Celebrating Somalia (yes, Celebrating!)

Posted: November 3, 2013 in SOMALI POETRY
Tags: , , , , ,

For a couple of months, I have been drawn to poetry coming from Somalia and the reason is simple; Somalis are a people who are faced with daily struggles that many African countries have already gone through at independence. For many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, much of our best poetry and most-studied poets were born in the pre-independence era, writing their struggles and pouring their hearts in the art. The world has branded Somalia the most failed state but for us in the arts, we had better recognize Somalia for the gold-mine it is when it comes to poetry and general literature because really, Somalis are in that phase that births literature with heart.

Somalian script existed before the Arabic conquest. At this link, you can see a picture of an early tablet which indicates Wadaad writing of the Somalis. Omniglot explains and illustrates further here. In history, Somalia stands with Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia as the early-settled and most historically-relevant countries in Africa.  Somalia has some of the earliest pyramids. Let me not digress to history. I’m celebrating Somalian art.

Long ago in 2010, I listened to K’naan do the World Cup theme song and was pleased to know he was from Somalia. Because traditional media does not hype the art side of Somalia, I thought K’naan may have been a rare breed of Somali who probably had no connection to the country from infancy. Don’t listen to what they tell you in the news. K’naan is a poet who grew up until 13 years in Somalia. Like many other Somalis, war forced his family out of Mogadishu to New York and later to Canada. His aunt Magool was purportedly a great Somali singer and his grandfather was a poet. He was born into a family of artists but I forgot about K’naan after the World Cup theme song Waving Flag died down.

Collage of Somali Poets

Collage of Somali Poets

What got me interested in Somali poetry again and the more was Warsan Shire’s winning of this year’s inaugural Brunel Poetry Prize for African poetry. Her winning entries took my breath away and at the same time, reminded me of what I felt about Somalia during the World Cup.  Somalia has art. I haven’t discovered enough of it yet but certainly Somalia has art. Much of it is shrouded in Arabic but for the few who have shared their art with English, the distinction is clear. What is happening in Somalia is deep consciousness and a protest movement that is silently but effectively carrying freedom messages across to the oppressors in the country, generation after generation, both in performance poetry of an ancient oral tradition that predates modernity, and written word. Read any Somali poet and you will read protest. Just like those poems of the 50s and 60s and 70s that spread across much of Western and Eastern Africa against oppressive regimes.

There have been a few stand-out poets that I will err by not mentioning. The greatest-living Somali poet is called ‘Hadraawi’ (real name Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame). He has been called The Somali Shakespeare in many places and reading a few of his works have made me see why. I hope to review one of his poems soon but in the meantime, read this one titled Has Love been Blood-Written. I’m not reproducing it on this post because of its length.

The next poet you should definitely know is ‘Gaarriye’ (real name Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac). I will have to thank my new-found Somali poet and blogger friend, Dahaba for introducing Gaarriye to me.  From her blog, read this poem by Gaarriye titled Arrogance. Unfortunately, Gaarriye died in a Norwegian hospital in September last year at 64 years. I am looking for his world-acclaimed poem titled “Hagarlaawe” (The Charitable) and perhaps I will attempt a review of it too if it’s not too long.

Finally, follow Warsan Shire’s works, who was just a few weeks ago made the first Young Poet Laureate of the city of London; the Somali winner of the Brunel Poetry Prize, yes that Warsan!

I will leave you with this short farewell poem written by Somali poet, Sufi Sheikh, and anti-colonial warrior Sayyid Mahammed ‘Abdille Hassan for a departing friend in the 19th Century and originally shared in a beautiful article on this same topic written by Rahma Bavelaar.

Now you depart, and though your way may lead

Through airless forests thick with hagar trees,

Places steeped in heat, stifling and dry,

Where breath comes hard, and no fresh breeze can reach

Yet may God place a shield of coolest air

Between your body and the assailant sun.

And in a random scorching flame of wind

That parches the painful throat, and sears the flesh,

May God, in His compassion, let you find

The great-boughed tree that will protect and shade

This article has been somewhat long and thank you for tarrying to the end of it. From the time you have read it, I hope I have lit a little flame in your poetic heart that will make you henceforth see Somalia as a country alive with art and heart, irrespective of what economics and politics tell us about it. There is a country alive in the east. Her name is Somalia.

