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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 use of poetry as a medium of representation of the society

The poets are the creators of cultural symbols and the “inventors of traditions”. In the Deelley, more than creating symbols or inventing traditions, the poets are confirming a pre-existing literary canon, the symbols and metaphors of which they use and by doing so they strengthen the tradition. Their vision of society, however, remains anchored in the tradition, but they are also driven by the same force and tension that impel the regime to transform its social fabric and structure. However, as they are part of the society to whose cultural forms they contribute, they are also constrained to reflect its ideological dimension. As we have seen, Somali oral poetry functions as a medium of representation of the society. So too in Deelley, it fulfils this instrumental function. In the Deelley, poetry is, on the one hand, the tool to shape the kind of society one wishes for and, on the other, to criticize its governance by a regime. In both cases, almost all the poets use poetry by following a pre-established poetical canon, which stems from the tradition of oral poetry of the Somali pastoralists. The vocabulary they use, in fact, reaffirms the centrality of the nomadic pastoralist society in Somali culture and politics too.

Hegemony works from the start. The conceived society and the opacity of ideology

The poetic genre chosen for the...

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