A country shaped by poetry

A country shaped by poetry

Nina Strochlic writes:

It was a dark February evening when a young Somali math professor posted a poem on his Facebook page. In keeping with the tradition of his ancestors, who maintained an oral culture until only recently, he spoke it aloud in a rhythmic cadence:

When I realized
there is neither
wells dug for you,
nor rescuers on the way
and the leaders elected to serve the nation have corrupted the resources;

Then he uploaded the recording to his profile.

In Somaliland, poems were often recited to pass the time by men leading camel trains and by women weaving mats to cover their domed huts. Like the lives of the nomadic people who spoke them, the poems were cyclical. When their speakers moved, they brought their animals and their poetry. At each stop along this annual migration, the women would reuse the verses as they built their thatched homes and the men would recite them as they moved their herds to water.

But poems also served a utilitarian, public purpose: they could be deployed to argue a court case or to make peace between warring families. And their lines were powerful in ways few other nations could understand. In Somaliland, an autonomous region perched at the northern tip of Somalia, poetry had sparked wars, toppled governments, and offered paths to peace. [Continue reading…]

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