OUT&ABOUT: The vibrant Somali folklore

Monday October 23 2017

Somali performing artists on stage. PHOTO| TOM

Somali performing artists on stage. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA 

By TOM MWIRARIA
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Michael Shermer says that humans are story telling creatures, and we are quite adept at narratives whether they exist or not .

Somali has long been known as a land of bards. Throughout ages Somalis have been using oral tradition of poetry and storytelling to transport culture from one generation to another.

In the early 1970’s, Somalis started penning down their stories and poems.

SIGNIFICANCE OF SOMALI FOLKLORE

After dinner it was time for some tall tales of bravery, tales that hailed courage and mocked fear. Somali culture, like so many other African cultures, started conditioning children from as early as possible. Children were taught the culturally accepted responses to fear was run, hide or face it head on. Today, fear is overcome (not just by Somalis ) but generally by building a big house, driving a big car, securing a stable job or ingratiating oneself with someone rich.

Somali Heritage talk at the Kenya National

Somali Heritage talk at the Kenya National Theatre. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

Some other themes of Somali poetry and stories are philosophy, history, clan politics and spirituality. Islamic poetry is also a Somali tradition. Islamic poetry is written in Arabic and is called qasida (ode). It originated around 500 B.C and is considered to be fundamental in the development of pre-Islamic poetry.

Qasida is composed in a monorhyme of fifteen to eighty lines and is often a prayer. According to the Somalis, the first sound a child hears is very important in ingraining the culture. A Muslim child and by extension a Somali child always hears words in praise of God.

PERFORMANCE ARTS

Somali plays are performed at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi. The Somali cultural week went down on October 7 to October 10, at the Kenya Cultural centre where the guests were graced with performances arts and Poetry. The performances were indigenous, evocative and diverse.

Hussein, a very talented Somali performing

Hussein, a very talented Somali performing artist. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

The audience was actively involved. Young performing artists were brimming with energy and were funny.

They charmed everyone, apart from an old pensive man sitting next to the drum kit. Throughout he had his fingers firmly in his ears even as audience laughed their hearts out.

Somali traditional songs were rendered. Bodies shook and twisted. Indeed, a song does not need the language of words for it has the motion of dance to do its translation. The event offered active participation in the conversation about art. Somalis started writing plays under the influence of Italian and British colonialists.

The plays are written in Arabic, English, Somali and Italian. Somali culture has enriched the Kenyan heritage with literature and philosophy.



Somali Story telling. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

Somali Story telling. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

The platform offered an opportunity to showcase the Somali culture, including arts. At the Kenyan Cultural centre, a highlight of many Kenyan cultures is accessible to anyone making the effort to understand, learn, or wishing to inhabit another community.

The coordinator of the 3rd annual Somali

The coordinator of the 3rd annual Somali Heritage week. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

The centre is making a meritorious effort to encourage integration and celebration of Kenyan diversity. The artists I talked to, however, lamented about insufficient support by the government and Kenyans in general.

Any culture which fails to support its artists is only contributing to its own regression.