Somali Oral Poetry is the first critical discourse analysis of the connection between oral poetry and politics in Somalia. The book brings out contradictions and conflicts between the ways of thinking of a society structured in clans and a rightful claim for nationhood and the state of law. In addition, it highlights the difficulty the society finds in renouncing clan mentality that requires loyalty to the clan rather than to the State.
The present volume illuminates, through the critical analysis of the Deelley poetry debate, the circumstances and issues that preceded the civil war in Somalia. Therefore, the book is of particular interest for its original explanation and understanding of the extraordinary subsequent failure of the State in Somalia.
Table Of Contents
- About the Author
- About the Book
- This eBook can be Cited
- Table of Contents
- Part one
- Chapter One: The Historical, Political and Social Context of Somali Oral Poetry
- Clan and political dynamics in a historical perspective
- The foundation of Somali pastoralist oral poetry
- The language of poetry: ideology and politics in language
- Hegemonic nomadic pastoralist poetry and the consequences of the politics of the language
- The contradiction between clan system culture and the discourse of national identity
- Tribalization and re-tribalization of the Somali politics. A colonial imprint?
- Clan ideology and its concept of state
- Military takeover of power and the subsequent policies of economic and social transformation
- The land question and the further marginalization of the agriculturalists
- Concomitant crises which have distraught the regime in Somalia
- Chapter Two: Poetry and Politics: The Immediate Content of the Deelley Poetry Debate
- Re-emergence of clan rivalries in Somali politics
- The call and the organization for the poetry debate
- The leading figures of the Deelley Poetry debate
- Chapter Three: The Choice of the Method
- Descriptive overview of the analysis of the Deelley Polytext
- Analytical strategies
- Part two
- Chapter Four: Analyses of Individual Poems
- Gaarriye, “No Refuge is offered by Tribalism”
- Hadraawi, “Unfulfilled”
- Idaajaa, “The Veils of Ignorance”
- Chapter Five: Metaphors
- Damal (The Damal-Tree Metaphor)
- AWR (The Male Camel Metaphor)
- Digo hoos ka nool (The Smouldering Dung Metaphor)
- Part three
- Chapter Six: Maandeeq: The She-Camel Nation-State
- Chapter Seven: Tribalism and the Tribal System
- The debate about tribalism and the tribal system
- Conclusive remarks on the debate on tribalism
- Chapter Eight: Summing Up
- The use of poetry as a medium of representation of the society
- Hegemony works from the start. The conceived society and the opacity of ideology
- The silence over agriculture and the absence of poets from the agriculturalist southern population
- The discourse of the Deelley
- The confirmation of ‘internal colonialism’ and the patrimonial concept of State in Somali culture
- Injustice as a fundamental question
- Freedom of expression and ideological censorship
- Language as the locus of ideology
- Ideologies in the discourse of Deelley
- The poets’ critique against the regime
Twice a migrant, having lived almost two decades in Italy before moving to Australia, Dr Ali Mumin Ahad has carried out a study of the root cause that has led to the dissolution of the nation state of his native Somalia extending over at least two decades. Somalia appeared to have advantages that few if any African states enjoyed at birth: a fairly uniform common language, religion and culture. These advantages, in the event, were nullified by the clan rivalry on which the society was structured. The nascent nation State was metaphorically conceived as a bountiful she-camel for whose bounties and, ultimately, for whose possession, powerful clans competed, ultimately resorting to armed force.
Before the armed showdown came to a head, and while Siyad Barre was still in control, the regime convened a debate among the nation’s cultural elite to discuss the key problems which it faced. This debate was conducted in traditional Somali style, that is, in the form of poetic orations by forty-nine participants (including one sole woman). The orations were intensely figurative and allusive in style and alliterative in diction: for this poetic debate the alliteration was based on the letter D, denominated deel in Somali. The debate was therefore collectively titled Deelley, and the alliteration in D was required three times in every single line of every single poem recited in the debate. The imagery of the bountiful she-camel and of the smouldering fire of tribal and clan rivalry pervaded the debate until the critique approached the centre of power itself, whereupon it was brought to a close.
