British Somali poet Warsan Shire has made an indelible mark on the consciousness of those empathetic to the tumult involved in a refugee’s life. Her observation that “no one puts a child on a boat unless water is safer than land” is retold in Instagram infographics about asylum seekers, tweets furious at the hostile environment and is remembered for eloquently conveying the turmoil that leads one to travel in this way. Somali literature has a long tradition of captivating people, revealing poignant truths and teaching us lessons society is in dire need of. It’s this rich history of folktales, myths, poems and prose that affirm Somalia’s rightful place as “a nation of poets”.
Although Somalia did not have a written language, or orthography, until October 1972, Somalia’s literary tradition has ancient roots with myths such as ‘Daldaloo’ (the Holy sky), which is a tale about the “rising” of the sky, or the origin of stars and rain – a motif common in folklore. Ancient Somalia also has a monotheistic tradition with a Cushitic sky God (Waaq) who lives in the sky and provides rain enabling, along with the sun, for crops to grow. Legend holds that when nomads successfully prayed for rain it was known as ‘Barwaaqo’ (God’s rain). Rain remains to be important among Somalis who are also Muslim, because it is also found in Islam to be a blessing from God that sustains the Earth. This motif signifies a nation negotiating their pre-Islamic mythology with Muslim beliefs. Both are deeply important to Somali people and influential for Somali diaspora experiencing difficulties reconciling their personal identity, ancestry and religious beliefs in nations that do not recognise this Somalia.