February 27, 2015

By Hassan M. Abukar

The passing of Professor Said Samatar, 71, was sad and sudden.

I never met the good professor in person, but we had exchanged several emails. I was very familiar with his research and books. In fact, his book, Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: The Case of Sayid Mahammad Abdille Hassan (Cambridge, 1982), is perhaps one of the best books ever written on the role of poetry as a tool to gain and maintain political power in the Somali society.

Said S Samatar
Said S Samatar

Samatar’s writing, sometimes hilarious, mostly insightful, made the reader ponder and laugh heartily. He also had a whiff of disdain in his interviews and writings for past and present Somali governments.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about a conflict between former President Siad Barre and Samatar in the 1980s. I wanted to get Samatar’s take on the story so I sent him a draft of my piece. To my amazement, the professor had another idea. As an editor of the journal Horn of Africa, he asked me if I could perhaps publish the article there. I was stunned. I’d written the article for a general audience and wanted it that way. It was flattering, however, that the good professor liked the article to the extent he wanted to publish it academically.

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


Halyeeyo la Hilmaamay iyo Sooyaal Xanuun Badan

Haddii aanan soo noqon
Calankeyga nuurow
Allahayaw ku nabad geli

Cabdullaahi Cabdulle Dhoore, a Somali veteran (1977-78 war) was captured by the Ethiopians in 1978 after his platoon was pinned down. Shot nine-times and almost bleeding out, he was transferred to the notorious Harar prison – a prison infamously known as the “prison of no return”. Sharing prison cells with hundreds of Somali POWS, he describes the ordeal that he underwent.

Tortured daily, he recounted in horror of the events that he had to endure to stay alive. At times contemplating escape or death, he smilingly spoke of the patriotic attitude, the collective identity, the Soomaalinimo that his troops; his compatriots; his brothers in arms displayed that kept him motivated. Displaying immovable teamwork, they used to coordinate hunger-strike, sneaking out letters, cry out at the inhumane treatment of their captors (e.g. Red Cross provided them with basic necessities, the minute they left, it was automatically taken away).

At times, succumbing to his tears, he narrated the number of Somalis – whom he shared a cell with – that perished at the hands of the Ethiopians. “Two died on my own lap”, he mournfully recounts (tearfully breaking down):

“One — almost breathing his last breath — kept repeating the famous patriotic chorus:
Haddii aanan soo noqon
Calankeyga nuurow
Allahayaw ku nabad geli
If I don’t return oh my flag
My luminous flag
May Allaah safeguard you

The other one’s dying words were: Ummadda Soomaaliyeed, salaan iga gaarsi (To the Somali community, convey my greetings).”

He was imprisoned for a full 10 years, only to be released in 1988 on the onset of the Somali civil war. Though the released prisoners received a hero welcome, they unfortunately did not get their rightfully deserved rights that they were promised. Instead he had to fight for it only to saw the Somali nation that he fervently fought for – and be imprisoned for — disintegrate before his eyes in 1991.

Cabdullaahi and countless Somali veterans have been forgotten. Whilst other nations force-feed us who-died-who in the World Wars; we ignorantly neglect our forgotten heroes and do not give them the dues that they rightfully deserve. Whilst we are engaged in petty clanism that has ruptured our homogenous society, we fail to honour those that symbolise our unity and the history that binds us.

May Allaah have mercy on our forgotten heroes.

His interview will be part of the upcoming Somali documentary, Kacaan: The Untold Stories.


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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Uncategorized


Waan Yaabbanee!

Suugaantii Tarabi:

Sida yool hayaan
Yam yidhoo abaar
Looga dhigay yagleel
Yufle oo qabow
Dhaxan yalax leh baan
Ku yaboohiyaa
Sida yala tukaan
Hadba kayn yuka ah
Waan yaabbanee
Siduu iigu yimi
Yax ma idhi jacayl
Yarow aragtidaa!

Sida geel yukamay
Yibladoo harraad
La yahoomayoo
Ceelkuna yalool
Yahay biyo yaraad
Sida yala tukaan
Hadba kayn yuka ah
Waan yaabbanee
Siduu iigu yimi
Yax ma idhi jacyal
Yarow aragtidaa!

Yeey iyo yaxaas
Wada yeedhayaan
Ka dhex yuubanoo
Cirkoo yagal ka kacay
Daruur yugataybaan
Debed yuururaa
Sida yala tukaan
Hadba kayn yuka ah
Waan yaabbanee
Siduu iigu yimi
Yax ma idhi jacayl
Yarow aragtidaa!