Ali Mumin Ahad decodes the terms of the debate and presents it as a historic defining moment of Somali identity. Despite the efforts of many of the participants in the Deelley to persuade Somali society to transcend tribal and clan divisions, political fragmentation developed inexorably, leaving a failed Somali nation-state. Today, Somalia is struggling to be reborn with the challenge of building on the strengths of genealogical loyalties. A question which emerges from Dr Ahad’s critical analysis is whether these foundations contradict, or support, the collective national enterprise of state-building. Accordingly, this work helps us to focus our attention on the central issue of Somali nation-building.
Professor John Gatt-Rutter
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For more than two decades, Somalia has gone through harsh experiences such as the inconsistent occurrence of the civil war, the “tribal” conflict, the logic of the “warlords” and, lastly, the “ideological struggle” between secular and theocratic conception of the State. The latter two cases also come in the midst of “tribal” and clan loyalties which are hard to overcome. Altogether these experiences have negatively affected national cohesion and identity. They have made any attempt of reconstituting the State and reviving the rule of law, impractical. Not only, but over the last five years (2008–2013), according to the Fund for Peace, Somalia has been the prototype of the Failed State, ranking first in the Failed State Index. Though it may be controversial, the Failed State Index enumerates some fundamental dimensions for the rule of law. The deterioration of those dimensions is an indicator for the failure of the state. In other words, the concept of the failed state indicates the inability of a State, mostly in the third world and specifically in Africa, to enjoy self-government producing normal index values regarding issues like security, population pressure, social harmony and balanced development, provision of public services to its citizens, legitimacy of the State through democratic elections and the respect of democratic rules and universal values. All such indicators for Somalia have had negative performances throughout the last quarter century, for that reason, the Somali State can be rightly defined as a failed state. However, the Somali state breakdown was in progress for a long while. As a result, such negative performances for Somalia are extendable over all its postcolonial experience, from 1960 up to the collapse of the state institution in 1991. From that moment, taking into account the collapse of state institutions and the disintegration of the somali social fabric, a failed state is what remains of that political entity which was once considered the most “homogeneous” political formation in postcolonial Africa. Almost everyone who has written about Somalia before the collapse of the Somali state institution has always insisted on its homogeneous characteristics as a pastoralist society.
The idea of a nation-state identified with pastoralism alone may reject or hide other equally important cultural attributes of the Somali society. It is noteworthy how this homogeneity conceals a noxious social fragmentation within the tribal system. In fact, the tribal system (and its philosophy) offers to anyone who—from inside or outside—has an interest in dismantling the Somali State, the ability to do this without much effort. External factors (or ← 11 | 12 → externally induced fatal events) have certainly played a role in weakening the State in Somalia. The policy of blocs and its effects in the Horn of Africa, the war between neighbours and its consequences, the crisis of the world economy and finance, all of this may be regarded, in different degrees, as a cause of that weakening. Aside from all the external factors that have undermined the finance, the military capability and the diplomatic relations of the Somali state, one internal factor that has caused that failure is the concept of State itself as it has been conceived in Somali culture and as it can be read from the Deelley poetry debate, Somalia’s most important political debate, which took place in 1979–1980, a decade before the total collapse of the State. The Somali poets who participated the event freely express their feelings in their poems, although the government organized the poetry debate. The author of this book aims to explore the Deelley1 polytext (a cultural product capable of explaining the society) making a broad use of some aspects of the methodology of Critical Discourse Analysis, in the specific, of Norman Fairclough’s approach. The polytext in Somali, indeed, requires a cultural competence resource to interpret and decode its meaning and ideological content. Within the Deelley Polytext, the poets, even those who are not immune to a primordial affection to the tribal system, express shared feelings in support and promotion of the national idea, and condemn the tribal system and tribalism. This happens for two reasons. First, the national idea, despite its implications and effects on tribalism, is widespread and hegemonic. Second, a regime that defines itself as nationalist is in power. Thus, to express an idea against the regime’s declared principle is a challenge with predictable consequences. What the regime asks of the poets is that they be the authoritative voice that speaks out to convince the people to embrace its idea of nation. As this shows the involvement of the poets in a national debate, both the regime and the population hold their role still in the utmost consideration. If once the poets were the voice of their clan, now they are the voice for a national society where they now fulfil a reference role. Their call to national unity is, to some extent, an index of the crisis of the nationalist idea, which is weakening with respect to the more traditional tribalism (ideology and tribal values).
