Faduma Abukar and Abukar Mursal — Jul 28, 2021

The word saxansaxo describes a meteorological phenomenon that has social and affective implications. It qualifies how the air is felt before the rain; the smell of the first raindrops that smell really good, and how the water makes the sky almost sparkle. When the wind blows smoothly before it brings the first drops of rain, it is a momentary good feeling, making it comfortable to stay outside for that moment of joy.

Before we elaborate on this word, let us mention how to pronounce saxansaxo. The word is Somali, a Cushitic language spoken by more than thirty-five million speakers, especially in the Horn of Africa as well as by Somalis living across the globe. Part of the Afroasiatic family, the language is phonetically close to Arabic. It was principally verbal, and the Latin script was introduced in 1971 for written expression.1 For instance, the letter x in the Somali alphabet corresponds phonetically to the Arabic letter » ح«. So, the word saxansaxo is pronounced »sahansaho,« with the h pronounced just as bit lighter than in »he.«

Saxansaxo is a condition that announces the arrival of a heavy rainfall after a long period of dryness and of awaiting relief. The word has been particularly important for the pastoral communities who are entirely nomadic and live in a semi-arid environment. Normally, saxansaxo happens once a year. However, when it doesn’t, it is a year of drought, and saxansaxo is expected the following year, or worse, the year after. The pastoralists distinguish the wind characteristic of the saxansaxo moment from other winds, like the usual wind (dabeel), the one that occurs in the hot daytime (xanfaf), or in the night (neecaaw), all of which are rarely followed by much rain. To recognize saxansaxo is to be assured that heavy rain will follow – the wind that characterizes it is different from a wind that only pushes the clouds away or is followed by sporadic rain that dries up in a day or two. As soon as thunder and lightning start, the »saxansaxo moment« has shifted to other places, and it is time to collect and prepare containers to store the rainwater and find shelter.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Saxansaxo

Heavy rain clouds, 2020, photo: Abukar Mursal. Courtesy of the photographer and Faduma Abukar

Together, the gradual change of the atmospheric conditions, the smell of the first water of the rain (called xareed), and the wind characterize saxansaxo. Specialists have tried to explain the saxansaxo phenomenon by conducting experiments on the soil and the plants surrounding the area in question. They found that the smell that characterizes the »saxansaxo moment« originates from the simultaneous combination of the dry land, dry plants, and the contact of the raindrops with the soil and the lightning.2

This word is even more important for pastoralists because it is associated with a period of joy and abundance, especially because it means there will be water for livestock for a long period. It creates an awareness of the extent of the territory that the rain would cover in the region, which would be enough to fill all its waterpoints and depressions. Naturally, the precipitation leads to the revival of flora and fauna, with vegetation covering large areas for pasture. The complete transformation of the landscape and habitat gives pastoralists a sense that nature returns to its beauty. This broad-reaching rain would definitely reduce their long journeys to find water and allow grazing for livestock, thereby bringing relief and prosperity.

In fact, for the pastoralist, saxansaxo is more than a pleasant wind that blows and changes the landscape that deeply affects their livelihoods. It is an awakening instant of their minds to forthcoming social and economic development. It reminds them that the time is coming for their awaited social gatherings, like those of the elders for consultations, celebrations, offerings, and marriages. More importantly, it leads to more time for family togetherness, which in the nomadic lifestyle is very rare and precious. Saxansaxo also announces peace with other pastoral communities because saxansaxo comes with a long period of abundance that prevents conflicts with other communities, most of which are caused by watering and grazing their respective livestock. Thus, based on their historic experiences in the past, it paves the path for a period of stability and harmony, and social relief.

The word saxansaxo is also used as a good presage among agro-pastoralists who are the second category of the rural population; farmers. It corresponds to heavy rains coming with the prospect of good seasonal crops with bountiful vegetables and milk production even before the farm harvest. Saxansaxo assures them that at the end of the season, the silos will be filled with cereals and other crops, which certainly increase their purchasing power. It will give them the possibility of getting supplies and agricultural materials, as well as the capacity of expanding their farmlands.

Although the arrival of saxansaxo is less important for the livelihood in the urban center, it nonetheless carries the aforementioned affective dimension. Indeed, saxansaxo appears in a number of poems and songs as a metaphor for an auspicious prediction, but it also refers to people who are awaited, who announce something that one has longed for, like the rain and its relief. Furthermore, many business and media outlets use the word in their brand names to attract clients, and to give a good impression of the qualities of their products and services.

Saxansaxo is useful to this lexicon because it qualifies, with one word, a moment that many language groups try to grasp. The period before the rain evokes different things, such as peace and tranquility like in the expression »the calm before the storm,« referring to a kind of tension or a heavy atmosphere before it rains. In fact, in working on a common vocabulary, is this publication, like saxansaxo, the sign that a longed-for social relief might be in sight?

  1. The choice of the Latin alphabet was facilitated by the education system of the colonial period, which was based on either Italian or English.

  2. See (accessed January 29, 2021).

Abukar Mursal and Faduma Abukar are based respectively in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany. They are a father-daughter duo who share a passion for languages and their translations. Both speak many languages including English, French, and Somali, and they share a passion for words – both their etymologies and social contexts, as well as word plays.