Welcome to our new website!

56. Arraweelo (Somali Legend)


In today's episode, we talk about the legendary Somali queen, Arraweelo. We discuss how her story has been used as an argument against female leadership, the feminist movement to reclaim her story, and the similarities between her and Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

This episode has a trigger warning for a brief discussion of sexual assault, as well as mentions of castration throughout. 

For more information about today's episode, go to mytholadies.com.

To donate, please go to ko-fi.com/mytholadies.  

Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux.  You can find her and more of her  work on Instagram @helena.cailleaux.illustratrice. Our theme song was  composed and performed by Icarus Tyree. To hear more of their music,  check out icarust.bandcamp.com.

Transcript

Zoe 

Welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.

 

Lizzie 

I'm Lizzie.

 

Zoe 

And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, what are you up to these days?

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) I'm not doing that much, although, um, I sent my visa application the other day. That's--

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

Yesterday. Yeah, I feel very anticlimactic 'cause I have to send it by mail.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So I just put it in the mailbox. And that's just how that went.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, that's exciting.

 

Zoe 

That is exciting!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

I mean, I hope--I hope it works out (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

So do I, and if it doesn't, that sucks, and I'm gonna regret saying anything.

 

Zoe 

Uh-oh.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, how are you?

 

Zoe 

I'm good. I did not sleep very well last night, which is less good, but I got my Dunkies, and so--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, Dunkin' Donuts (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

Classic.

 

Zoe 

Classic. I'm a New Englander, Lizzie. You should know this.

 

Lizzie 

 Exactly.

 

Zoe 

You're also a New Englander.

 

Lizzie 

You know, they have Dunkin' Donuts here in the Netherlands, but they don't have hashbrowns, which is one of my favorite things at Dunkin' Donuts.

 

Zoe 

That's really sad.

 

Lizzie 

It's really sad.

 

Zoe 

Do they--is hashbrowns--

 

Lizzie 

They basically have doughnuts, and, like--

 

Zoe 

They don't have the sandwiches?

 

Lizzie 

I don't think so.

 

Zoe 

Oh.

 

Lizzie 

I guess I never paid attention. They definitely don't have hashbrowns because I looked into that.

 

Zoe 

Do they have coolattas?

 

Lizzie 

 I'm not sure actually (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Oh. Wow. This is depressing.

 

Lizzie 

I know. They're kind of--

 

Zoe 

International franchising.

 

Lizzie 

--nice. They're kind of, like, upscale (Zoe laughs). The ones that I saw. I mean, for a Dunkin' Donuts.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I wanted to get an avocado toast, but they were so busy 'cause it was a Saturday morning that I felt guilty.

 

Lizzie 

They have avocado toast? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

Yeah! Ordering anything that wasn't, like, a doughnut and not, like, needed to be cooked. So I just ordered a doughnut and a drink.

 

Lizzie 

They have good doughnuts. What's your go-to doughnut?

 

Zoe 

Oh, the strawberry-frosted.

 

Lizzie 

Ah, that's a good one.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that's my go to for sure. Um, if they don't have strawberry-frosted, vanilla-frosted.

 

Lizzie 

Nice.

 

Zoe 

What about you?

 

Lizzie 

I'm not sure, actually. I think last time I went--I got, like, Nutella-filled one that had, like--

 

Zoe 

Oh! Fancy.

 

Lizzie 

--sort of hazelnutty icing kind of thing going on. But I think I really liked the frosted strawberry ones when I was younger. I definitely ordered that one a lot (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that's always been my go-to. I just, like, I like, uh, yeast doughnuts, you know, the fluffier ones, not the cakey ones.

 

Lizzie 

 Yeah, yeah, I agree with that.

 

Zoe 

And I like the strawberry frosting. So I think it's good.

 

Lizzie 

I do also like when they're filled.

 

Zoe 

I don't like filling as much.

 

Lizzie 

Fair.

 

Zoe 

That's a hot take of mine.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it is a hot take (laughs). When two New Englanders have a podcast...

 

Zoe 

Anyways, this is a podcast about woman in mythology. Um. So, Lizzie--

 

Lizzie 

It is, actually.

 

Zoe 

It is! Lizzie, who do you have for us today?

 

Lizzie 

So today we are talking about Arrawello, the Somali queen.

 

Zoe 

Ooh!

 

Lizzie 

The legendary Somali Queen.

 

Zoe 

Cool!

 

Lizzie 

Do you know her?

 

Zoe 

No (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Fair. So, she is a legendary queen from Somali folklore.

 

Zoe 

Ooh!

 

Lizzie 

According to Ahmed Artan Hanghe, who wrote Folktales from Somalia--

 

Zoe 

Awesome.

 

Lizzie 

--Somali folklore is unique in that most of the principal characters are women, rather than men. And that this may be due to the theory that in earlier centuries, Somali family life was based on matriarchal lineage.

 

Zoe 

That would make sense.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! It's a-a theory. I don't think it's confirmed. But yeah

 

Zoe 

But yeah, it's really cool that it's focused on women, especially for our purposes.

 

Lizzie 

It is, yeah! (both laugh) And yeah, and she is one of the most famous folktale characters in Somali folklore, and, um, it's unclear if she existed or not. Um, as usual, we don't care about that.

 

Lizzie 

It seems to me that most stories view her as completely legendary, but there are some who think that she did exist, and I think that according to those people, she existed in, like, the first century CE?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I saw the year 15 CE, but I don't know if that's confirmed, but I saw it a couple of times.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah. But as usual, we don't really care about that.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So, oral traditions indicate that Arraweelo reigned in northeastern Somalia in the Nugaal and Sunaag regions. And she's also referred to as Caraweelo, which is spelled with a c, but the-the sound at the front--it's, like, a--(laughs) it's a pharyngeal fricative.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

And I'm saying that because I think that if you don't speak Arabic or Somali that doesn't sound like anything to you. And it just sounded like nothing. Um, or as Moroombe, and, um, so the name--

 

Zoe 

Wait, sorry, where's the c in that-in that word?

 

Lizzie 

It's at the front. Caraweelo.

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay.

 

Lizzie 

It's like a sound it also exists in Arabic.

 

Zoe 

Is it sort of like a ħɑɽ--something like that? No?

 

Lizzie 

It's-it's-it's actually further back. It's in the pharynx.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Oh, so it's really far back. Okay.

 

Lizzie 

It's, like, basically just above the vocal folds.

 

Zoe 

But it's--so it's, like, one of those really--but, like, it's--yeah. Okay, cool. Anyways. I don't know--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

I don't actually understand, uh, morphology, but it's fine.

 

Lizzie 

That's-that's phonology (Zoe laughs).

 

Zoe 

(Lizzie laughs). We're just gonna move on from that. We're just gonna move on from that. Um, anyway--

 

Lizzie 

Anyway--

 

Zoe 

Anyway--

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, so--

 

Zoe 

You said Marambe?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Mor-Moroombe.

 

Zoe 

Moroombe. Yes. It's another name.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway. But, so the name Caraweelo consists of carro, which means 'earth' or 'land', and, uh, weel, which means a vessel or container and the feminine suffix -o.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

So, yeah. And so now we have a series of stories that really just go--they really all go together. But--so this first part of the story is called "Arraweelo and the Castration of the Men."

 

Zoe 

Well. That is a story title.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! Her story is so interesting. I'm really excited to get your thoughts on it.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

So Arraweelo grew up a pretty and clever daughter, and was soon married off to a suitor. However, she hated the work of a housewife and wanted to take part in the work of her husband and the rest of the men, sitting in councils and taking up arms and fighting in battle. Her husband told her it's strange that she thinks like a man, and that her place is in the home, looking after the children and the livestock. She replied that a woman can do what a man does if she wants to.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

The men sitting in the council are old fools. Why not allow women to take their places?

 

Zoe 

So true.

 

Lizzie 

Is what she said to him. Yeah, and so, but she--but he disagreed. He thought it was weird that she thought like that. But one day, Arraweelo said to the women: stop all work in your homes for three days. Let the men do everything for themselves. This will keep them busy, and they won't have time for anything else. We'll secretly seize all their weapons, and then round up all the men in the land, and then we'll rule the land instead of the men.

 

Zoe 

Wow!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! So the women listened to her, and with the men occupied, Arraweelo seized power and became ruler of the land. After she became ruler, she ordered for all the men to be castrated (Zoe laughs). She did this because she was afraid that the men would overthrow her and reclaim their authority.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

And all the men who resisted castration were put to death. Thoughts so far?

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Interesting. This is quite a story.

 

Lizzie 

Isn't it? You know what? You know what is that, like, I think it's kind of a dumb idea to castrate literally every man.

 

Zoe 

It is not the best idea because then you can't have children.

 

Lizzie 

 Because you can't have--exactly, you can't have the next generation and your society will die.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, it's a--not a good idea.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. It's sort of--I mean, this is just my very first impression, so we're gonna, like, just keep--I'll keep listening. It does kind of sound a bit like, you know, a men's, like--a misogynist's worst nightmare of, like, what would happen if women take over.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

You know? It's like--

 

Lizzie 

No, literally (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Like, you know, the women will take over and then they're gonna castrate all the men! And it's just like--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--yeah, that sounds--

 

Lizzie 

It's like, if women get any power, we-we will all be castrated.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, like, that sounds--it kind of sounds like, you know, a person who's like, well, we can't give woman power--

 

Lizzie 

Like a misogynist's fantasy. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Because we give women power, they'll take away our power, and then suddenly, we'll all get castrated. And then like, what will we do? You know, it's-it's one of those things.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

So that's my first impression. Um, it's also really--her method of taking power is also really interesting, because it's like--

 

Lizzie 

I agree. I think it's awesome that she organized all the women in her community to just, like, take action.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's like a-a concept of, like, a labor strike. And also, like, a concept of specifically, like, a women's labor strike.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

 

Zoe 

And like, a household labor strike, which is a very interesting concept that I have heard about, like, people talk about before.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Which is really cool. And yeah, it's very interesting. It also does sound like she's in a patriarchal society, or maybe this is how the society becomes matriarchal. I don't know, um...