The main interest of the Deelley poetry debate is the fact that it allows us to examine and understand some important questions relating to Somalia’s ← 12 | 13 → recent past and present. By using the methodology of critical discourse analysis, the author examines a Somali cultural product: oral poetry discourse, in relation to fundamental questions such as the national identity, the tribal system, hegemony and the concept of State predominant in the Somali culture. A critical perspective on the idea of homogeneity, which makes Somalia a pastoralist society by definition, is indispensable in order to achieve democratic participation and empowerment of whole segments of Somali society so far excluded. It is the intention of the author to examine the poems in the Deelley Polytext aiming to locate the ideology in the language, to identify and to understand concepts the poets express with veiled words and metaphors in order to unfold its discursive formation. Therefore, the reason for choosing the Deelley poetry debate as the focus of this study is to try to understand through the analysis of this discursive event whether or not in 1979–80 the Somali poets were aware of what would come to happen ten years later: the collapse of the state and the civil war.
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1A. Puglielli ed., Diiwaanka Maansadii Deelley (1979–1980). Ururin iyo Faallo. Tenzone poetica in lingua somala a cura di Ahmed Farax Cali “Idaajaa”—IbraahimCawad “Khooli”, L’Harmattan Italia, Rome, 2001.
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Scholars and political analysts have attempted to understand the reason, or reasons, for the disintegration of what once was indicated as the most homogeneous political entity in the whole of Africa. As Mark Bradbury remarks, the historical origins of the present civil war lie in the defeat of the Somali army in the Ogaden war of 1977 and, with it, the end of pan-Somali unity. “As the Somali war has become more protracted, that sense of unity has dissipated further and Somalia has become more fractured probably than at any other time in its history”.1 In the 1977 war after Somalia’s stunning initial success against Ethiopia, the Cuban and the Soviet Union’s intervention on the side of Ethiopia had severely damaged both Somalia’s military capability and its social cohesion. Among the severe consequences of the war in Ogaden, the 1978 military rebellion against the regime deserves to be mentioned, as well as the exasperated response of the latter against its antagonists. Both of these actions can be seen as part of the process that paves the way to the civil war and to the collapse of the state. The negative effects produced by the concomitance of the state institution’s collapse and civil war are clearly deleterious to the younger generation of Somalis who were not acquainted with the corrosive effects of the clan system on national identity. In particular, the civil war produced a large Somali Diaspora throughout the world and, by consequence, an almost total brain-drain that affected the ability for a clear understanding of the Somali circumstances. As Tobias Hagmann points out, “The war prevented, or rather delayed, the emergence of a young generation of Somali scholars who could have produced an alternative interpretation of Somali state and nation.”2 In other words, that breakdown dimmed the capacity to undertake scholarly research in history, culture, politics and governance for genuine outcomes that might contain the magnitude of the crisis and thus contribute to finding the just and lasting solutions to Somalia’s fundamental issues. To this day, genuine research in those directions is more than ever indispensable. Failing that, the disappearance of the ← 17 | 18 → Somali nation-state is a persistent possibility. The authors’ thesis contends that a still unexplored dimension, which is important to comprehending both the collapse of the state and the disintegration of the Somali social fabric, is the understanding of the cultural features of Somali social life in a historical relation to its political dynamics.
