Can poetry bring peace?

The Home of Somali Poetry aims to find out — and promote Somali culture in the process

Spend more than a day or so in Somalia and someone will mention poetry — whether it’s song cycles exchanged between different clans over hundreds of years, anti-colonial verse of the 20th century, or today’s young poets (as well as singers and rappers) using verse to explore love, war and politics in the 21st century. Across different styles, historical eras and regional variations, if there’s one thing that unites Somalis all over the world, it’s an agreement that their poetry is fantastic.

This shared passion for one of the world’s best literary traditions can be a powerful tool for peace, so UNDP Somalia has joined forces with a team of outstanding poets and leading creatives from the fields of music, photography, journalism and more to work on a new initiative — the Home of Somali Poetry.

The initiative has two major aims: to preserve and promote Somali poetry and to enlist the power of poetry in advancing peace and human rights.

As a first step, we have created a beautiful home to showcase Somali poetry to the word. Our website https://www.hoygamaansada.com/ hosts a comprehensive Somali Poetry Archive where we are collecting the finest poetry across the ages, building a database of poets and collecting new work. Years of conflict and a focus on oral transmission mean there are few poetry publishers and poetry books, so great works risk being lost or forgotten. We hope the new site will help keep this cultural inheritance safe, allow newer poets to reach more readers and listeners and encourage people around the world to find out more.

The archive can be searched by poet, poem or subject and we are working on expanding the database of poets to include biographical and literary information so people can better understand the work, its creators and the context they were writing in.

The website is also an online poetry magazine and learning centre, with content ranging from interviews with poets and live performances to articles on poetic history and lectures on how to understand and write different verse forms.

Along with our social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, we are bringing readers of Somali poetry together and taking Somali poetry to new audiences. Over time, we hope this will be a virtual community where all Somalis can come together to talk, exchange ideas and unite around their shared appreciation of verse.

“Somali poetry is among the best in the world. It deserves a first-class home to keep it safe and a platform that can promote it with pride and love,” explains pop star and cultural icon, Aar Mantaa, one of the high-profile supporters of the Home of Somali Poetry. “We encourage anyone with a love for Somali poetry to visit us online and get involved.”

The Home of Somali Poetry also hosts an annual Somali Poetry Awards to recognise the very best creative talent, including the Poet of the Year, Woman Poet of the Year (sponsored by UNDP) and Youth Poet of the Year. The awards open each year on the International Day of Peace (21st September) and are open to all Somalis around the world. Entries can be submitted through the Home of Somali Poetry website until 21st October and the awards are handed out at a ceremony on 21st November.

This years judges include some of the best known and upcoming Somali poets, including Ahmed F. Ali (Idaajaa), Osman Abdullahi Guure, Mohamud Haji Mohamed (Tarash), Asha Mohamud Yusuf (Asha-luul) and Hawa Jama Abdi.

“I am very excited to see this Home of Somali Poetry initiate get started and take part as a judge for the Somali Poetry Awards,” said Abwaan Idaaja. “We Somalis have so much to contribute to the world and our poetry is top of the list, so I encourage everyone to support the Home of Somali Poetry and enter the Awards.”

As well as the website, poetry archive and awards, the Home of Somali Poetry will run special events and advocacy campaigns to promote Somali poetry and use its power to foster peace and raise awareness. These campaigns will bring together poets and other creatives who can reach and inspire Somalis from different backgrounds, both on social media, TV, radio and at in-person events.

To find out more, drop us a line at Hoygamaansada@gmail.com or follow us on social media: Twitter: @hoygamaansada, Facebook: @hoygamaansada, Instagram: @hoygamaansada, YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/yxfrcnsk

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works to achieve the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion.