Poetry, Drama and Music in Somaliland

Role of Poetry Drama and Music on Somaliland Peacebuilding

By Ayaan Abdilaahi

"Somalis are born talkers. Every elder is expected to be able to hold an audience for hours on end with a speech richly laced by judicious proverbs and quotations from famous poems and sayings.” Professor I. M. Lewis

Language can be considered as a unifying cultural element that facilitates interaction and understanding among different groups of people. In the case of Somalia, the official language is Somali. Somali as a language has retaken a great importance in the last few years as an element of identity and national pride and also a tool to counter certain "urbanization" tendencies that are currently taking place in Somalia. Somali was maintained as a spoken language until 1972 when Latin script was introduced as official orthography for writing the Somali language.

Somali was soon announced the country’s official language, the medium of education, administration and communication. In the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, Somali is an Eastern Cushitic language. Common Somali is the most widely spoken dialect, but Coastal Somali and Central Somali are also spoken. Arabic, the language of the Quran, is spoken and read for religious purposes. A small percentage of Somalis also speak Italian, and a growing number speak English. Educated young adults from privileged urban families sometimes speak five or more languages.

(Mohamed, 2013)

The Somali language is generally divided into two main parts:



TIX is a part of speech and has its own rhyme and rhyme with a letter that goes into the front or middle paragraph and repeats two, three or four times. Poetry is literature, literature is poetry, and poetry consists of many parts, the main ones being:

Gabayga Geeraarka Jiiftada

Masafada Buraanburk Heesaha

Guurowga Shiribka Welgada Maahmaahyada

TIRAAB is part of a speech without a letter or other rhythmic activities and rhythm going, and consists of stories, googaaleysiga, story, baaniso, statements and part of proverbs. The rule of proverbs should be kept in place and in context. EXAMPLE of Somali proverbs are:

Hawo iyo hilow gacalo iyo, hurud nabdoon baa leh

“The pursuit of pleasure, love and tranquility are attributes of


Nabad la’aan waa nolol la’aan

“No peace is no life”

Mac Ginty, (2021) who authored “Everyday Peace: How So-called Ordinary People Can Disrupt Violent Conflict”, described everyday acts of peace as those acts conducted by local ordinary people to promote and preserve peace. These ordinary people like - individuals, families and small groups of friends and colleagues – can have a big impact in the local peacebuilding. In Somaliland these everyday acts of peace are expressed in different ways including:


Somali has long been known as a nation of poets. A people with few possessions and no written language until the 1970s, Somalis developed an oral tradition of poetry and storytelling since at least the 12th century and that has been passed down through generations. In day-to-day interaction between family members or even while addressing a council of clan elders in order to influence their decision making, Somalis have formulated their speech or message in a poetic form or at least with ample quotes of poetry, proverbs and words of wisdom. Although poetry has been mainly an expression for elders, today’s young Somalis have been encouraged to develop their poetic talent. (Arild Bergh John Sloboda, 2013)

In recent years, many young Somali adults both men and women, were authoring influential poems promoting peace. One of them is Yahye Yebash, a young Somali poet based in Hargeisa Somaliland. Mr. Yebash created many poems addressing different issues. One of these peace poems is called “Aa no waa aafo” which means “Revenge-killing is a catastrophe”.

Oral poetry, oral narratives, proverbs and words of wisdom were an integral part of every aspect of life in nomadic Somali culture. Every activity of day-today life was depicted in one or more of these forms of oral culture, from herding and watering livestock, sewing mats, sailing boats and harvesting crops, to organizing feuds and debating the complex sociopolitical issues of the time. Singing and chanting poetry helped reduce the burden of the hard work in a harsh environment. In the process, traditional Somalis continually produced a wealth of oral literature and oral tradition materials mirroring their lifestyle or their way of life and thought. In the late 20th century, heello was a popular new. (Quetzalli Padilla Mulekeni Ngulube, 2013)

Somali people value and love poetry. Local poets often promote peace through poetry and the impact of their poetry is very effective. In a book edited by Rashid Sheikh Cabdillaahi ‘Gladwyne’, and published in 2009, which was titled “War and Peace: An anthology of Somali literature”, presents a number of historic Somali poems that preach peace. Here is an excerpt from the book;

“War was waging between two communities, the Reer Daahir and Ahmed Faarah, who both belonged to the Nuuh clan (of the Habar Je’lo, Isaaq). Their war had gone on for a long time, and every person who tried to stop it did not succeed…. Then Salaan went among them going at one time to one and then to the other, making them hear the poem which has become famous called Oh Clansmen, Stop the War. (p.170)

As in the past, some poetry is partisan and supports one or the other clan or warlord, but the poets who gain the widest renown tend to be those who seek to build bridges and promote peace. One of those is the poet Hadraawi, arguably the most famous living Somali poet, who has travelled across Somalia and the Diaspora to promote peaceful resolutions to Somalia's problems through his poetry. Many poetry recitals by both men and women are now recorded on video and popular ones quickly circulate throughout the global community. In spite of the continuing popularity of the classical genres of poetry among first generation Somali migrants, there is now a growing group of young Somalis who were brought up in the Diaspora and feel little connection to the rustic language and countryside imagery of the gabay and buraanbur, let alone being able to compose in it. (Saed, 2012)

The use of creative arts like poetry has been used in Somali regions to promote reconciliation healing and addressing the underlying issues and causes of conflict in the country. By Preventing conflicts and the number of injuries or deaths from conflicts, by providing poetry that allows individuals and communities understand the damage and the bad perspective of conflicts to protect their lives and property.

