writes. Her choice of degree was prompted by a love of great authors like Michael Morpurgo, J. B. Priestley and J.K. Rowling.