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, no, this is a patriarchal society.

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

The-the theory of the matriarchy, I think it's not very focused.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Like, it's not necessarily like, oh, here's when it was a matriarchy. Like, I think it's just, like--

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, this is very much, like, a patriarchal society.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah, well, exactly.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, so this next chapter of the saga is called "Arraweelo and Oday-biige." Whose--okay, so, there was a wise old man called Oday-biige. And his name means "cowardly old man." Oday means "old man," biige means "cowardly."

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

And, uh, he lived in the forest to hide himself from Arraweelo. Arraweelo said to her eunuchs: there is an uncastrated man somewhere in his-in this land who was disobedient to me. Go look for him and bring him to me. They looked all over and eventually found him in the forest. It's Oday-biige, obviously.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 And so when they came to take him away, he said to them, "Take me not to the wicked tyrant woman. She'll be asking you difficult riddles, which you'll not be able to answer. You'll need my advice and guidance someday." And so the eunuch soldiers thought this was reasonable and let him live.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

They went back to Arraweelo and said that they couldn't find the uncastrated man. And Arraweelo was angry and called them liars, and told them to get out of her sight.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

And that's that section, really.

 

Zoe 

Oh, interesting.

 

Lizzie 

I find it so interesting that, like, the castration is associated with, like, men losing their intelligence.

 

Zoe 

I guess so, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, the only intelligent man is the-the one uncastrated man.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I also think it's interesting that now there's the resistance forming against her.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Being led by the one uncastrated man.

 

Lizzie 

Right? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

That's interesting. Um--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

And it's interesting that, you know, she's using them as soldiers too, instead of, like, the women.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, see, that's something that I kind of thought was an inconsistency in the story because at some point later, it says something about like, oh, her women soldiers blah, blah, blah. But then it almost had, like, her-her eunuch soldiers at some other points and I'm like, what are the women doing during this?

 

Zoe 

Maybe there's just like, different levels of soldiers, you know, like, maybe--

 

Lizzie 

Maybe. It's really not clear.

 

Zoe 

--the men are, like, the, you know, foot soldiers that you just send off to do, like, the dirty work?

 

Lizzie 

May-maybe, yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It's not, like, super clear what she has a woman doing to be honest, but more on that a little bit later. Not that much more.

 

Zoe 

(laughs) Okay.

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) So this next chapter is called "An Arch as Tall as the Rainbow." Arraweelo won a great battle and wished to commemorate the event. She said to her counselors that she wanted them to build an arch as tall as a rainbow to commemorate her victory. Obviously, this was impossible, but they did not want to disobey Arraweelo's orders. They visited Oday-biige in the forest and asked him what to do.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

And he said to them, "I told you that you'd need me someday. Now go to the foolish tyrant woman and tell her this: give us the measurement of the rainbow and we'll build you an arch as tall as the rainbow." And so when they asked her this, she wondered to herself "Strange! Who said no uncastrated men live in my land?" (Zoe laughs) So she's like, only an uncastrated man could come up with that plan.

 

Zoe 

That's interesting. I mean, it's going back to what you said about, you know, castration and intelligence, right?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. And, um, so from that day on, they always went to Oday-biige for wisdom and guidance. They built him a hut in the forest and brought him food and clothing. When Arraweelo wished to move to a new place, they secretly brought Oday-biige along with them. They had him ride on a guumis, which is the firstborn male camel, meant to have great strength and endurance.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And so they covered him with a camel-hide canopy to conceal him.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

Since the guumis was an exceptionally strong animal, it didn't groan or fall to its knees like the other camels. When the other camels sat down to rest, our Wello inspected their loads, but did not find Oday-biige because she didn't think to inspect the guumis who browsed around instead of resting.

 

Zoe 

Hm!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, she at this point is still like, I think they lied to me. And she's, like--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--off to figure out the truth for herself. So she's still suspicious that there is an uncastrated man living in the land. And she called the people in a big meeting and said to them, "I want you to bring me an animal skin with fur on both sides of it.

 

Lizzie 

"I know that there are intelligent people among you, and that you can solve this problem easily."

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And so the men once again went to Oday-biige for advice? He said to them that a donkey's ear has fur on both sides, so they cut off a donkey's ear and presented it to Arraweelo. And then she said to herself, again, "Strange! Who said no uncastrated men live in this land?"

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, again, I feel like that's something--so for the rainbow one that is, like, you know, one of those things where it's like, oh, an impossible task. This one I feel like they could have figured out themselves, you know? (laughs)

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. But they're-they're castrated. They don't have intelligence anymore (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I guess not! I guess not, you know? Who am I-I'm not an expert on this subject. But--yes.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I don't think that castration modifies your brain.

