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Curios, feasts and festivals.

Diana spent much of April 1934 near Mogadishu with the Camel people and Osma, witnessing the nomadic aspects of these peoples. They had few possessions, most of which could be loaded on to the backs of their pack animals, camels, horses and mules. However, retail was never far away. Indian shops beckoned, and festivals provided showplaces for curios such as hair ornaments, cow necklaces, and bracelets, as well as anklets. Camels needed decorated bells and their hair was woven into colourful rugs, hung with long tassels, which probably kept them cool and freer from insects.

Festivals were frequent, some lasted up to four days and nights, where different groups could show off their dancing skills, in teams of men and women according to their cultural norms. Singing, drumming and musical accompaniments were common, and even harpists took part. Each group used a relay system, so dancers could rest and sleep and eat. Dress was in highly coloured silks and cottons, complemented by face make up, especially eye-black which was sold in carved wooden bottles.

Culture was also passed on through sound and song. Each tribe taught songs to others yet maintained their own cultural `separateness`. One song “Tombra”, taught by the Sudanese, was accompanied by drummers and a harpist. It consisted of one word, as in the title, endlessly repeated. Taught to Baiguin Somalis, this wedding chant sung was by teams of 5 men and 5 women. Today here in the UK it is sung as part of the repertoire of Canterbury Cantata, by Monday Music! It was danced in circles, and details of this dance will be in Blog No.18.a.

Dances were an integral part of local culture.  The Mer Amer people did not intermarry, so their culture was passed on through song, dance and music. Sadly, increasing western influence brought illnesses such as smallpox and measles. The names of dances sometimes give us origins as in tarantella , perhaps `tombra` movements relieved symptoms of something like snakebite.

Diana was interested in plants and medicinal cures but also accompanied her father on hunts. A species of wild ass which she collected for the Museum was named after her, Equus africanus dianae.  The skin and skeleton were brought home for the Museum’s collection.  The skin was mounted by the Major’s favourite taxidermist, Rowland Ward, and now resides in Gallery 1.

Other curios bought on Diana’s trip with her father in 1934 included cow necklaces, eye black bottles, and camel bells. The colourful groups of up to 300 dancing and singing people at weddings and celebrations, with their silver necklaces, and golden anklets, must have presented a wonderful yet noisy sight. The camels were fascinated by music and were wont to show their emotion in different ways. In the ‘docudrama’ film “The Weeping Camel” (2003) this is shown in more detail.

I have admired the thick coat on Diana’s wild ass in Gallery 1.  It shows the special adaptation of animals to their environment. I`m sure my winter coat or skin would benefit from woolly coverings like this! 

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