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Somali literature refers to the literary corpus of the Somali people, literature which ranges from Islamic poetry and Hadith produced by Somali scholars and Sheikhs of centuries past to works of fiction from contemporary Somali writers.
The Islamic literature of Somalia dates back to the early 14th century with Uthman bin Ali 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 Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (1864-1921), the celebrated religious and nationalist leader, also left a considerable amount of manuscripts. One of the better known examples of Somali Islamic literature is Maja'mut al-Mubaraka, a work written by Shaykh Abdullah al-Qalanqooli and published in Cairo in 1918. Shaykh Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i also produced many Islamic-orientated manuscripts in the 19th century. In addition, poetry in the form of Qasidas was also popular among Somali Shaykhs, the latter of whom produced thousands of such works in praise of Prophet Muhammad.
|Dastgah · Ghazal · Madih
Due to the Somali people's passionate love for and facility with poetry, Somalia has also been called, by among others, the Canadian novelist and scholar Margaret Laurence, a "Nation of Poets" and a "Nation of Bards". The 19th century British explorer Richard Francis Burton, who visited the Somali Peninsula, similarly recounts in his book First Footsteps in East Africa how:
|“||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.||”|
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 Hassan's well-known poems is Gaala Leged ("Defeat of the Infidels"):
As the Somali Studies doyen Said Sheikh Samatar explains, a Somali poet is expected to play a role in supporting his 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 persuasive elements, and having an historical context.
The veteran British anthropologist and Horn of Africa specialist I.M. Lewis recounts how in the latter days of the rule of General Muhammad Siad Barre, the political opposition often relied on oral poetry, either recorded on cassette tapes or broadcast through 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!"
Somalis also have a rich oral tradition when it comes to ancient folktales, stories which were passed on from generation to generation. Tales such as Dhegdheer the cannibal woman were told to little children as a way to instill discipline in them since the dreaded Dhegdheer was said to pay a visit at night to all those who had been naughty. "Coldiid the wise warrior" is another popular Somali folktale with a positive message regarding a waranle (warrior) who avoids all forms of violence. For this abstinence, he is looked down upon by his peers. However, in the end, he manages to show that violence is no way to earn either respect or love. Caraweelo is a story usually 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 wherein two Somali immigrant children struggle to adapt to life in a new environment. They find themselves surrounded by friends that strike them as greedy, only to magically return to Ancient Somalia where they live out all of the popular Somali folktales for themselves. A Lion's tale has also recently been developed into a school play.
Somali scholars have for centuries produced many notable examples of Islamic literature ranging from poetry to Hadith. With the adoption in 1972 of the modified Latin script developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed as the nation's standard orthography, numerous contemporary Somali authors have also released novels, some of which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim. Of these modern writers, Nuruddin Farah is probably the most celebrated. Books such as From a Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements, works which have earned Farah, among other accolades, the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His most famous novel, Maps (1986), the first part of his Blood in the Sun trilogy, is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977, and employs the innovative technique of second-person narration for exploring questions of cultural identity in a post-independence world. Farah Mohamed Jama Awl is another prominent Somali writer who is perhaps best known for his Dervish era novel, Ignorance is the enemy of love.
Dirie, Shamsa, "Somali Legends"