 

Zoe 

No, it--I mean, not really.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, not--not in that way.

 

Zoe 

Not in that way, no.

 

Lizzie 

But. anyway.

 

Zoe 

Anyway.

 

Lizzie 

 So this next chapter is called "Arraweelo and her Daughter."

 

Zoe 

Mmm. Wait!  How did she--nevermind. Nevermind.

 

Lizzie 

You're about to find out (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

When Arraweelo first came into power, she ordered for her husband to be killed.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

But it was only after he died that she realized she was pregnant.

 

Zoe 

Ooh.

 

Lizzie 

So she gave birth to a daughter who grew into a beautiful and kindhearted girl who disagreed with her mother's oppression of her people. However, she couldn't do anything about it because she was very scared of her mother. Arraweelo's daughter ended up meeting Oday-biige in the forest. He was one hundred years old, and the only uncastrated man in the land. He told her tales of how her mother persecuted the men and how he hid himself in the forest. She ended up becoming pregnant with his child.

 

Zoe 

Oh, no.

 

Lizzie 

I love that--the detail that he's a hundred years old. Like no offense, but how is he still virile? (Zoe laughs)

 

Zoe 

I'm glad that's-that's what you're thinking when it comes to the question of him being a hundred years old (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Anyway.

 

Zoe 

Anyway! Well, I guess she didn't have that many options if she wanted to have a child. So...

 

Lizzie 

It's-it's true. It's very true. Anyway, though (laughs). Arraweelo was horrified when she learned her daughter was pregnant, and demanded to know who she slept with.

 

Lizzie 

I mean--

 

Lizzie 

Her daughter replied--

 

Zoe 

--that is proof that there's uncastrated man in the land.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. Like, she's now confirmed, right?

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, so she said to her mom, "What about you, mother? Whom did you see before I was born?" I feel like that's not that good of a gotcha because I feel like it's not a secret that she was married.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Part of her backstory. But anyway, Arraweelo told her that if her daughter gives birth to a boy, she will kill the baby.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

Once again, I don't really understand her motivations for, like, killing and castrating all the men, because literally the society will die out eventually. Like, not even eventually, like, soon.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, it's not a--it's not a realistic idea.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, I feel like I--you might talk about this, but I do feel like she's kind of just like this--again, this strawman, evil female tyrant at this point, you know.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly!

 

Zoe 

She's interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, like, she's kind of a caricature of a feminist powerful woman.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

You know, like, kill all the men or whatever.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Lizzie 

It's, like, a little ridiculous at times.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But anyway (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Anyway.

 

Lizzie 

Her daughter did give birth to a son.

 

Zoe 

Oh, no.

 

Lizzie 

And Arraweelo intended to kill him immediately. Her daughter pleaded, "Dear Mother, please spare him until he's able to sit on the ground. Then you may take away his life."

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Arraweelo grudgingly agreed. When the boy was able to sit up by himself, Arraweelo wanted to kill him. But her daughter pleaded, "Dear Mother, please spare him until he's able to say mama."

 

Zoe 

Mm!

 

Lizzie 

Arraweelo grudgingly agreed again. When the boy was able to say mama, Araweelo's daughter pleaded again: "Dearest Mother, give the boy one more chance until he can walk." Arraweelo spared his life again, but said that this was the last time.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So the boy grew up and was able to walk. Once again, Arraweelo wished to kill him. Her daughter pleaded, "Dearest Mother, the boy is now able to look after the baby goats and protect them from jackals. He's a useful person to us. Spare his life until he's able to look after all the goats and sheep for us.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

After more time passed, her daughter pleaded again that Arraweelo should spare him longer so he can look after the camels. After he was old enough to look after all the livestock and camels her daughter pleaded to spare him until he's able to pick up a spear and shield to protect their family from enemies.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So by this time, Arraweelo's grandson had grown into a young man.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

When he grew even taller and stronger and had become proficient in battle, he left his grandmother's court to go live freely in the forest since he knew his grandmother hated him and wanted him dead. And, um, Arraweelo realized that her grandson posed a real threat to her rule--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 --as he was the only uncastrated man living free in her kingdom.

 

Zoe 

Well, what happened to the other guy?

 

Lizzie 

Well, she--he's not living free. He's, like, he's in hiding.

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay. I see.

 

Lizzie 

And she lamented how foolish she was to let this young man go on living. So this last part is called "Arraweelo's Death."

 

Zoe 

Whoa.

 

Lizzie 

So Arraweelo ordered her eunuchs to go arrest her grandson.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Her daughter warned him of Arraweelo's plan, and she told him that his father is a man called Oday-biige who lives in the forest, and that he should go and find him and ask him for guidance. So he did, and Oday-biige came up with a plan. He told his son that although Arraweelo is his grandmother, she's also a tyrant whose rule needs to be ended by force so that a wise man can take her place as leader.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

He should go and construct an ardaa, which is a shelter made of simple poles and branches and grass filled in on the sides that are built for honored male guests.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

He should invite Arraweelo there, saying that he wants to settle their differences peacefully, but he should keep his spears and shields ready. He should invite Arraweelo to come sit in the ardaa, and choose the right moment to thrust a spear into her heart.

