Abdulla: The Mad Mulla (Somali community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya
Abdulla: The Freedom fighter of the Somali
Mohammed Abdulla Hassan was born in the early 1870s in Kob Fardod near Kirrit, in what was later to became Somaliland. Abdulla was the eldest son of Sheikh Abdille who was part of the Ogaden Bah Gari sub-clan of the Darod major Clan. His mother, Timiro Sade, was from the Dhulbahante clan. His maternal grandfather, Sade Magan was a great warrior chief who died in 1875.
He grew up among Dhulbahante pastoralists, good herdsmen who used camels as well as horses for transportation. By the age of eleven, Hassan was already a good horseman as well as a hafiz, that is one who is able to recite of the entire Quran.
After his pilgrimage to Mecca as a young man, 1875 he met religious fundamentalists who changed his perceptions of the world and of the subjugation of his motherland by the British, whom he regarded as infidels.
Mohammed Abdulla’s first major incident with the British occurred when a Vice Consul accused him of stealing a gun. on the 23rd March, 1899. Abdulla, then referred to as the Mullah in the Vice Consul’s letters, wrote back to deny the claim that he had stolen a gun.
There was more to come. Some time later Mohammed Abdullah heard that a group of Somali children had been abducted by the French Catholic mission in Berbera and converted to Christianity. This sparked off the Dervish rebellion against the British and their religion in 1899.
The Mullah acquired weapons from the Ottoman Empire, Sudan and other Islamic communities, put his people in charge of different parts of Somalia and called for Somali unity and independence. He created the Dervish Empire and declared war on all infidels, with an army made up of about 5000 of his followers who had managed to acquire 200 guns.
His first attack on the British at Kadariyeh caught the enemy totally unprepared. The Somali among the British troops fled in fear. More regions fell to the Mullah afterwards. He demanded absolute loyalty and those who failed to cooperate were publicly caned, at times to death.
The Mullah is also said to have had magical powers. For instance, that could turn enemy fire into harmless water. Such was his ability to hoodwink and escape from his enemies that, added to his mastery of the Quran, many Somalis were convinced that he was immortal.
In one particular battle, the Mullah destroyed an entire battalion of British troops killing their captain, a lieutenant colonel and 97 soldiers. After seizing thousands of camels, horses and two cases of whisky, he mocked the British even further by sending them back their whisky by a runner, with the message that, as a teetotaler, he had no use for them.
After humiliating the British even further, they combined forces, drawing armies from as far as South Africa, India and the Gambia, among the Yao and Ashanti.
Even Ethiopia under King Menelik offered around 5000 soldiers for the cause. The Mullah, a brilliant military strategist, drew the combined British forces into the wilderness which was familiar terrain to him, where he soundly defeated them killing nine British military officers in the process. Even after the British repeatedly tried to get information from captured fighters, the Mullah was always steps ahead of them.
The Mullah died of natural causes, specifically from influenza and even then, the British found it hard to locate body. By the time they did so, his body had already been placed in a tomb and buried by loyal supporters. The British chose not to publicise that fact, lest the setting became a shrine of inspiration to other rebels. Mullah Mohammed Abdulla Hassan had assured his place in history as a fighter for freedom.
Abdulla's legacy lives on
The drylands are home to many important trees: Acacias that hold the soil, shade the ground, provide forage for livestock and nectar for honeybees; myrrh and frankincense, precious gums known since ancient times; and other trees that give fibres, fruits and medicine.
Today many of these trees have been cut to make charcoal, then exported abroad. This turns the drylands into deserts!
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 40 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team. The illustrations were done using digital media by Shujaa Stories Limited.
National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art of Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer
Eddy Ochieng – Photographer/Videographer
Shujaa Stories Ltd
Tatu Creatives Ltd
Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shujaa Stories Ltd – Contributors
Masidza Sande Galavu - Illustrator
Jeff Muchina- Editing
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Illustrator
Brian Kiraga – Research and Writing
Daisy Okoti - Editing
Shani Mutarura - Editing
Juelz Laval – Photography/Videographer
Linda Tambo - Photography
Nature Kenya- The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)