Messages of condolences continue to pour in from around the world following the death of Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, regarded as one of Somalia’s greatest poets.
Warsame, better known as “Hadraawi”, died in Hargeisa, in Somaliland, on Thursday at the age of 79.
Somali social media has been flooded with tributes and praise for his contribution to Somali language and culture.
“I’m heartbroken to inform you our giant Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame Hadraawi has passed away. Might Allah bless him and grant him Jannah,” Ayan Mahamoud, founder of Kayd Somali Arts and Culture, said on Twitter.
“We will treasure his legacy and the rich scholarly work he left behind,” added Said Salah Ahmed, a poet and playwright who teaches the Somali language at the University of Minnesota in the US.
Hadraawi, which means the “master, or father, of speech”, was regarded as a pillar of modern Somali literature and a strong advocate of peace and democracy.
In 1973, he was imprisoned for five years by the president, Siad Barre, who ruled Somalia until 1991, for speaking against the revolution. His work was banned but he continued to compose poetry upon his release, which were was passed on through word of mouth.
The songs and verses he wrote are full of imagery and metaphor, open to interpretation, which made it hard for the military regime to control. A verse from his poem The Killing of the She-Camel resulted in his imprisonment without trial.
The snake sneaks in the castle:
although it’s carpeted with thorns
still the coward casts off his curses
so the courageous must stretch out his neck;
the cob stallion sells his values
in order to cut a fine figure.
When such cockiness struts forth
and even laughter becomes a crime
our country has unfinished business.
In the early 1990s – when civil war sent thousands of people from Somalia – he travelled throughout the country on a “peace march” calling for the warring parties to stop the violence. His message of reconciliation resonated with Somalis at home and abroad.
He retired two years ago.
“Poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadraawi) was a symbol of unity and peace,” said the Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in a statement. “He was one of key pillars of Somalia’s art and literature who took a leading role in preserving the Somali culture and promoting the Somali language. His death is felt in every Somali household.”
The EU, Norway, the UK and other friends of Somalia sent condolences and tributes.
“Sending my heartfelt condolences to the people of Somaliland and to all Somalis for the loss of Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame “Hadraawi”, an iconic poet and one of the most eminent and beloved Somali poets of all time,” tweeted Lizzie Walker, head of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Hargeisa.
Hadraawi had been called the “Somali Shakespeare”, but Somali singer and songwriter Aar Maanta said: “Hadraawi wasn’t the ‘Somali Shakespeare’ he was the Somali Hadraawi. He was more than a poet; he was a philosopher and a freedom fighter who spent many years in jail for his stance against injustice and dictatorship.
“He wrote some of the most beautiful love songs and poems that Somalis in the Horn of Africa and beyond use as a benchmark.”
Ahmed, who knew Hadraawi since late 1960s, added: “Hadraawi was one of the kindest people I have ever met. His poetry speaks for the voiceless and calls out oppression against the people…. he will be missed so dearly but we will treasure his legacy and the rich scholarly work he left behind.”
Somalia is known as a “nation of poets”. Poetry is woven into the fabric of Somali society with centuries of oral history, as the Somali language was only written in 1972.
Contemporary Somali poetry, including the works of Hadraawi, has been preserved in books and translated into English.