The Somali pre-colonial political system was a classic stateless system where the segmentary kinship system defined and maintained the social order through its own ‘political dynamics’.3 The term ‘political dynamics’ refers to the modalities of interaction of the several clans that constitute the society. And also, to their previous relationships with the colonial administrations; to the process of formation of the new national elite; to the transfer of power from the A.F.I.S. (Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia—Italian Trusteeship Administration of Somalia) to the political elite of the SYL (Somali Youth League) and the many other political parties that populated the scenario of post-colonial Somalia. The life and composition of a Somali political party being inseparable from the tribal clan system, the political party system in 1969 has to be seen in that light. However, analysis of the cultural dimension of Somali social life must focus on the factors underlying the disintegration of the Somali nation state. To be sufficiently capable of explaining the regression of the Somali nation, such an analysis must start from the moment of Somali national identity formation, and include the entire phase of its postcolonial development up to the moment of collapse4 and dissolution of state institutions in 1991. One of the foremost elements involved is the political image of the emergent Somali nation presented by non-Somali scholars in colonial times. The collapse of the nation-state institutions resulted from certain features of Somali lineage segmentation5 that the non-Somali scholars presented as the main characteristic of political expression in Somalia. The political use by them of concepts like ‘pastoral democracy’ which characterized the image of Somalia as a whole, enforced ← 18 | 19 → the image of an ethnically homogeneous nation also. Even after the fall of the regime, an important Somali scholar continued to present that image of the country. As Said Samatar puts it, “Somalia is essentially a homogeneous nation of constituent, segmented clans” and “in essence a pastoral republic”.6 This actually draws a veil over its social and cultural variety and leaves in the shadow the other component, which is equally an essential component. Julia Maxted critically points out that “The picture of Somali society as a homogeneous population of cattle and camel herders is historically inaccurate because it excludes significant numbers of farmers who have lived for centuries in Southern Somalia.”7 However, in a previous work by David Laitin and S. Samatar, the authors also realized that the emphasis on pastoralism in Somali life and lore should not lead us to underestimate the influence of other elements on Somali society, which is the culture of the southern Somalia’s agriculturalists.8 The two scholars are not the only ones who underline the pastoralist character of Somali society, as many do, but surely they are the first who recognize the cultural relevance of the southern agriculturalist society.
To elucidate why this emphasis on pastoralism and understand whence it arose, it is interesting to look back at the beginning of Somali studies by competent non-Somali scholars. B. W. Andrzejewski and I. M. Lewis’s Somali Poetry. An Introduction is the work which many like to consider foundational.9 It is important to reconsider that point of view and put up a different insight. This means placing at the origin Margaret Laurence’s A Tree for Poverty and exploring how the book had a bigger influence than any other in shaping the pattern not only for Somali poetry, but also for the wider perspective of Somali studies. Two remarkable facts about Margaret Laurence’s A Tree for Poverty are worthy of note. The first one is that Margaret Laur ← 19 | 20 → ence’s work precedes the publication Somali Poetry. An Introduction by B. W. Andrzejewski and I. M. Lewis as well as every other work upon Somali literature and poetry. In other words, the book by Margaret Laurence exercises its influence upon the authors of Somali Poetry. As the author herself asserts in the Preface to the second edition of 1970 “many of the translations, incidentally, have been done by Dr. B.W. Andrzejewski of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, who as a young linguist beginning his studies in Somali [was] one of my collaborators…”10 The second and no-less important and interesting fact is how some particular readers of A Tree for Poverty became influential in Somali studies. “The book, first published in 1954 by the government of what was then the Somaliland Protectorate, in pre-independence days, has been out of print … the last copies, I learned several years ago”, the author assures us, “were bought by the Peace Corps for distribution among young volunteers going to the Somali Republic.”11 Therefore, Margaret Laurence’s book constituted without doubt the primer and basic instrument that provided cultural information to the young American volunteers of the Peace Corps, some of whom, many years after their field experience in Somalia, were to form the new generation of non-Somali scholars: that is, the second generation of non-Somali scholars, the first being that of the colonial period up to Lewis and Andrzejewski. Lee Cassanelli, David Laitin, John W. Johnson, all influential scholars in Somali studies today, are among those who had their field experience as Peace Corps volunteers in Somalia in the 60s and early 70s. In those years, a contingent of American Peace Corps was operating in most regions of Somalia. The Peace Corps have taught in public schools in Somalia bringing an important contribution as educating an entire generation of Somali students, who undoubtedly, have adopted not only their idea of Somalia, as depicted in A Tree for Poverty, the book by Margaret Laurence, but who, consequently, have handed down that same idea to subsequent generation. Soon, trough the school on the one hand, and the radio on the other hand, the whole society will act in accordance with that idea of a Somalia almost entirely inhabited by nomadic pastoralists. The former Peace Corps volunteers, involuntarily perhaps, inherited a perspective through which they attribute in their respective field studies so much relevance to the prime cultural information supplied in A ← 20 | 21 → Tree for Poverty and its successor Somali Poetry. An Introduction by B.W. Andrzejewski and I. M. Lewis, two books that are both source and foundation for the study of Somali poetry. These refer to a particular Somali population mainly devoted to nomadic pastoralist activity whose lifestyle the non-Somali scholars generalize to the extent that they consider it representative of the whole of Somalia. Nomadic pastoralism is very important in Somalia and for the Somali lifestyle, but it is not the only or the overwhelming activity practised by Somalis.
