This bilingual (English and Somali) book tells the folktale of a wise leader challenging the men in his province with a riddle, and it being solved by a poor farmer’s eldest daughter. Based on a real Sultan from the mid 19th century, the book does not claim the story to be true, and leaves it up to the reader to form their own impression. The lesson however, is rich with culture, insight, charm, and perhaps surprise. There is no Islam present or hinted at, but the illustrator’s and translator’s names suggest that they are Muslim as the majority of Somali’s are, and the picture at the back of the book of members of the Somali Book Project show multiple females in hijab- so I’m sharing it on my platform to inshaAllah encourage often rarely seen, in western literature, cultures and traditions to be brought to more peoples’ attention.
The book starts with an author’s note explaining the tradition in East Africa of having a nickname and that Wiil Waal was the naanay of Garad Farah Garad Hirsi, a man who was a sultan for a brief time. He was known to be a great leader who was brave, and clever, and used riddles to unite people. Like all folktales though, this doesn’t claim to be a true story, but one filled with wisdom.
Long ago Wiil Waal set forth a riddle, “bring me part of one of your sheep. The sheep’s part should symbolize what can divide people or unite them as one.” The one who can do so will be honored as a wise man.
The men pick different parts to bring to the sultan with little success: a rib, a liver, a shoulder of meat. In a distant province a poor farmer who had few sheep and many children half heartedly prepared to slaughter his finest animal to present to Wiil Waal. His oldest daughter comes to help him, and he tells her the riddle. They work through it, and she thinks she is certain she knows the answer.
Trusting his daughter the farmer presents the sultan with what his daughter recommended. Quick to see that the farmer is not confident, he asks who solved the riddle and the story of the daughter’s intelligence is conveyed.
The book ends hinting that she is a future leader of Somalia. And no, I’m not going to tell you the answer. Go read the book!