Maanta iyo London | Soomaalidii xukunka Ingriis hoos joogtay
oi mate, you British? ‘s that even mean though? plenty of things that ‘British’ means that I’d be plenty averse to identifying with. not even sure ‘British’ is something you can identify with. it’s more something that’s forced on you and you have to accept it to survive in some way. or you can ignore if surviving isn’t something you need to think about. seems to me, national identity’s confusing enough even without factoring in colonialism.
I know very little about Somali history but was totally unsurprised to find out that the British Empire put Somalia through a whole lot of shit. The British Empire, after all, has a lot to answer for. The Crows Plucked Your Sinews contrasts modern day London with Somalia under British rule and the immediately obvious associations are drawn in violence. Not just British, mind, statehood in general seems to abhor an absence of violence. Throughout the monologue, written and directed by Hassan Mahamdallie, Somalia and Britain emerge through conflict, struggle and assassination.
These are our history; shadows of them echo through the ways we live. Suuban, a young Somali woman speaks to her dementia-suffering grandmother, who channels the ghost of a woman Dervish warrior, resisting the colonisers in British Somaliland. Yusra Warsama delivers both roles, in a mix of English and Somali, monologue and poetry, dragging up chains of trauma, soaked in violent pasts and present. Dissent, and empathy, is delivered without hesitation; at the announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden, in 2011, Suuban tells us ‘I feel sorry for him’.
Though violence breeds death and nation, it also breeds pity. We are in a country built on centuries of violence and displacement. Today, you can’t walk past a newsagent’s without seeing a headline about the refugee crisis in North Africa – our Prime Minister talks of ‘migrants’ who come in ‘bunches’ and it’s the same old disdain and rejection of empathy that the British Empire exhibited in Somaliland in 1914. Suuban’s drug dealer brother is attacked by a knife-wielding addict and while in custody, the police pressure him into fabricating a terrorism accusation against a rival dealer. British Somalis are displaced, becoming political pawns, living in a country that seems reluctant to have them. The Crows Plucked gives that displacement a voice, airs a few old ghosts.
Suuban cannot control her Grandmother’s storytelling, or her brother’s fractured masculinity as much as anyone cannot control the past. Britishness, the slippery nature of identity, histories carved of violence conspire to steer us where they will. By the end of the play, Suuban tells us she has accepted her Somali name, which she used to dislike. She can’t alter the past, but she can affect it. The Crows Plucked is as dangerous a play as any to rip a moral out of, but it has a sense of fluidity; behind the hardness of its themes lies a spectral core. Formally, this is let down a little by projections and music which feel closer to add-ons than organic parts of a whole, but everything solid melts into air. They can’t take your ghosts.
The Crows Plucked doesn’t ask us to sit back and reflect and have a good think about how awful things can be for other people. It forces the mirror onto us. And makes us see the gap between us and it.
This show was performed at Contact, Manchester. For more details on their future events click here.