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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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Starting with Hussein Aw Farah (1928–1998) and Abdullahi Suldaan “Timacadde” (1920–1973) who respectively in the 1960s represented the nation-state and its sovereignty through the she-camel, the she-camel’s name Maandeeq became the symbol of the Somali State. This symbol has become ‘common sense’, i.e., axiomatic among the Somalis through the medium of oral poetry, which effectively uses radio, a powerful cultural medium in the country. In the poetic debate of the Deelley, the first to introduce the she-camel as symbol and metaphor for the nation-state is Yusuf Adan Hussein (D7):

Poetry is a gift

In the nation it stands

For the She-Camel Maandeeq

Of whom it sings feelingly [D7:134–137]

Since the 1940s, Somali poets have introduced into their imagery the metaphorical she-camel. Yusuf Haji Adan, for example, was one of the first poets to introduce the metaphorical she-camel in a song authored by him in those years. The poet uses the imagery of the camel to denote the country or the nation, where the herdsman represents its people. The first four lines1 of this song manifest the frustration and powerlessness of Somalis in the face of the colonial power:

Haruub nin sitoo hashiisa irmaan

Ha maalin la leeyahaan ahay2 ← 175 | 176 →

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