As Madar (2016) stated, Somali National Movement (SNM), the liberation movement that waged war against the dictator and military regime of Mohammed Siad Barre from early 1980s till beginning of 1990s and finally overthrow it, had taken power. Abdirahman Ahmed Ali known as 'Tuur' became the first president of the new Somaliland. Just one year after the declaration of Somaliland's independence reclamation, civil wars had erupted throughout the main cities. Untrained and undisciplined armed militiamen had started robbery, violence and finally civil war. That war led the country to go through unneeded civil war between the clans. That brought the fragile governance and rule of law to be destroyed.

The militiamen finally raided the president’s residence in the capital, Hargeysa, and robbed the assets including the President's car. In 1993, Borama reconciliation conference were held in Borama and a new president, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, was elected by the clan representatives, but that did not change the situation, rather the new political oppositions defected from that conference; most of them were from the SNM political wing. The civil war continued and more weapons went in the militiamen's hands. Most of the military arms were captured from the overthrown regime led by Siad Barre. For the militiamen, having different level weapons enabled them to wage civil war against each other and the government (madar, 2016) Somaliland's President, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, introduced a new traditional way to convince the militiamen to disarm. As Madar stated, President Egal approached the traditional/clan leaders and

the business people As Bobe stated, poets did not just stop there, rather it has been continued to promote the cause of peace. “Together with drama and song, poetry has helped to heal the wounds opened by the successive rounds of civil strife (1992 and 1994-1996) that have wracked Somaliland in the aftermath of liberation.” (2002)

During the period of war which SNM, used to live with hope that Somaliland will one day be stable and free from war and the noise of bullets, but it did not happen. Rather, the situation has been the opposite. When the SNM movement took over power from the military regime, practically every clan and every single person in Somaliland had their own weapon; the men in particular had at least AK-47s and pistols. That was one of the contributing factors to the civil war.

The civil war continued and most of the country's intellectuals, including the business people, traditional leaders, religious leaders and the poets started a massive campaign to stop the civil war. That is when poets took their invaluable efforts to stop the war and convince the militiamen to put the guns aside and join the ongoing process of rehabilitation and the establishment of a national army.

The poets, the women in general, were the most effective members of that campaign. Since nothing was left for the country and it was destroyed on every side, in terms of infrastructure, social and economic aspects, the women sold their gold to finance the ongoing efforts. Saado Abdi Amarre was part of that process and composed different poems. The communities, mostly the women, grouped themselves and started monumental movement to get the militiamen disarmed. They have been using the old buses with rent fees. The women had been going regularly to the rivals and telling them to put down the gun. The mechanisms they have been using included both lectures and poetry, mainly the second one. Since the country was destroyed by the wars and added to the ashes, the women have been using old loudspeakers. The poem below was composed by Saado Abdi Amarre, poetess, to point out the exact situation in the country during the civil war.

I drank poison by tasting the bitterness of war, Taken by the flood without knowing how to swim, previous wars were nothing in

comparison to this, O Deeqa! What is the meaning of this war? And why is this part of the town fighting against that one? If

strangers fight each other, they go far away from each other. I am the one who is burning from both sides,

A group of women consisting of 30 members, including Zahra Abdi Amare, were part of the initial stage of the disarmament campaign. Since the civil war erupted not only in the main cities of Somaliland but rather the rural areas, the poetry has been using as a tool to calm and pave the way to reconciliation; that is why more poets like Zahra have composed more relevant poems. O' dahir you have been in the bush to get freedom, Regret the civil war and instability you are involving, Regret that you made your wives widows, Regret that you caused more disabilities, let’s enjoy our freedom that you fought for. Like Sahra Abdi, there were some other well renowned Somaliland poets like Mohamed Hashi Dhama known as Gaarriye, whose contributions to the disarmament process are highly appreciated. Mohamed Hashi composed one of the most celebrated poems on the theme of reconciliation: Hagar-laawe (The Charitable) and ERGO. The campaign had three different and very vital pillars. The traditional leaders, the business people and the poets jointly led the campaign. Sultan Mohamed Farah is one of the leading traditional leaders who managed to convince their fellow clan militiamen to accept the disarmament with the help from the government and the poets. The poem below is called, 'You understand' composed by Zahra. (Madar 2016). The armed militiamen did not accept the calls for peace from every side, but some of them were keen to accept, while others were not ready to accept it. That led the same militiamen to fragment into two parties; those who wanted peace and those who oppose it.