However, in the wake of the publication of these pioneering works on Somali poetry by Margaret Laurence (1954), and by B. W. Andrzejewski and I. M. Lewis (1964), almost all writings about Somalia and its literature fall into a misleading conclusion that depicts an image of Somalia as a predominantly pastoral nomadic society. This is because no one notices the references Margaret Laurence makes to some “legendary founders of the Somali race”12 or pays attention and serious consideration to what the two non-Somali scholars and co-authors of Somali Poetry. An Introduction have to say about their exclusive reference to the Northern Somalia whose economy consists predominantly of animal husbandry and pastoralism.13 Furthermore, the anthropological fieldwork and publication by I. M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy (1961)14 further develops the knowledge about the social and cultural characteristics of northern Somali nomadic pastoralists, thus giving more substance to the possibility of a generalization of the pastoral way of life. Lee Cassanelli in his The Shaping of Somali Society (1982), reconstructs, as the short title of the book suggests, the history of a pastoral people over a period of three centuries, making extensive use of oral traditions, both new15 and remote. Rather, the traditions, in the Somali case, are group traditions,16 including religious traditions, which the author of the book that ‘shapes Somali society’ more than any one before considers as providing ← 21 | 22 → “valuable insights into local perceptions of religion and society.”17 However, this historical contribution of the American author almost re-affirms the main points of previous Italian scholars like Enrico Cerulli. Consequently, ever since the earlier publications by non-Somali scholars, a generalization concerning the life and culture of the whole of Somalia became the holding pattern for Somali studies. As Hussein M. Adam observes with remarkable critical insight, “Stereotypical images about the Somalis have led scholars to ignore key differences among them.”18 It is this perception of most of the scholars who explain Somalis and who externally exhibit Somali life and culture that creates the image of an all pastoral society. As Ali Moussa Iye perspicaciously remarks, “Oral literature often attracts anthropologists, linguists and historians willing to capture the ‘essence’ of Somali culture, in line with the primordialist approach inherited from colonial ethnology.”19 The pastoral life and nomadic environment becomes “the stereotypical imagery” which the poets draw upon. In the following decades, indeed, Somali scholars with nomadic pastoral background contribute to the consolidation of this perspective, which conceals or diminishes the ground of every other social reality.
Somali political leaders further actualize the successful representation of an already quasi-homogeneous nation characterizing it only as pastoralism. This simplification of the cultural variety of both Somali culture and population is mostly due to scholars in colonial times. The new generation of non-Somali scholars, who predominantly are the former Peace Corps volunteers, follow the pattern traced by those preceding scholars. David Laitin, in his book of 1977, asserts, “The basic and most noble Somali calling is camel herding, and the most significant sign of wealth consists in the number of camels a Somali owns.”20 That is not surprising because the nomadic pastoralist way of life has already become fashionable as the pattern of Somali literature, and camel praise and camel related poetry are its means of expres ← 22 | 23 → sion. For nomadic pastoralists, the camel represents the highest value. According to Said S. Samatar, “The love of and preoccupation with camels is not only the result of their great economic importance, but also of their links with social relationships. A man’s station in society is measured by the size of his herd; he pays in camels for a wife or wives; physical damages and homicides as well as redress for slander are calculated on a standard of measurement based on camels.”21 In other words, life and deeds are all in relation to the camel or to a value system within which the camel represents the unit of measurement. This important unit, therefore, is highly praised in nomadic pastoralist society. As Lewis maintains, “As well as being praised in serious poetry (gabay and geeraar) camels are sung to all the time; by the camel-boys at night in the camps, in caravans on the way to buy or sell provisions or to bring water, at the watering of the herds at the wells, and on the long marches to them.”22 Modern broadcasting, mainly by radio, at the first stage of the ‘modernization’ of Somali society, transforms the poetry of the camel and of the nomadic landscape into a product capable of being enjoyed also by town dwellers as well as agriculturalists. A Somali oral poetry whose main concern is nomadic pastoral culture becomes, through a confirmation of nomadic pastoral tenets and linguistic pattern, a conclusive factor in developing social differences between pastoralist and non-pastoralist Somalia.
