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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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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...

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