Hooyaallayey hooyaallayey, hooyaallayey hooyee -

Weapons' factories thud with a pounding rhythm. Armaments

spewed out to all the corners of the globe. With no boundaries, no limits and with no restrictions. Even Camel-herder slings an AK-47 on his shoulder. You understand the extreme suffering this brings. Black

people, white people, non-believers, Muslims, its men who burn to annihilate the land, they set up rockets and won't listen the

argument, While women plead for caution under the tree of peace. They have exterminated camels, cattle, goats and sheep, Wild

animals – even the shielded tortoise – have all been slaughtered. You understand how many people have been slain in open fields, How birds have fled the countryside and migrated far away, You

understand how this is getting like Hiroshima, You understand the destitution this visits on the world. You understand war and injury it inflicts, You understand how loved ones are struck down, You

understand how children are made orphans, You understand how the elders are slaughtered, You understand how the world straps on the gas mask, You understand peace is a broad-leafed tree, You

understand peace shelters families and friends, You understand peace brings prosperity, You understand peace is a churn of frothing milk

The most effective part of the campaign that made them to rethink was the ‘Poetry’ and the ‘Message’ from the poets. Despite, the respect and the dignity of the poets/poetess in the community, how the poetry being presented to them and poetic mechanisms of reconciliation were the most hard-hitting part of the campaign. Ali Abdi, a traditional leader whose contributions were part of the peace building and reconciliation process has stated that their efforts would have not made solid meaning without the poets' involvement. Despite the leaders’ attempts were more effective, in some times they used to get help from the poets. Mohamed Hashi Dhama aka 'Gaarriye' was one of the contributors of the peace process at that time with his well renowned poem of 'Ergo – laterally meaning ENVOY' in which he warned about the aftermath of the long-lasting civil war in the country; if the rivals would not obey his poetic mediation, this would be its circumstances. (Kaariye, 2016)

Music and drama

Songs and drama were part of a way to convey information or to express emotions or to talk about a situation that has existed. And it was widely used since the time of the collapse of the Siyad barre. Sometimes poets and intellectuals used it to convey a message through songs and dramas in which they interrogated each other or warned the public. Because they were having fear of being arrested or killed by siyad bare who was the dictator who ruled Somalia at the time. During the SNM itself they were included poets’ and singers and was one of the ways in which they were communicating. There was an artist’s who has been understood their message that they were sending and then arrested or deported or killed.There are many groups singing peace songs, some of which are (xidiga geeska) stars in the Horn of Africa. This group this group sings songs about tribalism, recognition wars and the state of development in the country.

Somali songs that motivate peace is including: nabad baa nas la nuugo leh which means (peace has breast to feed).There are so many dramas and songs that have contributed to the peace of Somaliland that cannot be summed up whether it was during the regime of the siyad barre or the modern ones. There is growing ways of modern methods of music and drama that the local and the diaspora use for awareness of peace and other important issues.


Oral poetry, oral narratives, proverbs and words of wisdom were an integral part of every aspect of life in nomadic Somali culture. Every activity of day-today life was depicted in one or more of these forms of oral culture, from herding and watering livestock, sewing mats, sailing boats and harvesting crops, to organizing feuds and debating the complex sociopolitical issues of the time. Singing and chanting poetry helped reduce the burden of the hard work in a harsh environment. In the process, traditional Somalis continually produced a wealth of oral literature and oral tradition materials mirroring their lifestyle or their way of life and thought. In the late 20th century, heello was a popular new. (Quetzalli Padilla Mulekeni Ngulube, 2013)

Poetry and songs were one the Somali most important ways to deal with conflicts, women has very strong role on poetry that they use to support and motivate their men and some time to stop the wars, as we know women always don’t go war area but they use to support or stop the war by oral

poetry. The role of poetry and other arts which are similar are not something that can be summarized in few paper but absolutely it has very strong role.


1. Afrax, a. d. (2010, February). Towards a culture of peace: poetry, drama and music in Somali society. conciliation resourses , 2.

2. Arild Bergh John Sloboda. (2013). Music and Art in Conflict. UK: Oxford Research Group.

3. Kaariye, B. M. (2016). The Role of Somali Poetry for Somaliland Disarmament. HARGIESA .

4. Madar. (2016). duco qabe. Hargiesa: Sagaljet.

5. Mohamed, D. (2013). Scoping Study on the Culture. Somalia.

6. Quetzalli Padilla Mulekeni Ngulube. (2013, December ). Scoping Study on the Culture.

7. Saed, M. (2012, June 11). Somaliland: 21 years of peace.