Somaliland: Without our Knowledge (5): Revered Europeans and Rejected Natives


“It is a world, bought and sold, without our knowledge.”

“Waa duni la kala iibsadaan nala ogaysiine.” Farah Nur

Prof. A Yassin

Somalilandsun – This is the fifth part of series of weekly articles by the author Prof Abdisalam Yasin Mohamed whose linkage of the history of Somaliland shall bring to the fore its present circumstances in various aspects and titled “Without our knowledge”

Without our Knowledge (5): Revered Europeans and Rejected Natives

Prof. Abdisalam Yassin

Walsh’s budding government in Berbera felt safe since it did not anticipate any opposition in or around the town. Moreover, it had begun to enjoy the increase of a lucrative trade with regional traders from Arabia and India. References to this trade were reflected in the words “Persian Gulf” and “Buniah”. The phrase “Persian Gulf”, also called the “Arabian Gulf” by the Arabs, included Arab countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, and Oman on the one side, and Persia or modern day Iran on the other. These countries mainly exported dates to Somaliland and bought from it livestock, hides and skins, ghee and frankincense and gum. Further to the east, India had a considerable trade with Somaliland. The word “Buniah or Baniya”, which has become part of the Somali lexicon as “Baaniyaal”, refers to the trading caste in India, which used to come to Berbera to buy Somali ghee in large quantities.

“Hunter did not turn up at Berbera until after I had been installed there for nearly three weeks. I had, moreover, written to him by steam or sail on every available opportunity, and had repeatedly drawn his attention to the already large increase of trade, I told him I expected numerous soon dhows with dates from the Persian Gulf, and the early arrival of pattinahs with Buniah traders and piece goods from the Kathiawar ports.”

As the volume of trade at the two coastal ports, Berbera and Bulhar increased, Walsh needed more clerks to handle the work. He tried a native and a Parsee clerk, the “native” possibly being a Somali, and the “Parsee”, a member of an Indian ethnic group. Words such as “natives”, “subjects”, and “dependents” were part of the official jargon of the British imperial rule, which drew a line between the ruler and the ruled. These pejorative and racist epithets also entrenched the power and superiority of the European colonial master. The maintenance of this superior versus inferior status of the European and the “Native” seeped into the psyche of the colonized locals, particularly the security force, who rejected one of their local clerks to be in charge of them.

The legacy of this superiority/inferiority complex still lingers on and is aggravated by the failure of most post-colonial indigenous governments to build and maintain stable and prosperous administrations. Sadly, the division has evolved into a dangerous gulf which, on the one hand, reflects Europe as “Heaven”, and on the other, Africa and other former colonies elsewhere, as “Hell”.

Rich Europe, which had oppressed and underdeveloped its former colonies, has become richer, while the poor former colonies have become poorer. The outcome of this oppressive and unjust world order has led to a devastating international phenomenon, which is prevalent today: illegal mass migration and the emergence of modern slavery, i.e. human trafficking, with the recurrent and heartbreaking consequences of mass drowning in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. There is no time or space to discuss this enormous international problem in this short article, but I just want to show where its roots lie: the inheritance of a colonial legacy full of prejudices, inequality, and deep socioeconomic scars.

“I urged that a couple more good clerks were needed to cope with the work, and one of them should be a European, so that I could place him in charge at Bulhar. The native Christian and the Parsee clerks I had sent to Bulhar were capable enough as regards the clerical labour, but the police had no respect for them, and resented being placed under orders of a mere Warrant Grade “ink-slinging civilian”. I further called Hunter’s attention to an application originally forwarded to me, and now on his files, for a clerkship on the coast, received from a European residing in Bombay. I suggested that the Secretariat should be asked by wire to make inquiries regarding this man’s character and qualifications. Hunter agreed, and said that he would at once attend to this matter; but he thought Major Baring would object to a European official of a Warrant Grade being employed In an executive capacity at any of the coast ports, quite apart from the expense of such an increase of the staff.”

The clerkship at Bulhar was to go to a European officer called Muggredge who was sent all the way from Bombay to fill in this post. Walsh recounted meticulous detail about the remuneration of this officer to a point where he mentioned his monthly transport allowance that was used on haulage services of a camel, the local bus or taxi service of the day.

“I eventually got a note by dhow from Hunter, telling me that in reply to his telegram a Mr. O. A. A. Muggredge had been temporarily appointed to a clerkship in the Protectorate Service. This clerkship was to carry a total emolument of Rs. 175 per mensem, and I was to scrape together that amount by applying Rs. 100 from the already-sanctioned salary for a head native clerk, and by debiting Rs. 50 to the Temporary Establishment and Rs. 25 monthly as a camel allowance from my office contingencies.”

The European clerk, Mr. Muggredge, who was sent from Bombay, arrived in Berbera with unexpected company, his wife. This created a security problem for Walsh and the two gentlemen could not agree how to settle the problem. Consequently, Walsh discharged Muggredge and sent him back to Aden.

