produced a large amount of literature through Islamic poetry
from Somali scholars of the last centuries to modern fiction
from present day Somali writers
which have received widespread success respectively.
Islamic literature of Somalia dates back to the early 14th century with Shaykh Al-Zayla'i producing Tabayin al-Haqa’iq li Sharh Kanz al-Daqa’iq, one of the most referenced books in the Hanafi school of Islam. Sayyid Abdullah Hassan (1864-1921), the celebrated leader also left a considerable amount of manuscripts. Some of the better known Somali Islamic literature is Maja'mut al-Mubaraka written Shaykh Abdullah al-Qalanqooli published in Cairo in 1918. Shaykh Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i also produced many Islamic orientated literature in the 19th century. Poetry in the form of Qasida's was also popular among Somali Shaykhs who produced several thousand poems in praise of Prophet Muhammad Translation:
- Whenever you wish to make easy your objective
- Then give a prayer to your Messenger, the best of Guides
- And say seeking aid in every circle
- Blessings of God and the crier cries
- On the chosen our Master the Praised
- Beloved of God preferred to those who ascended
- His tomb is above any Throne or High Place
- As is Every pious place sincerely
- Musk and Spices give fragrance, truly
- To the tomb of Muhammad, light of Heart
- Every aspect of the Habib gives light
- The one who seeks him sees the lights with goodness
- The distance meets it along with the near
- It will encompass the Family, the neighbours of the Beloved
- As well as people of the community with knowledge of his fragrance
Poetry plays an important role in Somali society in terms of socializing and communicating with each other. Somalia was dubbed by the 19th century British explorer Richard Burton in his book 'First Footsteps in East Africa as a nation of bards
- The country teems with poets, every man has his recognized position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines - the fine ear of this people causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetic expressions. Every chief in the country must have a panegyric to be sung by his clan, and the great patronize light literature by keeping a poet.
As Said Samatar explains, a Somali poet is expected to play a role in supporting his tribe or clan, "to defend their rights in clan disputes, to defend their honor and prestige against the attacks of rival poets, to immortalize their fame and to act on the whole as a spokesman for them. In short, a traditional poem is occasional verse composed to a specific end, with argumentative or persuassive elements, and having a historical context.
As for the form, Somali verse is marked by hikaad (or alliteration) and an unwritten practice of meter that as of 2007 is still imperfectly documented.
Observing that "some say he was 'peerless' and his 'noble lines' ... are commonly quoted throughout the Somali peninsula", Samatar concurs with J. Spencer Trimingham's judgement that "Mahammad 'Abdille Hasan [Sayyid Abdullah Hassan] was a master of eloquence and excelled in the art of composing impromptu poems which so readily inspire and inflame the Somalis" -- although Samatar dissents on its "impromptu" nature.
One of his well known poems is "Gaala Leged" ("Defeat of the Infidels")
- To begin with, I had neglected poetry and had let it dry up
- I had sent it west in the beginning of the spring rains.
- But let me set forth what prevented me from sleeping last night
- God's Blessing are more numerous than those growing trees.
- I will remind you of the victory he gave us
- Listen to me my council, for you are most dear to me
- If the unwashed left handed one had died yesterday,
- if I had cut his throat- may he taste hell in the grave itself
- And the wild animals had eaten him, he and his ilk would deserve this
- I would salute the hyena that would gorge itself on his flesh,as it's doing me a favor, it is dearer to me than any other animal of the wild.
- If could I would reward it every day
- That deformed one wasted a lot of my wealth
- since he kept committing wrongs again and again
- I knew all along that the hyena would devour him
- It was their insincere refusal to acknowledge the truth that put them down and destroyed them
- And made me attack their best man with a Dagger
- If they had not become ungrateful, I would have not become enraged with them
- I would have not lost my generosity and respect for them
- I would have not have withheld anything from them, if they desired peace
- But when they acted disdainfully, death marched straight at them
Somalis have rich oral tradition when it comes to ancient folktales which were passed on from generation to generation. Stories like "Dhegdheer the cannibal woman" were told to little children as a way to scare them and discipline them at the same time cause it was said Dhegdheer would visit those that were naughty at night. "Coldiid the wise warrior" is another popular Somali folktale with a positive message regarding a Waranle (warrior) who avoids any kind of violence and in turn is looked down upon by his peers but in the end shows violence is not the way to earn respect or love. Caraweelo is a story more particularly told to girls in order to make them aware of the pitfalls of exaggerated feminism. A Lion's tale is a popular children's book in the Somali Diaspora where two Somali immigrant children struggle with life in a different world surrounded by friends they perceive as greedy only to magically return to Ancient Somalia where they experience all the popular Somali folktales themselves. A lion's tale is currently also a school play.
While following the adoption of the latin script
in 1973 Numerous Somali writers
have released books over the years which received widespread success, it still has a lesser influence in Somali life than traditional oral literature. I.M. Lewis provides the example that in the latter days of the rule of General Muhammad Siad Barre
, the opposition relied on oral poetry, either recorded on cassette tapes or broadcast by the Somali language service of the BBC
to voice their dissent. When the British considered closing the Somali language service down for financial reasons, a delegation of prominent Somali leaders met with the British, and argued that "much as they appreciated the ambassador personally, it would be better to close the British embassy rather than terminate the BBC broadcast!
Nuruddin Farah is one of this new generation of published authors. Novels like A Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements which earned him the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature award. Abdourahman A. Waberi's novel Le Pays Sans Ombre ("The Land Without Shadow") was released in 1994 and won the Grand Prize for new French speakers from the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature.
In 1997 supermodel Waris Dirie released her biography Desert flower. The book was printed in more than 50 licensed editions and made it to number 1 on multiple bestselling lists in many countries. In Germany “Desert flower” was in the top ten of the Spiegel bestselling list for 120 weeks.
- Ahmed, Ali Jimale, Daybreak is Near - the Politics of Emancipation in Somalia: Literature, Clans, and the Nation State, Lawrenceville, 1996.
- Andrzejewski, Bogumil M., Somali Poetry, Oxford 1969.
- Galaal, Muuse, I., Hikmad Soomaali, London 1956.
- Kabjits, Georgij L., Waxaa la yidhi, Köln 1996.
- Lawrence, Margaret, A Tree of Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose, Nairobi 1954.
Dirie, Shamsa, "Somali Legends"