One of the most important elements that make the Somali nation is the common language. According to D. Laitin, in terms of language an overwhelming majority of the people can understand the Somali language. At the same time, and this has a cultural relevance, dialect variations exist between different parts of the country. Accordingly, “Dialect differences do inhibit communication, as the language in the north is different from the language on the Indian Ocean coast and still different from the language of the Sab clans.”23 According to Julia Maxted, who remarks on the differentiating language policy of the Somali authority, “Southern agropastoralists and agriculturalists speak a distinct dialect of Somali, Af-maay-maay, whose inferior status was indicated in the 1970s when northern [and central] Somali, Af- ← 23 | 24 → maxaa-tiri, was given an official script and became the official language.”24 “Many northern Somalis cannot understand the language of these southern clans, often referred to as af-Rahanwiin, and it has been considered as different from the northern Somali as Italian is from Latin.”25 Moreover, these differences become significant in the case of the Benadir coastal towns Merca and Brava where people speak a dialect of Swahili, called Ci-Miini, “which bears no resemblance to Somali” although the same people understand and speak Rahanwiin language better than “the northern dialect of Radio Mogadishu”26. Certainly, in Somalia “there are important economic, cultural and linguistic differences between the southern population and the predominantly nomadic people of the north.”27
Language and “literature”, particularly the oral poetry of the pastoralists, are locations within which both clan ideology and the discourse and concept of nation mature. The oral poetry of the pastoral nomad represents the idea of nation through the cultural signifiers of pastoralists: that is, the representation of the nation-state coincides with the emblems of pastoralist property, the camel in particular. In recent times, a non-Somali scholar still has to put that representation into words in such a way that one could think about Somalia as overwhelmingly a nation of nomad pastoralists. The traditional Somali way of life, in this view, is a pastoral one. Even today, Tiiariita Hjort maintains, more than half of the Somalis base their living on livestock raising. People are on the move looking for water and pastures with their herds.28 This cliché is possible because of the lack of southern agriculturalist and non-nomadic representative-informants to non-Somali scholars who laid down the pattern for Somali oral poetry and literature. John William Johnson mentions this limitation pointing out “The lack of information on the influence that southern Somalia had on the development of modern poetry presents [yet another] limitation.”29 According to Ali Jumale Ahmed, “The assumption that there is no poetry in these areas or that one form of poetry called Gabay is more prominent than others simply because the cultural in ← 24 | 25 → tellectual could not speak the languages spoken in the different regions is, to say the least, spurious by nature.”30
The representation of the idea of nation through concepts and figures that belong to the imagery of the nomadic pastoralists, who are regarded as constituting the most important group, discursively conveys the ideology of the clan system. In other words, as Nigel Harris puts it, “the most important social group provides the stable foci around which ideology is formulated.”31 Somali individuals who in the meanwhile make their appearance as scholars could elucidate this important unbalanced representation of the social reality and the bias towards a particular, however important, social sector. Nevertheless, they follow the ‘ideological’ representation of a ruling elite not yet completely prepared to grant cultural diversity and space for recognizable differences and social groups, which are components of the social space. Said Samatar elegantly manages to get out of this nasty situation: “The Somalis think of their verse as more than just an artistic enterprise whose sole aim is to enlarge the imagination and to inspire men towards the lyrical and the beautiful. When they talk of poetry, Somalis have in mind something which embodies the totality of their culture and to which they attach the highest measure of importance.”32 To such an extent that the evident material poverty of the country one imagines, could be balanced by a supposed cultural prosperity of the population. Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, prime minister and then president of Somalia, expressed feelingly this concept at the beginning of the postcolonial era. He said, “These limitations on our material well-being [unproductiveness of the soil, lack of mineral wealth] were accepted and compensated for by our forefathers from whom we inherited, among other things, a spiritual and cultural prosperity of inestimable value: the teaching of Islam on the one hand and lyric poetry on the other…”33. This first remark on Somali poetry and culture made by an eminent figure left a strong trace in mostly non-Somali scholars who described Somalis as ‘a nation of bards’. ← 25 | 26 →
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- 2015 (May)
- Tribalism Postcolonial Deelley Maandeeq
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 306 pp.