RIVER GOVINDA OF SOMALIA

Wikipedia states that the Jubba River, or Giuba, Ganane or Ginane as it is also called is a river in southern Somalia which begins at the border with Ethiopia, where the Dawa and Ganale Dorya rivers meet at and flows directly south to the Somali Sea, where it empties at the Goobweyn juncture. It does not list any other names of the river.

As far as the etymology of the Jubba is concerned, the general opinion is that the river gets its name from the Arabic word ‘jubba’ which means ‘garment’! That is a bit absurd. Even though Jubba, or garment may be an acceptable name for a magnificent river in today’s time, it appears that the ancients had given at least one other name to this river. The name is Govinda, another name for Sri Krishna, a Vedic God.


An ancient names of Jubba River of Somalia
was Govinda. Names such as Gokal and Gokalo
are part of the forgotten mythology of Somalia.

In a presentation ‘Remarks on North East Coast of Africa’, to the Asiatic Society of Bengal,  who’s record appears in an article in the Journal of Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, Volume V, dated to the years 1841-1844, Lieutenant C.P. Rigby of the 16th Regiment, N.I, British India stated, “The principal object of interest on the eastern coast of Africa, has always been the supposed existence of a large river flowing through the interior, and disemboguing on the eastern coast; its discovery was one of the principal objects of Lieutenant Smee’s expedition in 1811, and we are still as far from a satisfactory knowledge of it as at that period. Fresh interest has lately been excited with regard to it by the information obtained by Captain Harris from slave merchants at Ankobar ( 9.591225, 39.757977 ) who declare that a river of immense extent flows close to the south, below the equator.”  This is from a time where the course of Jubba was not yet fully discovered in modern times.

Lt. C.P. Rigby also observed that a few years before the publication of his article, the British  Political Resident at Muscat had reported to the Govt. of India that he had, from some people of respectability who were well acquainted with the geography of the African coast in question, gathered that there existed a river of immense extent known to the natives in its neighbourhood by the name Neelo (Nile) and supposed by them to have its source in common with the Egyptian Nile, which discharged itself into the Indian Ocean at 0° 5 ” North, near to its mouth called Govinda Khala

Rigby further stated, “The river here alluded is known to us by the various names of Juba River, Rogues’ River, and River Govinda, and was known to the Portuguese, by the name Dos Fuegos. …… When at Patta, the Sultan informed Lieutenant Smee, that the River Govinda is of immense extent and that its source was far beyond his knowledge.”

This article records the name of river Jubba as Govinda. The name of the city Govinda-Khala has since distorted. The name Govinda-Khala now appears as Goob-Weyn and is made to fit into meaning something like ‘plot-great’ in Somali. Govinda, as mentioned above, is the name of Sri Krishna.

Rigby was informed that the total length of the river’s course was about 3 months journey: that two weeks’ journey from its mouth stood a large city named Gunamma, up to which the river being navigable, immense number of slaves, elephant’s teeth etc., were brought down there within a short distance of Brava. The name Gunamma has many variations. On the current map of Somalia Gunamma appears as Jammame located at 0.069254, 42.750965. These names are a variation of Jamuna or Yamuna, the river on the banks of which Govinda or Krishna grew up.

Earlier Sir W. Harris, during his mission to the southern kingdom of Abyssinia, or Ethiopia, in 1842, had also obtained information of a vast river, “there called the ‘Gochol’, flowing from west to east through the eastern portion of Africa, and taking its principal source in the highest mountains land north of the equator”. Gochol is a cognate of Gokul. Gokul, literally the ‘Clan of the cow’ was the name of the town where Sri Krishna spent his childhood. A variation of the name Gochol also appears in the mythology of Somalia but there is a common thread to the story of Krishna.

In the Somalian Mythology the Equilibrium of the Universe rested on the love between Gakal (the Sky Bull) and the Gakalo (cow). In these two names one sees the Sanskrit ‘go’ (गो), meaning ‘cow’ which also appears in the name ‘govinda’ (गोविन्द), literally ‘the finder of the cow’. It is this Somalian mythology that might be tied to the naming of the River Govinda. What is of note here is that in Saanskrit ‘go’ not only means ‘cow’, it also means ‘sun’, ‘moon’, ‘sky’, or universe. Hence, Sri Krishna is not only a cowherd, he is also the ‘protector of the universe’.

Another information about the river comes to us from Lieutenant Christopher, commanding the Indian Navy brig Tigris, who visited Brava in 1843, and who till then was the only European who had ever visited the river inland from Mogadisho and Brava. Rigby stated that Lt. Christopher had visited a place called Giridi, which was the capital of a powerful Somali Chief. Giridhar is another name of Sri Krishna.

Lt. Christopher also visited another pace where he was told the river was at its widest. The name of this place that was  mentioned to Lt. Christopher by the locals was GowanaGowana is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘place of the cows’ and has no obvious meaning in present day Somali.

In the vicinity of the final course of River Jubba are place names such as Aaden Hindi at 2.351042, 41.997546. Other place names that occur at the Somali-Kenya border include Mandera East 3.930763, 41.893035, Ramu 3.917368, 41.230042, Mandera North 3.917368, 41.230042,Mandera West ,3.917368, 41.230042Meru National Park 0.053222, 38.079427, and innumerable ones in the bordering countries of Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.

The name Govinda is completely forgotten today and so is a major piece of history that could have shed light on Somali’s pre-Islamic  past. The three major tributaries of the Jubba,  arise in the mountains of Ethiopia where Indic-Vedic names such as Sembo (at 9.412847, 39.439487),  Shenkora (at 8.840944, 39.289112), Sar Amba (10.342770, 39.883824), Sis Amba (10.101750,   39.040313), Ambalay (10.155013, 39.776817) are common place.


Further Readings:
1. The Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society – Bombay Geographical Society – Google Books
2. Three principal tribes of Aethiopians, the Hesperi, Garamantes, and Indians – Murakush Society

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