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Somali Oral Poetry and the Failed She-Camel Nation State

A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Deelley Poetry Debate (1979–1980)


Ali Mumin Ahad

Somali Oral Poetry and the Failed She-Camel Nation State: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Deelley Poetry Debate (1979–1980) examines the most expressive medium in Somali culture and politics, that is, oral poetry, in its ideological and discursive dimension. Oral poetry has a formidable impact on Somali society and its internal dynamics.
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.
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The politicization of clan belonging is contemporary with hegemonic articulation of identity in favour of the pastoral component of the population over the agricultural one. This may happen because and as a result of the hegemony exercised by the second component of the Sab/Sumaal dual partition, that is, the pastoralist Sumaal who generally occupies the northern part of the peninsula, while the bulk of the agriculturalist population resides in its southern part. According to Mukhtar and Lewis, in fact, the non-pastoralist population of Somalia, despite its national economic importance as grain producers, and with its substantial size, has remained since colonial times largely marginal to the traditionally pastoralist sector of the Somali society which has sought to dominate it.1 However, from a nationalist perspective, there is a new myth of genealogy that tends to fabricate a common ancestry of the Somali population.2 The articulation of this myth (myth in the sense of “a distorted representation of reality”3) is done by replacing the term Sumaal that derives, as has been seen, from the Arabic, with the more common term Samaale that in Somali language indicates a well-doer. This hegemonic articulation of the identity goes back to the 1960s, as it is traceable in an article by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal4 who tends to involve the other component in a shared common identity, resulting in one of the components losing its original one. This articulation is still ongoing in recent times...

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