 

Zoe 

Ooh.

 

Lizzie 

If Arraweelo utters the words "ba'ay," which, I will explain that in a moment--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--as the first spear hits her, then he will know that in the end, she is a weak woman and will offer no resistance. If she utters the words "way oo way," then it means she's willing to fight with him as a man, in which case he should finish her off with a second spear. So the first expression, "ba'ay," is an exclamation used by women to express pain or misfortune, and then the second one, "way oo way," is an exclamation used by men when in anguish or in the thick of a fight.

 

Zoe 

Huh.

 

Lizzie 

So it's like, is she really a woman? And if she is, then you can just beat her easily, you know what I mean?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah. Meanwhile, Arraweelo was formulating her own plan. She got the invitation from her grandson and agreed to come under the guise of peace, but she told her servants to hide in a thicket nearby--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

The women of the land were unhappy because now men were in charge again, and they had to go back to their subservient roles. The end.

 

Lizzie 

--and then jump in and seize him, and she would finish him off with her bare hands.

 

Zoe 

Ooh!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

(laughs) That's pretty cool.

 

Lizzie 

So Arraweelo arrived with her bodyguards hidden nearby, but her grandson saw them. When Arraweelo entered the aarda, her grandson seize the opportunity and stopped her with his spear. So what do you think she-she cried out as she was stabbed?

 

Zoe 

I think she said nothing.

 

Lizzie 

Wrong.

 

Zoe 

Oh.

 

Lizzie 

She cried "ba'ay" as she fell heavily on the ground.

 

Zoe 

Ah.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, so the end of her.

 

Zoe 

Well...

 

Lizzie 

And so he said to the women under Arraweeelo's command that there is no enmity between himself and these women. She was a tyrant, and he killed her before she could do the same to him. And the women buried Arraweelo and built a monument over her grave.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

And meanwhile the men felt great relief and elected Arraweelo's grandson as their leader. Oday-biige came out of hiding and served as his advisor.

 

Zoe 

Wow, what a story. Nothing--

 

Lizzie 

Right?

 

Zoe 

Nothing changed (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Exactly. And, um--

 

Zoe 

Everything changed and nothing changed. One of those stories.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. And I mean, it's all kind of like--everything that she did was for nothing, because then women had to go back to their subservient roles, you know?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But I also feel like this story sort of positions her as like, caring about her own--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--well-being, rather than all the women--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--which I don't think is accurate. I don't think it's like that in all the different versions of this.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Uh, as we'll sort of see in a bit, but--yeah, just portrays her as really selfish when--I mean, I feel like it's clear that it was for the well-being of women, not just for herself.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But anyway--and then one last thing. So Arraweelo had a list of rules that she gave women about how they should behave around men, and they were punished severely if they broke any of these rules. And as a few examples, found in the vast oral literature, I have six examples. "Whatever you will accept in the end, you should refuse first."

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

"Never grant your favors to men ungrudgingly."

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

 "Be the wrongdoer, but always cry so as to get sympathy."

 

Zoe 

(laughs) That's kind of funny.

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Right? This one I don't really get: "Always eat more, but hide it so as to appear temperate in eating." I feel like if there's no misogyny, why--why would you need to do that?

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that's a good question. That is weird.

 

Lizzie 

"Commit infidelity, but always deny it so as to pretend to have a clean conscience."

 

Zoe 

Sure.

 

Lizzie 

Commit infidelity with who? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

Yeah (laughs). Um, sure (Lizzie laughs). I don't know. I'm-I'm-I'm okay with that, I guess (laughs). I don't know.

 

Lizzie 

With other women, maybe?

 

Zoe 

Sure, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know (laughs). So, "unite the strength of men, but always feed them apart." This is a Somali idiom attributed to Arraweelo, and it means that men do great things when united, but their individual interests can never be reconciled.

 

Zoe 

Mm. Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

The end. What are your thoughts?

 

Zoe 

Well, so a lot of them are--that is, like, reinforcing gender ideas, right?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Like, the idea of, like, say no first, but you secretly mean yes.

 

Lizzie 

Right.

 

Zoe 

Don't eat--let men know how much you eat, which is just so silly.

 

Lizzie 

Why would these be rules?

 

Zoe 

And it feels, like, very modern, almost, like, when--I don't know, that doesn't feel like a rule from like, 15 CE, you know? Like, that doesn't--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, ex--yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, the--these versions that were recorded by, um, this author, and this compilation of Somali folktales was from the 80s, I think? And it was from elders.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Somali elders.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So pretty recent-ish, I guess.

 

Zoe 

I think that--yeah, she's pretty much--she's restricting the women as well, you know, like, not just the men.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

Although the men are being far more restricted by, like, not being able to exist without mutilation.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it's interesting that it's, like, all about, like, women's rights, but then we don't hear very much about what the women are doing. It's all about like, oh, the men are being oppressed. The men are--blah, blah, blah.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But what are the women doing? We don't know.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, like, how do the women feel about this? Like--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's just kind of a frustrating story, because like, as I said, nothing changes in the end.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Um, ultimately, and also it just--again, it feels like a strawman argument of like, oh, the woman took over but like, they did so really badly and were oppressing the men so the men had to fight back and restore their rightful place as ruler.

 

Lizzie 

Now we can never let them have power.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly.

 

Zoe 

And this is why men subjugate women and forced them into roles of servitude because, like, at one point, this thing happened. And, like, that was-that was pretty bad for the men. And so, like, they don't want this to happen again.

 

Lizzie 

Well, exactly. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

You know, it's sort of like the justification, which like, it's not great!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! I mean, it is literally used in a sense of, look what happened when women had power once. And now we can never let that happen again because it will end in disaster.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Which is unfair.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So in the Somalia village of Ceelaayo, there is a stone mound that is said to be Arraweelo's tomb.

 

Zoe 

Mm!

 

Lizzie 

Um, supposedly, whenever Somali men pass by the tomb, they throw stones on it and curse Arraweelo's name.

 

Zoe 

Nice.

 

Lizzie 

But Somali women place green branches and fresh flowers as a sign of respect for her.

 

Zoe 

Okay!

 

Lizzie 

And today, the term "Caraweelo" can be used to refer to a woman who is assertive or dominant. And meanwhile, Arraweelo has been reclaimed by Somali feminists.

 

Zoe 

Nice.

 

Lizzie 

As you can imagine.

 

Zoe 

I can (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

So yeah, Arraweelo Abroad is the name of an online publication for Somali women across the globe--

 

Zoe 

Super cool.

 

Lizzie 

--founded in 2014. In 1995, the author Ladan Affi presented the essay "Arraweelo: A Role Model for Somali Women" during the Somali peace conference in Paris. In the essay, she talks about the oppression of Somali women and refers to Arraweelo's own struggle against patriarchal forces. Quote from that: "The story of Arraweelo is one that has been told for generations and is still told to children, both girls and boys today. Although it is primarily used as an example of why women's rule should be vigorously opposed, it provided me with a concrete role model of a Somali woman."

 

Lizzie 

"It illustrates and highlights the positive characteristics of having women in leadership positions. Although Arraweelo was portrayed as a violent woman who enjoyed castrating men [...], the reality is that she took over the control of Somalia at a time when it desperately needed order, peace and prosperity." End quote.

 

Zoe 

Hm!

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's definitely a different perspective in terms of a Somali woman hearing that story and saying, yeah, women in leadership roles, you know?

 

Zoe 

Yeah! Absolutely.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And there's also another article--in 2015, article on the blog "qweenzone," which is run by a Somali female blogger--

 

Zoe 

Awesome.

 

Lizzie 

--titled "The Tale of Queen Arawelo: The Original Feminist." And in this article, the author mentions the-a version of the story where Arraweelo was motivated to castrate the men partially because she herself had been raped.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And that her decision to castrate the men was violent, but often violence is necessary during revolutions, you know?

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And a quote from that: "Arawelo was used as an example in my country for why women should not be involved in politics and leadership, which is saddening. [...] If she was alive today, Queen Arawelo would encourage women to strive for success and be the best version of themselves. She would teach women to follow their dreams despite what others or society says."

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, I was sort of, like, thinking about--as you were talking, and, like, the castration is definitely a sort of fantasy, not--sort of like a power fantasy, revenge fantasy sort of idea?

 

Zoe 

If you've experienced sexual assault. And so it makes sense that that's a story associated with her. And that could be also be something that's empowering for women who have experienced sexual assault as well.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

To think about a world where they can't experience sexual assault anymore--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--like, it's impossible.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah. And the men experience some level of violence that they have experienced.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And like, how it would be so horrible to experience what women experience, like, every single day.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And it's just the worst thing you could ever imagine.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, which it kind of is. It's horrible.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, and I think it's interesting that if you don't mention the sexual assault component, it seems like Arraweelo was--or like, you could view it as though she was kind of power-hungry.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like, she wanted her gender to be like the oppressors. But that's not, like, realistic. I feel like it's not--I mean, you have to imagine some level of, like, compassion for people who are going through threats of violence every day--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--and just are just subjugated and oppressed, and their life is miserable and they're not valued, and how, like, they do something about it.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And then that's so horrible of them to do that. And it's also interesting that Arraweelo's grandson becomes leader at the end, and then suddenly, men are the oppressors again and women are the oppressed. It's like, why can't there be a version of reality where--

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

--one gender isn't oppressing the other?

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, why is that impossible?

 

Zoe 

Why can't the men, like, learn from their experience and not oppress women anymore?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, right? They didn't learn anything from this!

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm And I guess, like, the sort of justification's that they're worried if they give women any power, then the same thing will happen again.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, this is just proof that we can't give women any rights.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah. And like, I've been sort of thinking about like, the castration thing. Like you said, it was sort of as a way to make sure that her power was not challenged, which like--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

--it's not a good thing. I don't think it's a good thing. I don't think it's something people should do.

 

Lizzie 

No, I think it's--

 

Zoe 

However, it's something that a lot of rulers in history have done, is take these extreme measures in order to stay in power. And so like--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

--just because she's a woman acting like--

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) Male rulers have done that to other men.

 

Zoe 

--every other ruler in history, like, you know.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, but she's a woman.

 

Zoe 

But she's a woman.

 

Lizzie 

And it's worse.

 

Zoe 

 And it's specifically a gendered experience because the way the story--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

--has--is, like, told or written is it sets up this gendered fight, basically.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And forced castration is incredibly violent and cruel, but it's not like--I mean, it ha--it happened a lot throughout history.

 

Zoe 

They're still technically alive (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, there's--(laughs)

 

Lizzie 

I mean--yeah, I do still think it's bad. I will say I'm against this practice.

 

Lizzie 

No, I-I--yeah, exactly. I agree. It's-it's very bad. It's very violent and cruel, and also not good for the well-being of their society in general, because they can't procreate or anything.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And--I mean, I imagine that the women would also suffer from this, like, if they're married to men, and they're not--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--interested in, like, sex with other women, then they just can't have sex anymore.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Which is a problem, too.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, if that's something that people want, not necessarily everyone would want that. But just the idea that it can only benefit women--I mean, it's kind of an interesting idea, isn't it? That men being castrated can benefit women because then they have more power now?

 

Zoe 

I mean, I feel like in this way, it's kind of a sexist thing, right? Because it's--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, exactly. You still have your brain about you, you can still, like, fight and battle.

 

Zoe 

--it's--you take away, like, a symbol of male power, traditionally, and suddenly they have no power when it's like, well, if--even if you're castrated, you can still hold a spear. You can still fight, you know? Like--

 

Zoe 

And so it's just--it's this very gendered, sexist sort of punishment that is being inflicted upon these men specifically to like--not literally emasculate them because that's a different thing, but to, you know, sort of emotionally emasculate them so they feel like they have no power. They're essentially women now.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And being a woman is bad.

 

Zoe 

And yeah, and being a woman is bad, which is not great. It's not a great take.

 

Lizzie 

It's such a fascinating story, I feel like.

 

Zoe 

I think it's a really interesting story.

 

Lizzie 

And yeah, like, just for, like, the fifth time, I don't support forced castration. I think it's really horrible. That being said, I think that what Arraweelo did was pretty incredible. Like, the way she organized the women of her community into taking action against their subjugation. It showed that women are powerful and intelligent and valuable.

 

Zoe 

That's true.

 

Lizzie 

And that's really great. Like, I love the idea of the whole community of women coming together and doing something about the way that they're treated. That's so nice.

 

Zoe 

I mean, that's good.

 

Lizzie 

I am wondering if her story reminded you of any other figure at all, of any--

 

Zoe 

I have a few.

 

Lizzie 

--folklore. Oh, a few! Uh, tell me.

 

Zoe 

Uh, it reminded me of Lysistrata.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! Yeah, exactly! That's actually that's who I was thinking of, too.

 

Zoe 

Okay, good. Good. Yes. Um, Lysistrata, who is from the play by Aristophanes. And I read it last semester, um, and it's about women who organize a sex strike in order to stop the Peloponnesian War because they're tired--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--of the war from happening. And it's really an--it's a very interesting play in some ways, because it's like, the women are kind of--Aristophanes was a conservative man. He was very sexist as, like, most men in Athenian society were at the time. And he was kind of like, joking about the ridiculousness of women coming together and, like, creating a government or sort of like a decision together, like, unifying to create this strike.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

But as this play is like, thousand years old, thousands of years old, it's become sort of a feminist play, because it's about women sort of reclaiming their sexuality and women talking about how much they want to have sex. That's, like, a big part of the comedy of the play, is that the woman, too (Lizzie laughs), like, can't keep up with a strike, because they're like, oh, I really wanna have sex with my husband. Um, and they're--as well as the husbands being like this--

 

Lizzie 

Women can also enjoy sex.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

 Like, oh, that's crazy.

 

Zoe 

Um, and so--and it's also become like, in general, this big anti-war play, like, that has been big throughout, like, the past century, especially.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

And it's interesting 'cause like, when you read it, it's sort of like--I mean, when I read it, I was like, oh, this is really sexist. Like, he's making fun of the women, I don't find this empowering. But I think it's also interesting that a lot of women have read this play and found it empowering. And because--just because the original context it was written in, the original idea that Aristophanes had when he was writing it--that was so long ago, and the way that it's been adapted and changed now also has, like, meaning, too.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly! I think it's so interesting that, like, a really, really sexist man can write something ridiculous about a powerful woman because powerful women are fearful and gross, and then women can, like, read it and be like, oh, wait, she's so cool. And they can work it into their own lives, into their own, like, art or whatever.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And, like, how it goes against the original message--

 

Lizzie 

--which is really fun. Like, just look at this, like, weird, deviant woman who did this bizarre stuff, and look how wrong she is and how stupid she is. But then women can look at it and be like, she's so cool. And even, like, model their own lives after her, like--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

I mean, there's been like a million adaptations of--I don't know, is her name pronounced Lysistrata [lisəˈstɹatə]? that's how say to my head, but then Wikipedia told me it's Lysistrata [laiˈsɪstɹətə].

 

Zoe 

Well, I've always heard it pronounced Lysistrata [lɪsəˈstɹatə]. That could be wrong. Sorry.

 

Lizzie 

Well, I like it better that way. I like that pronunciation better.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Apologies to, um, classicists everywhere.

 

Lizzie 

Sorry Greek people.

 

Zoe 

 And Greek people (both laugh).

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, there's been a million adaptations. And there's also been real sex strikes. I feel like that not necessarily all of them are based off of Lysistrata, like that's a little too much credit to the play when that's not that original of an idea. But like, there have been real sex strikes in the world. For example in 2009 in Kenya, there were thousands of women who went on a sex strike with the end goal to get the country's leaders to reconcile. They did it for seven days, and it worked--

 

Zoe 

Wow! That's wild.

 

Lizzie 

--after seven days, which is amazing. Isn't that amazing?

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And like--

 

Zoe 

I had no idea.

 

Lizzie 

Right? There are a few more examples of that. You can see it on Wikipedia. And--I mean, Arraweelo's story's a little bit different from that. She didn't do a sex strike, she did, like, a housework strike, which is also interesting 'cause it's like a non-violent labor strike that has, like, big results because men are like, I don't want to do the housework. You know? Housework is so horrible that women have to do it.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, it's just also interesting because it acknowledges, like, the immense amount of labor that goes into housework, which is a lot of labor. Running a household--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

--is an incredible amount of work. And traditionally, the woman does it, and the men-man doesn't. And it's also a very traditionally, like, devalued form of labor. People are like, Oh, the woman just sits at home all day. It's like, no, the woman's doing things. She's cleaning, she's cooking. She's making food for you.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, it's insane that one person should be in charge of all the housework.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. And especially, like, once women enter the workforce, but they're still expected to have their real job where they get paid, and then do the housework when they get home, where they're not paid for it. And like it's a whole--a lot of, like, feminists, like Marxist feminists, um, who ta-think a lot about women's labor specifically will, like, talk about it. And it's very--it's a very interesting concept. But this is interesting because it like--you know, it acknowledges, like, this is a massive amount of labor that women are doing that they're not really, like, getting credit for until they stopped doing it. And then suddenly, the men are like, What do I do?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I do kinda think it's interesting, the idea that, like, if women stopped doing the housework, men would have to do it, because I feel like in a lot of cases I feel like if that were to happen, men would just not do anything, and the place would become a sty, and nobody would eat, you know?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

They would just be like, whatever. I'm not doing anything.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Maybe that's a little mean of me (laughs). I don't know. But I feel like that's an option. Like, they wouldn't necessarily be like, Oh, I have to go sweep now that my wife won't.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

You know?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But anyway (laughs).

 

Zoe 

It's a story.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Like I was saying, I think it's incredible how she rallied the women in her community into action. She said to them, like, we don't have to do whatever they want us to do. We also have value and like, we can do this relatively simple thing. And it worked and the lessons of her reign paint her as tyrannical and cruel.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But I do think it's telling that the women of Somalia mourned her reign after it was over because they were back to being forced to be subservient. And how Somali women today still look up to Arraweelo and refer to her as a powerful feminist figure and a role model. And I think that in spite of her cruelty, her legend is incredibly important, back then and also now, because it shows women that it's possible for them to take control and get revenge on people who hurt them. And it also shows that women are valuable for more than just their domestic skills--that they can also be intelligent and strong.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

It's interesting that, like, the only man in the whole land who could rival her intelligence is the one man who's uncastrated.

 

Lizzie 

And--yeah, how that kind of goes to show that for men, all of their power is associated with their virility, you know?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

It's not just about, like, having sex and having children, it's also about intelligence and strength, which gives a lot of credit, I think, to one-one aspect of your life (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But I think it's such a fascinating story. I mean, I know that it's used in a misogynistic way. But it's also the sort of, like, feminist reclamation thing going on, which is awesome.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's a fascinating story, and I think the feminist reclamation is great. I think it makes a lot of sense.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please donate to our Ko-fi, subscribe, leave a review, tell all your friends and we'll be back here in two weeks with another wonderful episode. Thank you.

 

Lizzie 

Thank you!

 

Zoe 

Bye.

 

Zoe 

Mytholadies podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today's episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @mytholadies, and visit us on our website Mytholadies.com. Our copyright is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thank you for listening. See you next time.