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


Anigu ma ahi Charlie Hebdo

Anigu Charlie Hebdo ma ahi. Anigu ma raacsani xorriyatulqawl keenaya in diimaha guud ahaan afdheer oo minshaar ah lala galo. Aniga la iguma khasbi karo in aan la jiro cid Nebigayga aan jecelahay shactaro iyo aflagaado rakhiis ah kala xishoon weyday. Anigu ma taageersani, xaqna la iiguma laha in aan taageero, caddaalad ka aamusaysa bulsho dhan oo la halaagay laakiin u kacaysa 12 waxshi oo khalkhal geliyay wada noolaanshaha ummadaha dunida. Anigu kuma qanacsani doodda odhanaysa Yurub Islaam kuma noolaan karo. Anigu waxa aan qabaa in Islaamku yahay xaqiiqo jirta jirina doonta oo ay tahay in ay reer Yurub shifo ku afsaaraan. Anigu waxa aan aaminsanahay in Islaamku yahay diin nabadgelyo, barwaaqo iyo wada nolaansho. Anigu ma aaminsani warbaahinta reer galbeedka ee indhosarcaadka iyo khiyaamada miidhan ah. Anigu cidna falka ay samayso cid kale wejiga uguma dhabooqo. Aniga qur’aankaygu waxa uu leeyahay “nafna naf kale denbigeeda looma xanbaariyo”. Anigu odhan maayo falka uu masiixi ka sameeyo dunida dacalladeeda waxa masuul ka ah diinta masiixiyadda. Anigu ma aaminsani felsefadda sheydaanka ee ah: nala jir ama naga jir. Anigu waxa aan ramaysan ahay duni kala duwanaanshuhu qurxiyo ee aanu qobqobin.

Sidoo kale anigu uma sacab tumayo falal aan laga fiirsan dhibaatada ay keeni karaan. Anigu ma raacsani dad iska tukaamaysanaya in birta laga aslo. Anigu ma oggoli in cidna lagu xadgudbo diintii ay doonto ha haysatee. Anigu waan u qirayaa xaqa ay reer Yurub ku leeyihiin muslimiinta dhex deggan. Anigu Yurub waxa aan uga mahadcelinayaa wanaagga ay u gashay muslin kasta oo dalkiisa ka qaxay. Anigu waxa aan ahay muslin aaminsan: cidda aan dadka u mahad celin Ilaah na uma mahad naqdo.

Innagu waxa aynnu nahay muslimiin. Innagu ma nihin Charlie Hebdo.

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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Uncategorized



In which something old and powerful is encountered in a vault

FINGERS stroke vellum; the calfskin pages are smooth, like paper, but richer, almost oily. The black print is crisp, and every Latin sentence starts with a lush red letter. One of the book’s early owners has drawn a hand and index finger which points, like an arrow, to passages worth remembering.

In 44BC Cicero, the Roman Republic’s great orator, wrote a book for his son Marcus called de Officiis (“On Duties”). It told him how to live a moral life, how to balance virtue with self-interest, how to have an impact. Not all his words were new. De Officiis draws on the views of various Greek philosophers whose works Cicero could consult in his library, most of which have since been lost. Cicero’s, though, remain. De Officiis was read and studied throughout the rise of the Roman Empire and survived the subsequent fall. It shaped the thought of Renaissance thinkers like Erasmus; centuries later still it inspired Voltaire. “No one will ever write anything more wise,” he said.

The book’s words have not changed; their vessel, though, has gone through relentless reincarnation and metamorphosis. Cicero probably dictated de Officiisto his freed slave, Tiro, who copied it down on a papyrus scroll from which other copies were made in turn. Within a few centuries some versions were transferred from scrolls into bound books, or codices. A thousand years later monks meticulously made copies by hand, averaging only a few pages a day. Then, in the 15th century, de Officiis was copied by a machine. The lush edition in your correspondent’s hands—delightfully, and surprisingly, no gloves are needed to handle it—is one of the very first such copies. It was printed in Mainz, Germany, on a printing press owned by Johann Fust, an early partner of Johannes Gutenberg, the pioneer of European printing. It is dated 1466.

Some 500 years after it was printed, this beautiful volume sits in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, its home since 1916. Few physical volumes survive five centuries. This one should last several more. The vault that holds it and tens of thousands of other volumes, built in 1951, was originally meant to double as a nuclear-bomb shelter.

Although this copy of de Officiis may be sequestered, the book itself is freer than ever. In its printed forms it has been a hardback and, more recently, a paperback, published in all sorts of editions—as a one off, a component of uniform library editions, a classic pitched at an affordable price, a scholarly, annotated text that only universities buy. And now it is available in all sorts of non-printed forms, too. You can read it free online or download it as an e-book in English, Latin and any number of other tongues.

Many are worried about what such technology means for books, with big bookshops closing, new devices spreading, novice authors flooding the market and an online behemoth known as Amazon growing ever more powerful. Their anxieties cannot simply be written off as predictable technophobia. The digital transition may well change the way books are written, sold and read more than any development in their history, and that will not be to everyone’s advantage. Veterans and revolutionaries alike may go bust; Gutenberg died almost penniless, having lost control of his press to Fust and other creditors.

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.

Books like de Officiis have not merely weathered history; they have helped shape it. The ability they offer to preserve, transmit and develop ideas was taken to another level by Gutenberg and his colleagues. Being able to study printed material at the same time as others studied it and to exchange ideas about it sparked the Reformation; it was central to the Enlightenment and the rise of science. No army has accomplished more than printed textbooks have; no prince or priest has mattered as much as “On the Origin of Species”; no coercion has changed the hearts and minds of men and women as much as the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays.