“I had to explain to Mr. Muggredge that his services were urgently needed at Bulhar, but that, accompanied by his wife, I could not station him there. He took umbrage, however, at my remarks, and said he had not undertaken to do military or police duties. He then requested that I should place him in charge of the Berbera custom-house, but admitted that the correspondence gave him no claim to that particular office, as he had been appointed for service on the Somali Coast. “If you leave Mrs. Muggredge in Berbera,” I offered, “I will provide her with furnished quarters on the Shaab, and do all in my power to make her comfortable.” But Mr. Muggredge would not accept this proposal of mine, and demanded his discharge. I pointed out that legally he was bound to give a month’s notice, but I said I would let him go by the first steamer, as otherwise he might have to cross over to Aden in a native dhow. It so happened that, though the Khedival line of steamers had ceased to touch regularly at Berbera, yet I expected one of them to call in a few days for some stores which had been left by the late garrison.”

Muggredge did not like how Walsh treated him and his wife in Berbera and felt that he was given a swift and dishonorable discharge. When he returned to Bombay, he gave vent to his resentment and wrote articles denouncing Walsh’s administration in Somaliland in Bombay’s newspapers. Muggredge’s criticism, however, was seen by Hunter. Walsh’s boss in Aden, and others in the imperial service as a personal rancor that showed utter ignorance about the realities of the growing protectorate administration in Somaliland.

“Muggredge finally left by the Khedival liner and returned to Bombay. There he wrote in the local newspapers several articles and news-letters denouncing the incapacity of the Administration of the Somali Coast, and the particular incompetence of Mr. L. Prendergast Walsh, the officer in charge at Berbera. I did not see these effusions, but Major Hunter perused them. He told me they were utterly ridiculous, and exhibited such complete ignorance of the subject that neither the Political Department in Bombay, nor H.B.M.’s Representative in Cairo, took any notice of them.”

After losing the European officer who was sent to him all the way from Bombay, Walsh was left to administer the coastal towns as the only European chief for a year. He found this very difficult. However, luck had come on his side when an adventurous and enterprising European arrived in Berbera and asked Walsh to give him a job as a clerk. Of course, Walsh was elated as this was a golden opportunity that he had to take. However, he took it with caution as he had to try out the new applicant and work the kind of pay that he was worth as a European clerk. It took no time for Morrison to prove himself that he was not only a capable clerk but he could also do useful police and military services that his released predecessor, Muggredge, could not do. Walsh celebrated the event and formally welcomed the new European member of his staff to Berbera.

“In this manner I managed to carry on with great difficulty during 1883. Late in 1884 an Indian Marine steamer visited Berbera, and one of the officers of that vessel called on me to introduce a friend and former shipmate to whom he had given a passage from Aden. This friend, a Mr. Morrison, was the son of a Glasgow bookseller, and, having no desire to sit on a stool in an office on shore, had taken to the sea. He had served as an able seaman, a quartermaster, and a helmsman in the British Mercantile Marine, but had never passed the examination or qualified for mate.

After some years sea service on deck he had joined the Overseas Department, and until quite recently had been a clerk on board a British India Steam Navigation Company’s vessel. Mr. Morrison asked me to appoint him to a clerkship in the Berbera Customs, or to any billet in the Protectorate Service. He remarked that pay was of no object at a start in a new country, as no doubt when he had got to know the ropes, and had proved himself a useful hand, he would obtain a rise of salary. I told Mr. Morrison I had only Rs. 100 per month available for an Arab clerk but said I hoped before long to be in a position to give a European a larger and living wage. I could, however, make no promise. Mr. Morrison, nevertheless, accepted the post.

We strolled, after that, round the town, and arrived at the rifle range, where a party of police recruits was being practised at targets. Mr. Morrison announced that he had been a sergeant in a Scotch rifle brigade, and suggested he should be told off to teach the recruits drill and musketry. He took up a tine and astonished Jemedar Khoda Buxsh with the number of consecutive buuveyes he made on the target. We then entered the custom-house, where Mr. Morrison was shown the account books, ledgers, and registers which had to be kept, and how to draw up a bill for customs duties. I saw at once that he was quite capable of performing these clerical labours, and congratulated myself upon having found such a treasure. We returned to lunch at the residency, and drank to Mr. Morrison’s health and prosperity. My Somali butler had given him a room, and I told off a police orderly to look after the latest member of the Berbera staff.”

In the next article, I will share with you how Walsh and Morrison dealt with the challenges they faced as they interact with the tradition of “Abbaanship” in Berbera and Bulhar and with the threat of frequent raids from the inland clans.

Previous Articles

Somaliland: Without our knowledge (1)

Somaliland: Without our Knowledge (2)

Somaliland: Without our Knowledge (3)

Somaliland: Without our Knowledge (4): The Power of Organization and Technology