By: Ibrahim Muse Baqardhe
Mohamed Ibrahim”Hadraawi” Warsame, the most influential Somali poet and one of Africa’s most celebrated authors and poets, who was often referred to as the “Shakespeare of Somalia,” died Thursday at age 79. The “Shakespeare” comparison irritates me because I believe Hadrawi poetic and literature record supersedes Shakespear, but it is also an orientalistic attempt to validate oriental culture and literature through occidental prism.
Hadrawi wrote the lyrics to more than 200 poems and the lyrics to more than 70 songs. He wrote some of the most famous poems and songs in contemporary Somali art in his five decade career, his work has been translated into dozen of languages and has been the focus of several international poetry exhibitions. His poetry is composed in a sublime form of the Somali language emplying vivid images and sound devices.
His lyrical corpus include:
- Baladweyn” – song performed by Hasan Adan Samatar in 1974
- “Saxarlaay ha Fududaan” – sung by Mohamed Mooge Liibaan
- “Jacayl Dhiig ma Lagu Qoraa?” – sung by Magool, and later translated by Hanna Barket as “Is Love Written in Blood?”
Hadrawi was not just a poet, but he was a Somali cultural icon, a giant of Somali literature, composer, writer and a philosopher. He was considered by many to be the greatest Somali poet because of the excellence of his literary work and its impact on Somali culture.
Born in 1943 in Burao, Togdheer, he was known to Somalis by his nickname Hadraawi, meaning “the master (or father) of speech. Hadrawi was from a nomadic camel-herding family, but graduated in literature and education at the Somali University in the Early 1970s. His spent his childhood in Aden, and later become a teacher at Lafoole College.
Speaking truth to power remains a crucial role of the poet in the face of political crisis, Hadrawi speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. He was gifted by God to express his feelings through literature and poetry, which captured the ears of the Somali people. He never minced his words speaking to truth or speaking out against injustice and oppression everywhere. He used the power of his persona, his personal taste, his learned craft and his mysterious power to capture and grasp his audience. But he wasn’t just a poet, he was a powerful communicator on the political situation and the critic of the military regime of Somalia. He was veracious and spoke against injustice by using his poetic voice, and demanded to be heard, in all its sensuous immediacy and historical complexity. Hadrawi used his poems to instill scoial change, promote attitudinal change, encapsulate thoughts and feelings into a form that can reach into the hearts and minds of many people, and encourage citizens to think for themselves. Hadrawi saw poetry not just as art, but also a tool to be employed in changing the society for the better.
In 1973, Hadrawi wrote the poem Siinley and the play Tawaawac, both of which were critical of the military government that was then in power. For this dissent, he was imprisoned in the notorious Qansah Dheere for five years and his work was banned.
Following his release from prison, he fled to Ethiopia and joined the Somali national Movement(SNM) and continued writing anti-regime poems and songs. Hadrawi was in senior leadership positions in SNM, including membership in the standing and central committees.Throughtout SNM struggle against the Siyad Barre regime, Hadrawi composed and produced songs and poems like Daalaley which motivated the fighters and was a great source of strength for the libertaion front.
In the following poem titled “Clarity” from “Deelley” Hadraawi shows his commitment and refusal to admit defeat or be subdued his fight against the military junta led by former dictator Siad Barre. He says:
I’ve still not admitted defeat
nor have I withdrawn:
that high inspiration,
that talent I was endowed with,
has not discarded.
When men dedicate to the struggle
and determine to fulfill their duty;
when they ready themselves for the charge,
amass the finest thoroughbreds;
when the reins are on the racers,
I never step aside.
With these words, Hadraawi reaffirms his commitment to the justice battle, demonstrating that he is a guy who detests cowardice and would actively engage in the fight for liberation in addition to writing about it.
When Barre was finally overthrown, Hadrawi went to London and lived there for several years. Unlike many other SNM fighters, Hadrawi had no political aspiration. He fought against the injustice done to his people, feeling that he had done his duty. But despite his popularity he never sought public office.
Hadrawi’s story didn’t stop there, he continued to be a powerful voice commenting on the future direction of Somalis as awhole and a peace agent. In 2003, Hadrawi along with other writers and poets began a Peace March across Somalia, to deliver a message of reconciliation.
This is who Hadrawi was. A man who dedicated his entire life to be a peace agent, a voice for the voiceless and a cultural giant and reference that contributed the Somali lietarture more than anyone else. We lost an icon in the literary and linguistic fraternity. Hadrawi’s passing will leave a literary void not just here at home but globally. But his words, his wisdom and vision will live and preserve well beyond his years on this earth.
Rest in Peace Comrade.
About the author
About the author: Ibrahim Muse Baqardhe is a educated political analyst and economics, with interest in Politics, Economics, Human rights and Diplomacy. He is the Chair of UWC Somaliland National Committee and former Research Assistant at UNRWA in Beirut, Lebanon.
You can reach on twitter : @Baqardhe22