Books read in electronic form will boast the same power and some new ones to boot. The printed book is an excellent means of channelling information from writer to reader; the e-book can send information back as well. Teachers will be able to learn of a pupil’s progress and questions; publishers will be able to see which books are gulped down, which sipped slowly. Already readers can see what other readers have thought worthy of note, and seek out like-minded people for further discussion of what they have read. The private joys of the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.

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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Qurxi Dunida … Ama Iskaga Tag!

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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


Nuruddin Farah’s ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’

By LAILA LALAMI  For NYTIMES     NOV. 21, 2014

“Hiding in Plain Sight” begins with a threat. One evening in Mogadishu, Aar, a logistics officer for the United Nations, receives a letter in the mail. It consists of a single, misspelled word, but it’s terrifying all the same: deth! Aar wants to return to his home in Nairobi on the first flight out, but at the last minute, he decides to stop by the office to pick up photos of his children. As he steps out with the pictures in hand, Shabab militants strike the building.

A terrorist attack is a difficult place to start a novel. The writer must compete with a flood of words and images, most of them clichés. But the Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah is used to the challenges of turning fact into fiction. Over the last four decades, he has written about the homeland from which he was exiled, chronicling its contemporary history and struggles.

In his first novel, “From a Crooked Rib,” he wrote about a nomad girl who flees her family’s camp after they attempt to arrange a marriage for her with an older man. That book was followed by a trilogy, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, which explored the parallels between colonialism, patriarchy and dictatorship in Somalia, then still under Mohammed Siad Barre’s rule. Another trilogy, Blood in the Sun, examined the effect of internecine conflict, foreign aid and sexual violence on ordinary families. Though different in style from the Moroccan Tahar Ben Jelloun or the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, his work shares with them a preoccupation with capturing snapshots of a country in rapid transition.

“Hiding in Plain Sight” may begin with a terrorist attack, similar to the one that shook the United Nations compound in Somalia last year, but this is not a novel about violence. It is, instead, a novel about grief and love. The news of Aar’s death in Mogadishu reaches his half sister, Bella, in Rome, where she works as a photographer. Until now, Bella’s life has been free of responsibilities. Her parents are dead, and she has no children. She keeps lovers in three different countries — a model from Kenya, a sculptor from Brazil and a philosopher from Mali — but she is not attached to any of them. And her work takes her to exotic destinations around the world. But now, with Aar’s sudden death, she travels to Nairobi to take care of his teenage children, Dahaba and Salif.

Bella’s maternal instincts toward the children are strong and immediate; she wants to raise them and is prepared to leave behind her successful career and her wandering life. There are custody issues to sort out, however. The children’s mother, Valerie, who abandoned them a decade earlier, has suddenly returned and wants them back. To complicate matters, Valerie’s lover, Padmini, would like to raise the children in England and is currently mired in a dispute over property that her family owned in Uganda before Idi Amin’s expulsion of the Indian community.

Much of “Hiding in Plain Sight” is devoted to the conflict between Bella and Valerie over Aar’s children and his estate. One would think that starting life in a new city, taking responsibility for two teenagers and handling the complications of a disputed will would be enough to overwhelm anyone. But Bella remains steadfast. She receives legal help from Aar’s lawyer and emotional support from his friends. In addition, she seems to have a sizable fortune, which enables her to pay off people’s debts or get them out of sticky situations with the police. As a character, Bella makes the right choices at every juncture, but her strength proves to be one of the novel’s weaknesses. Her self-possession makes it impossible to care for her.

Though the story is told in the third person, usually from Bella’s perspective, it occasionally suffers from abrupt and ultimately jarring leaps into Valerie’s or Padmini’s point of view. There are also moments when the descriptions feel so distant or improbable that they break the illusion that the reader is in Bella’s mind: “She is a dark-eyed beauty with a prominent nose, heavier in the chest than she likes because of the attention it draws from men, even though she is overjoyed that she boasts the slimmest of waists for a woman her age and an African’s high buttocks. Drop-dead gorgeous, she also strikes most people as charming, well- read and intelligent.”

The rewards of reading “Hiding in Plain Sight” lie in Farah’s sensitive exploration of grief and his depiction of a family’s love for one another. The shock of Aar’s death takes a long time to unfold, and Bella’s feelings of anguish come to her unexpectedly. Farah is particularly adept at evoking the way in which the sight of a familiar face or place can trigger painful memories and how comfort can come to us from unexpected sources, just as Bella finds consolation in her love for Aar’s children.

There are moments when Bella lapses into generalizations about fellow Somalis, but shirks in horror when similar generalizations are made by foreigners. That dual feeling — pride in one’s country mixed with shame at its failures — is familiar to the immigrant, the refugee and the exile. It permeates this novel, which is also, in the end, a novel about displacement. Nearly all the characters have been forced to give up their homelands and live in countries that afford them physical safety and civil rights. What is hiding in plain sight, we come to learn, is their true selves.


By Nuruddin Farah

339 pp. Riverhead Books. $27.95

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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized