Somalia, Eastern Horn of Africa
Materials: Wood, twine
This wooden bell was collected in Somalia in the 1950’s and now resides in the Ethnology collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The oval-shaped bell is constructed of rough, unfinished wood. There are no designs or decoration, no paint, and no varnish on the bell. Holes have been drilled through the top in order to attach a long twisted cord. The cord is threaded through the interior of the bell to attach the narrow wooden cylindrical clapper that strikes the inside of the bell to produce noise.
This type of bell is regularly strung around the neck of domesticated camels to alert the owner of the animal as to its presence, much like a bell around the neck of a cow serves the same purpose for a dairy farmer. Why a camel? Well, there is an ongoing and vibrant camel trade in Somalia, Ethiopia, and the surrounding area, commonly known as the Eastern Horn of Africa.
In fact, the Eastern Horn of Africa has the world’s largest population of camels (about 7 million). The camel is the backbone of the economy for the nomadic herdsmen in these counties, and they use camels for a variety of purposes. Female camels are commonly kept for their milk while male camels are used primarily as pack animals.
Camels play such a vital role in Somali life, that these fascinating beasts have long been the subject of oral stories, myths, and poems.
For example, this Somali poem illustrates the vital role of camels:
O’ God the victorious
Camels never to man
Who is unable to manage them well
by inferior goats are kept
Not much value has they
for in droughts severe
worthless goats are
no better cattle are
without maintenance constant
it is Goha that life sustains
O’ pride of the home
noblest of animals all surely she
the furry-necked she-camel
with belly huge
sour milk abundant produces she
You, curly-furred camel of mine …
~ Sayyid Mohammed Abdile Hassan
So, this seemingly plain-looking camel bell allows us a little insight into the ongoing importance of camels and the camel trade to the Somali people.
[Stephanie Lynn Allen]