  1. Sun-dipped African says:

    It saddens me that the media’s representation of Somalia always ignores our art especially with the emergence of Somali diaspora poets writing in numerous languages. It’s uplifting to find Somalis and non-Somalis still taking an interest in Somali poetry and I thank you for your part in spreading the word. Also can I suggest Nurrudiin Farah, although he is not a poet, I find one cannot look at Somali literature without giving him some thought.
    You probably already know but “Has Love Been Blood-Written” has a very interesting and poignant back-story. It was inspired by a blood-written letter sent to Magool, K’naan’s aunt, by a Sudanese fan who was in love with her. As Magool could not read Arabic, Hadraawi translated it for her and later wrote this fantastic poem inspired by it. I think at some point Magool may have even turned Hadraawi’s poem of the letter into a song. I always find it fascinating the way Somali artists and their art are so intertwined.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dela says:

      That is some very very deep story on the origin of ‘Has Love Been Blood-Written’. Since I started reading about the art of your beautiful country, it has been difficult to keep away from it. Somali diaspora artists are doing everything to cover for the shortage of reporting on the art from home, since so many of them have achieved world fame for their brilliance. We will keep telling the stories we can tell, Dee. We will not stop.


  2. Kinna says:

    Lovely! and you’re adding to my reading list. Warsan Shire’s poetry is something else. For novels, I would recommend the work of Nuruddin Farah.


    • Dela says:

      I have been a lazy novel-reader even though this has been one of the better years. On yours and Dahaba’s advise, I will read Nuruddin Farah if I come across him.


  3. […] Somalia – Google Blog Search | Celebrating Somalia (yes, Celebrating!) | African Soulja […]


  4. This is super. I have opened several of the links. Thanks for this piece. And yes, you’ve lighted an interest in me. Good work.


  5. […] from my previous post on the admiration I have developed for Somalia and Somali literature, I have spent a couple of days […]


  6. mj says:

    Amazing. Warsan Shire on my reading list. Somali poetry too.

    Thanks. Again, African work resonates deeply with me – it has a bone-immersing quality – a wrenching of the breath from the lungs… nothing can equal it – only perhaps the Palestinian resistance poets.


    • Dela says:

      MJ – I think Arabic poetry in its entirety is very very intense. I have seen some Iraqi, Lebanese and Iranian poetry and I am impressed every time. Warsan Shire on your reading list is a top recommendation. Thanks for coming by every time.


  7. […] new Somali poet whose works I will be looking forward to and reading through the year. Read my post Celebrating Somalia (yes, Celebrating!) and the poem I Think About you, […]


  8. […] Somali poet whose works I will be looking forward to and reading through the year. Read my post Celebrating Somalia (yes, Celebrating!) and the poem I Think About you, […]


  9. […] Somali poet whose works I will be looking forward to and reading through the year. Read my post Celebrating Somalia (yes, Celebrating!) and the poem I Think About you, […]


  10. the Somali community are reached in literature and one cannot easy understand with a language that is reach in word, a word that you might thing its has only one meaning is easily twisted and intertwined with another to make different meaning or an ambiguous meaning that get off guard the person that is narrow minded or whose line of thinking has been pre-adjusted to his line of thought often living him in a ridiculous situation, YES you might call Somalia a failed state or a forgot ones but you words are just a mere words that needs no attention but to turn a deaf ear by the Somali who are by nature proud people despite the status, and would not recoil, fear or despair but rather stiffen and become more tough by the situation and given the right environment they will indisputable out wit and out maneuver the colleague with an emphatic victory. Somalis are still a life and get stronger as the watch clicks and the celebrations mensitioned here are inevitably real


  11. Ahmed Hassan Mohamed says:

    I think Somali Diaspora need to bring their innovations in their Home land, We are interesting u hear Somali poems in English and other languages, it is enriching our literature and advancing our civilization, though there are some culture resistant people in Somalia.


    • Dela says:

      I definitely agree that the transfer of literary experience will greatly impact home literature because truly, Somali diaspora poets are some of the best I’ve read from Africa, no doubt.


  12. […] of the city of London in 2013. In my previous post about the depth of Somali poetry, I have reviewed her in the same lights as Hadraawi, Gaarriye and K’naan; the first two, classical, the latter two […]


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