When the European ‘scramble for Africa’ began in the late 19th century, the ancient Somali city Marka was infamously known amongst the Europeans as a city hostile to foreigners. Whilst the Darawiish forces were waging anti-colonial campaigns in northern Somalia, similiar campaigns were being conducted in southern Somalia. One particular instance was the Biyomaal anti-colonial resistance.
The resistance was spearheaded by Sheikh Abdi Gafle and Ma’alin Mursal Abdi Yusuf; two prominent local Islamic teachers in Marka. The resistance, albeit clan-based initially transformed in to one with a religious fervour.
A local poet in Marka, at the time of the uprising, lashed out against those who failed to join the religious struggle (Jihad):
Reer Jannah waa jid galeen.
Reer Jahanama iska jooga.
Those who fight are bound for Heaven
Those who submit can stay in Hell
The first colonial governor of Italian Somaliland: Tommaso Carletti wrote on the necessity for the Italian Empire to move from the apparent nominal control of the Somali colony to a physical occupation to reap the financial rewards from the untapped resources of Somalia:
“It is necessary for the government to assert itself materially and morally over the populations surrounding the Banadir stations … and … gradually undertake the peaceful penetration of the interior and extend our direct administration to the line of the Shabelle River”.
This policy gave the colonial administration the green light to subdue the Somalis who failed to submit to colonial rule.
Marka’s anti-colonial resistance lasted from 1900 to 1908. During the resistance period — the ancient city was laid siege by the Somali forces, thereby blocking all land routes to the port. Italian garrisons in Marka barely survived the harassments and skirmishes and reinforcements from Mogadishu suffered considerable loses. This noble resistance caught the attention of Mohamed Abdulle Hassan — the charismatic Darawiish leader — who sent a lengthy message to the Biyomaal (Risaalat al-Biyomaal) in which he commended their efforts and proclaimed the necessity of waging Jihad against the colonial invaders. He attached a supplemental text entitled “Qam’ al-Mu’anidin” (Supression of the Rebellious) that clarified the tenets of Saalihiya order, for which the leader ascribed to.
The resistance came to an end in 1908 when 500 well-equipped Italian colonial troops faced 2,000 Biyomaal warriors. The battle, also known as Dagaalkii Sabti iyo Axad (The Weekend Battle) or Fiinlow was decisive with the Somali side on the losing end. Roughly 1,000 of these warriors were killed or wounded. The Italians, boasting of their manifested victory renamed the site to ‘Vittorio d’Africa’ — African Victory.
The Somalis — knowing that they could not defeat the superior Italian weapons – succumbed to make peace with the Italian colonial authority — a shaky peace that endured its fragility until Somalia’s independence.
The below video is an excerpt from a wider colonial propaganda video that depicts the ‘subjugated’ Somali warriors who once frustrated the Italians with their warlike and anti-colonial attitude.
The text being read as:
Merca: Caratteristica Cittadina Contesaci, Per Vari Anni, In Aspri Combattimenti Dalle Belligere Tribu Bimal
English (loosely translated): Merca: a troublesome city that witnessed fierce fighting from the warlike tribe of Biyomaal