The Role of Poetry and Music in Somaliland
Somaliland, described as a ‘nation of poets’, has a rich heritage of poetry and music which underpin oral literature in promoting peace and conflict resolution. Correlatively, the capital, Hargeisa is widely known as ‘The Mother of Somali Arts and Culture’, further illustrating the continuation of such traditions despite the immense upheaval throughout history, altering the Somali way of life.
Poetry is integral in communicating peace in Somaliland, as a traditional method of defining identity, recording history and a platform for conveying feelings and perspectives. This tradition can be traced back over centuries, being a pivotal influence on Somali society. Such practices have been associated with increased Somali nationalism as well as unification, proving the element of peace provided by literature. Somalis during their nomadic life would use poetry as their media channels, with oral poetry being defined as ‘the idea of pure and uncontaminated oral culture’. Within this culture, there have been abundant historical examples of poets who utilised art to bring peace and encapsulate the feelings of war.
Certain poems were written to create further harmony between opposing Somali clans on different sides of the frontier. The aim is to forget the animosity and forge a new unity in which the enemy does not divide the people. Salaan Carrabey is a 20th century peacemaker poet, who used poetry to divide the forces of Axmed Faarax and Reer Daahir, two related clans on the verge of conflict. Carrabey recited the poem ‘Oh Clansmen, Stop the War’ following an unsuccessful mediation attempt by a religious leader. Carrabey’s poetical influence proved to be stronger than the religious verses, as the forces separated and the war was successfully averted.
Somali music is used to reflect the difference of communities and ways of life and bring representation to the diverse population. Whilst a vital aspect of it is to encourage peace, it can also be used to drive a political or social agenda as well as seeking revenge. Poems not dealing with serious issues called ‘hees’ are sung and accompanied by music; they include work and dance songs, as well as a modern urban form. ‘Hees-hawleed’ are sung to accompany daily tasks such as watering camels, with music being used in meditation and national gatherings as well as a mechanism for conflict resolution.
The Somali civil war in 1991 showed the increasing importance of music, with the community adapting traditional Somali music with new western themes. Poetical and musical processes are used by the international community to sponsor peace mediation deals that bring emotion to the conflicting parties during dialogue conferences such as the Arta Conference in 2000. This conference led to the formation of the first Somali Transitional National Government, with poetry and music acting as leading factors in the success of pivotal political movements and events in Somali history.
During the Arta Conference, poets and musical artists were mobilised, engaging in artistic productions promoting peace and reconciliation. These were broadcast on Somali-speaking media channels in Somalia and around the world. The effectiveness of these cultural forms as instruments for promoting peace is emphasised by the unity provided by a single language and the Somalis’ distinguished love of oral literature and its strong presence throughout history. Somali artists have proven their commitment to promoting peace throughout the past two decades through the production of a vast body of literature on the theme. This illustrates the success of such peacebuilding initiatives in the Somali community, with the capability of further prosperity if there is support in disseminating their existing work and producing more.
Oral culture in Somaliland as a whole is a very influential instrument in promoting peace and providing conflict resolution. Music and poetry are highly recognised and associated with the culture, used in any setting to empower and impact personalities to solve many social, political and economic matters. Speeches and verbal agreements receive immense respect in Somali society from leaders and artists which differs from written peace agreements, highlighting the impact of poetry. Such literature not only provides peace during times of conflict but also in social gatherings, with music being utilised by television and radio channels and shops and wedding ceremonies, showing the versatility it provides in the community.