By: Ahmed Ismaaciil
A few days ago the UK’s Channel 4 showed a short report about the Somali phenomenon of “dhaqan-celin”, which translates to “culture return”. Although this report by Channel 4 shed the UK Somali youths in extremely negative light, mainly by making negative and inaccurate generalisations based on the cases of a few wayward youths part of London sub-cultures, it was interesting to watch nevertheless. Dhaqan-celin, is a recent phenomenon that entails badly-behaved or unruly Somali youths being returned from overseas with the [parents/carers’] intention of those youths learning the Somali culture, language and religion. This phenomenon has become more prominent among the various Somali diaspora communities in countries such as the U.K, as well as other countries.
As a Somali, I can understand why parents would think that sending their child to their homeland would be beneficial. In Somali society parents’ rights and power over their child extends from being able to command all due respect from their child, liberal and unrestricted spanking, to if need be getting the extended family involved. Because of the power, respect and status that parents traditionally command and hold in Somali society, I can understand why parents might think that such an environment would better enable them to rein in and otherwise deal with an unruly child.
Dhaqan-celin is often adopted by parents out of desperation, where they feel that their child is acting or living in “dhaqan-xumo”, or otherwise in an “un-Somali” or “un-Islamic” way. Other reasons may include that their child has gotten involved with the wrong sort of people, sub-cultures deemed deviant (gangs etc.), has otherwise gotten into trouble with authorities (police) or is disregarding his or her studies (school/college). However as I will discuss below, it seems that what seems to be the underlying logic of this phenomenon is in some ways flawed.
In situations where parents resort to dhaqan-celin, parents’ intentions are generally benevolent. These parents genuinely believe that returning their child to their “homeland” will teach their child some cultural knowledge, norms and values that will better enable him/her to realise why what he/she has been doing previously is undesirable. In addition, this cultural re-habitation might give the child an experience so he/she is better able to appreciate and capitalise on the various educational/academic/professional/other opportunities in their respective overseas country, as opposed to the extreme poverty and limited opportunities the youth in Somaliland experience.
In practice, dhaqan-celin entails youths being returned for extended holidays to cities such as Hargeisa, which is in the peaceful and democratic Somaliland, for a period of just a few weeks to several months at a time. The idea is that these youths will undergo cultural rehabilitation and learn ‘the wrongs of their ways’. In many situations the above intentions are realised; however, in some cases there have been dark side-effects, for both the dhaqan-celis youths as well as their host-communities.
To investigate the causes of this phenomenon would require some rigorous study and academic research but I think it’s safe to say that this phenomenon is the result of the complexities and consequences of a diaspora community grappling with their new environments whilst trying to maintain their culture, norms and values. No doubt some parents are looking for a quick-fix solution to a set of complex problem that may well have been developing over an extended period of several years. It seems now, that it is questionable how practical and realistic this quick-fix solution is.
As was shown in the Channel 4 report, there have been some successful aspects of dhaqan-celin. One example would be Leyla, who as shown in the report has gained a lot from returning and has it seems infinitely grown as a person. It was very touching to see the former “rebel youth” (as she described herself) now teaching and proving young disadvantaged children with an education. (As I said above “this cultural re-habitation might give the child an experience so he/she is better able to appreciate and capitalise on the various educational/academic/professional/other opportunities in their respective overseas country, as opposed to the limited opportunities open to the youth in Somaliland”). This young girl was sincerely touched by the poverty and the lack of opportunities the local youths in Somaliland and other parts of the Somali peninsula face. As she explained, she was also far more endeared towards the mind-set and experiences of her parents. Leyla now expects to return to her adopted home country of the UK to attend university, so as to better enable herself to help others. This shows dhaqan-celin in its best form.
It seems parents have understood that there will be an exchange of culture, knowledge, experiences and ideas between their child and the various local people with whom he or she will be having exchanges. It seems though, that parents have conveniently overlooked that this exchange will be a two-way exchange. And in some cases, in spite of parents’ efforts, when these “dhaqan-celis” youths arrive they end up congregating together thus end up not only perpetuating the activities and situations that their parents tried to remove them from, but also involving the local youth. This phenomenon, ironically, results in that very “dhaqan-xumo” or otherwise “un-Somali” or “un-Islamic” ways being transferred to the local Somali youth.
The exchange of culture is further complicated by a set of other variables. One of these is the views that some and I stress some, impressionable local-youths hold. These views might be that because the returnee diaspora-youths are more worldly, affluent and experienced, their behaviour and ways, though not always positive, are to be aspired to. Furthermore alcohol, among other things, is illegally imported from Ethiopia and is increasingly popularised not only by and among Ethiopian immigrants, but now also some of the dhaqan-celis. Lastly, to add to their troubles, some of the dhaqan-celis youths will inevitably also pick up some of the societal malignancies in Somali society such as chewing qat or traditional gender inequalities in of men and women.
Dhaqan-celin, instead of solving problems, can result in perpetuating and indeed creating some of the original situations and problems it was meant to address. Those very same youth who were sent “home” with the intention to be “re-cultured” may come back having now (a) mixed with the cream of miscreants from the diaspora, (b) having been exposed to qat, alcohol and lastly (c) having transferred some of their culturally, socially and sometimes religiously deviant ways to the local youths.
All is not necessarily lost though; the failures of dhaqan-celin can be addressed. One strategy might be creating structured & planned activities, boot camps and courses as was shown in the Channel 4 report. There are lessons to be learned, but they need to be sought out. This article was written in good faith as an effort towards that ‘searching out’. When something is evidently not working it is important to raise awareness of the ills and problems so that it [may] be looked at and addressed.
*This opinion article intended primarily to raise awareness of the ills of dhaqan-celin, which I have witnessed first-hand. I believe that importing particular harmful social activities and sub-cultures from overseas represents a real risk to the very social fabric of Somali society, quite frankly, one less problem we could do without.
Link to Channel 4 report: http://www.channel4.com/news/british-somalis-going-back-for-a-future