Golweyn, Somalia, Home of Rugby

Think of Somalia and you probably think of a nation torn apart by war and exciting stories of pirates. Think of Mogadishu and you will probably think of Somalia’s capital city and child armies killing everything in sight. In other words the world’s most dangerous place.

However, just a few miles south of Mogadishu is the village paradise of Golweyn.

Golweyn lies two hours south of Mogadishu and is ideally located 20 minutes from the beach. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no ancient artifacts or places of interest. It is just a place of simple pleasures, but with a secret.

In 1479 a group of Welsh sailors set sail from Swansea, on board the Sy’n Poeni Defaid, in search of their fortunes. With a map they borrowed from a missionary and enough provisions for three months, they set sail on a warm summer’s evening in June. Their destination was Spain where there was a promise of gold, slaves and exocitic spices.

Six months later and with half the crew dead or dying they washed up on the shores of Merca, Somalia. After several days wandering, the surviving crew finally pitched camp a few miles further south and officially, on behalf of the Welsh people, established Golweyn, Welsh Somaliland.

The original flag can still be seen in Mogadishu’s central museum and consists of the Welsh dragon, the Islamic crescent moon and a leak.

Today there is a distinct Welsh feeling about Golweyn. The locals speak with a slightly different accent, they have a tradition of digging holes, rearing sheep and singing with unusually large  harmonious choirs. But their biggest secret is that Golweyn is the actual place that the sport of rugby was invented.

For those who are not familiar with the game, it’s a rough sport played by men with oddly shaped balls.

Legend has it that Dafydd Blaidd, the captain of our castaways, wanted to boost moral and remind his broken crew of home. He captured and slaughtered and old elephant and repurposed most of the skin and bones into household objects, like umbrella stands and musical instruments. He took the elephant’s vital organs, heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas, hollowed them out and sewed them up, inflated with air. They weren’t  round, so not technically a ball according to Welsh law, but ideal to throw and catch.

He then introduced a new type of soccer to his men which he named grubby, after the mess these vital organs made when thrown and caught. When locals saw the men playing the game they wanted to form a team as well and an official league was created called the Somaliland Coastal Grubby League. The locals, not well versed in either Welsh or English mispronounced the game “rugby” and the name stuck.

When, in 1498, the local sultan heard of the game, he opened up further leagues throughout Somaliland and beyond. The men were also offered safe passage home, back to Wales.

In 1506, to the sound of cheers and church bells the surviving men of the Sy’n Poeni Defaid, led by their captain Dafydd Blaidd, returned to Wales.

The king of Wales learned of their new game and named a city after them, today’s Rugby, and established rugby as the national sport of Wales.

Visitors to Golweyn can still see the original rugby ground together with makeshift goals. Rugby is still both the national sport of Somalia and Wales, who regularly meet in friendly games. Rugby and Somalia’s capital Mogadishu are twinned cities over their passion for the game.

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