Daniel Howden: Dancing to a different tune

Africa Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Hargeisa's wedding hall doesn't deal in subtlety. A concrete box with a sagging ceiling, it's decorated in flourishes of cream and pink reminiscent of icing. The heart-shaped silver thrones for the bride and groom seem to have been plucked from the top of a towering wedding cake.

The purpose of the building is to deliver glamour, at all costs, into the otherwise entirely unglamorous capital of Somaliland. Anyone waiting for the dour form of Islam being fought for further south in rump Somalia, where singing or dancing have been banned in some places, would be in for a shock.

The warm-up act for the wedding singer is a homegrown rapper dressed in smart casual and a camouflage hat. The real glamour arrives with the female guests, who sweep in in billowing, brilliant dresses and determinedly thick make-up. The men arrive separately, after the mildly narcotic khat has been chewed. The surprise is that there are no more than a handful of older people.

Blissfully, there are no speeches. A brief song and dance is followed by a feast. Then a dapper young man named Mohammed, in a sharp white suit, explains that the wedding celebrations are spread over five days. Tonight is the young people's night.

A student in Luton, who has come back to Hargeisa for the first time in 15 years, is only marginally less culturally confused than I am.

With that the real dancing begins and any notion of gender separation disappears. Mohammed appears with a female friend to dance with the foreign guest. Eager not to offend, I offer a cautious hand from a respectful distance. With an understanding smile she shimmies intimately close then at the last second dips a shoulder and gracefully spins away.

I have no idea of the rules of the Somali ballroom so smile weakly and offer the same hand. All the while thinking that acute cultural sensitivity doesn't make you a good dance partner.

A legacy of refuge

Africa is littered with the relics of misplaced colonial grandeur. Few of them have fallen on harder times than Somaliland's State House. Celebrated as Hargeisa's most beautiful building, it was originally constructed to accommodate the Queen should she have wanted to visit what was then British Somaliland. She didn't. Its grandest visitor was Prince Henry, then Duke of Gloucester, who was housed in the greatest luxury the British protectorate could afford.

The house and grounds are now put to much more immediate and less luxurious use. They shelter hundreds of Somali refugees displaced during the civil war that saw Somaliland break away from greater Somalia after 1991. The improvised refugee camp is the closest Britain has come to leaving a useful legacy here.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For once, Kerry Katona had the right idea

Dom Joly
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick