The Legend of Arawello, the Somali Goddess by MaryAnn Shank

Image of Arawello. Since there is no known portrait of Arawello, this is an artist’s interpretation.

I did not intend to find her.  In fact I wasn’t even looking.  But there she was, soaring before me, on my last night in Baidoa.  This majestic Somali woman reached high into the heavens, engulfed in a glorious wraparound garment that reflected the hues of the world around her: the azure of the Indian Ocean, white sparks of the splendiferous Milky Way, the orange of the clay soil beneath her feet.

The golden snake wrapped around her arm identified her immediately.  This was Arawello, the Somali Goddess.

I had only heard hints of this treasured goddess.  She was born of her people in the first century.  She took the beatings, the whips that scarred her as a child, and escaped to the aromatic fields of myrrh in the northern Somali mountains.  Female torture was rampant at that time, an outgrowth of the centuries-old clan wars.

In the fields of myrrh Arawello found many women like herself, women who ran to save their own lives, women who wanted to help their sisters, mothers, aunts and friends left behind.

And so she formed her plan.

Calling together all the women of the myrrh fields one night, Arawello spoke to them of creating an army, an army of women, an army that would restore peace in Somalia and stop the brutality against Somali women.

When the women asked How? Arawello responded, “We will kill the men who hurt us!”

A riotous cheer resounded over the mountainside.  Everyone clapped and danced.  Except for one woman.  One woman stood apart, her head lowered, and said nothing.

Arawello saw this solitary woman.  “What troubles you, my sister?” Arawello asked.

The solitary woman spoke softly, but her voice was carried over the breeze.  “My daughter,” she said.  “My beautiful daughter.  A dozen soldiers raped her, and I could do nothing to stop them.  My beautiful daughter died.”  The woman paused, searching for the words.  “Killing is too good for these men.  I want them to suffer as my daughter suffered.”

Arawello understood.

Arawello called the women to the circle around the fire, raised her hands to the sky and prayed.  She knew of the eunuchs of the Mediterranean worlds, those men reduced to obedience by emasculation, and believed that this might be the answer.  “Come,” she called out to the women.  “Let us take this night and pray.  Pray to the spirits of our grandmothers.  Ask for their blessings, if indeed this is what we are called to do.”

Image of Arawello’s grave site. I cannot verify that this is the actual grave site, but her grave site most certainly looked something like this. I am certain that it still exists, but I cannot locate a verified image.

Throughout the night the women gathered in prayer.

As a golden dawn broke, Arawello asked that every woman who believed in her heart that this was the path, every such woman should step forward.  Every single woman stepped forward without hesitation.

This army of women trained furiously for months, then formed platoons that scattered throughout the country.  At first men laughed out loud at these country women, not believing that they could defeat local warriors.  The laughing soon stopped when the men discovered that the women had learned their military skills well.  Fortunately, few men were emasculated, for news of this women’s army spread rapidly.

Village by village, the Arawello’s army of women brought peace to the country, handing the reins of power to the women in each village.

With Arawello’s army emerged an era of peace and prosperity that Somalia had not seen in many centuries.  Men and women alike worked to rebuild agriculture and industry, re- creating the Somalia of legend, the Somalia of abundance.

When Arawello died, the women built a small tomb near where her army trained, in the hills of northern Somalia, and they called her “Goddess”.  The remnants of that tomb remain today.  Should you go to see it, you may see men throwing stones at the tomb, shouting that Arawello never existed.  Women don’t throw stones, they simply bring snippets of bright cloth and small bouquets to brighten her tomb.  And still the women call her “Goddess.”


Note: There are dozens, if not hundreds of versions of the Arawello story.  Those told by men differ significantly from those told by women.  In men’s versions, Arawello is sometimes called a “Queen”, but never a “Goddess” – it is assumed of course that she inherited her power from her father, the king.  Nor is there any mention of emasculation in men’s tales.  In one man’s tale, Arawello simply led a three day household chores strike by the women, then later referred to her as a “ruthless warrior.”  Men often call Arawello “a woman’s heroine,” as though men did not benefit from her leadership.

This particular version, a woman’s version, is an adaptation from the story in “The Mystical Land of Myrrh”, an historical novel that I wrote in the hopes of bringing a clearer vision of Somalia to the modern world.  If you have heard a different version of this story, please note it below – I would love to hear it.



MaryAnn Shank earned her Masters of Library Science at San Jose State University, and has used those skills of research throughout her career.  A lifetime of research and writing led MaryAnn to bring her Peace Corps experience in Somalia to print.  An accomplished business writer, and sometime poet, she simply believes that the time has come to tell the stories that need to be told.  The historical novel “The Mystical Land of Myrrh” is just such a story, dispelling modern myths of war lords and pirates in Somalia.  It is available in paperback, Kindle and audio versions.


Selected bibliography:

The Mystical Land of Myrrh” by MaryAnn Shank.  Pub by  Dippity Press. 2019.

Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World” by  Mackenzi  Lee.   Pub by Harry N. Abrams. 2018

“Queen Araweelo, A Children’s Story” by Farah M. Mohamed.  Pub by Somali Media Network. 2014

“This brave Somali Queen fought to establish gender equality.” On FaceBook.

“Araweelo, the Somali Queen” On FaceBook.

“Queen Arawelo” in the Washington Post podcast:

18 thoughts on “The Legend of Arawello, the Somali Goddess by MaryAnn Shank”

  1. Thank you so much, Karen. Arawello is a fascinating Goddess, one who inspires women to work hand in hand to change the world. I am so pleased that I have found her.


  2. This is a powerful version of the myth…But I am struck by the over-arching view that these women enacted patriarchy in reverse taking back all the power.

    Is this really the answer?

    When it comes to rape I am of the mind that the threat of emasculation might stop men from raping for good – I would give anything to stop this atrocity that has destroyed millions – billions (?) of lives – children, girls, women. I am also aware that under this patriarchal system emasculation won’t happen.

    You see my ambivalence?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ara, I do indeed see your ambivalence. As I was researching and writing this tale, I kept coming back to the same issues. Ultimately I landed on the side of Arawello and presented her as actually emasculating some men, ready to do more.

      Arawello came to Somalia when the country had been in chaos for at least a hundred years, the brutality against women growing worse by the year. It seems that everything else had been tried, only Arawello’s solution remained. No, I don’t think it will happen under this patriarchal system, for in truth we do have a viable alternative: our vote. Somali women of that time didn’t have a voice in the government, so their only recourse was violence. We do have a recourse, and it is up to us to use it. In a sense, I suppose that putting the power of our vote behind us, we could emasculate some men, and I for one would not be unhappy with that outcome.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am very happy to see how you wrote the historyQueen Arawelo. I am from Somali, particularly the Sanag region, where the Arawelo’s grave is.
        I remember, when I was young, whenever I heard something about Arawelo, I was thinking that is not a constant story.
        Now, I realized !!!!!

        Thanks, madam.
        On behalf of all Somalis, I do appreciate your effort

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Your comment means so much to me. I tried so very hard to honor Somalis, and I also wanted to be true to the story. Somalis will always hold a very special place in my heart, no matter what.

          Somali stories, like stories all over the world, are sometimes told in simplistic terms for children, especially when there is violence involved. We don’t want to expose our children to such violence, but as we mature we learn the reason for the violence. I read so many versions of the Arawello story that said she imprisoned men. But the urgency was so much greater. Arawello needed to bring real peace to the land, so strong action was truly needed. Only the strength of a Somali woman could have created the peace that Arawello created.

          As your children grow, make sure they know the true story of Arawello. I am so very glad that you read this version of the story.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you very much. i will follow your advice. its my pleasure know you. i do appreciate. we will never forget how you are supporting us …. God bless you @Maryann


  3. An interesting story, MaryAnn. Thank you for the links too.
    It stirs up in me a curiosity about stories where women establish justice and peace without using violence – although there are a few men right now that I would love to clobber!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clobber away, Barbara! You won’t get an argument from me.

      How about Lysistrada, the story of the Greek women who simply withheld marital favors? Well, most of them did — it was a comedy, so one or two women slipped. If we could truly organize our women for one such day of abstinence, we would be a long way towards establishing justice and peace.


  4. Hurrrah! Hooray! Hoorah! Good on Arawello! It’s good to read or hear a story about a brave goddess who stands forward for women and stands up to cruel men. Somalia is going through hard times again….can they bring her back?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara, Arawello has never left Somalia. She is the one who has sustained Somali women through the recent decades of civil war, droughts and hunger. There are countless tales of the appearance of Arawello in modern times, and how she inspired women to hold the country together while the men killed.

      The emasculation part hasn’t come back, but this is a different era.


      1. I’m glad She’s still there for the women. We need strong, fierce goddesses like Her in every land. These days, especially, in the U.S. Sic her on the Abuser-in-Chief!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My first impression upon reading this was the question “why do we (women) have to resort to violence?” Yet, I, who teach self defense techniques to women, do not need to ask this question. Although I am sick of the vicious cycle, I see the answer. Thank you for this empowering tale. Maybe I should name my program The Arawello Project. I wonder if anyone would get it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Diana, what a splendid idea! Not, not many people would get it. While every single Somali, male and female, knows Her story, very few westerners have ever heard of her.

      It is so tragically sad that women must resort to violence. In my heart I am a pacifist, yet I constantly struggle with the image of what the world would be like if there were not those who take up arms in defense of those who are weaker. I applaud your teaching defense techniques to women — yes, I suspect we will need those skills for a long time to come.


    1. Maria, you are so right. So many of the Goddesses get their power from male figures — fathers, brothers, etc. — and so many are considered mere “consorts” that we do need to honor those Goddess whose stride into power is their very own act. The next big question is of course, How do we use that power?


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