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Inside Somalia: Where poetry is revered

Poets are folk heroes and crowds gather to hear poems recited but verse does not end the war.

“Poetry has many roles,” said Boobe Yusuf Duale, program coordinator at Hargeisa’s Academy for Peace and Development, a cultural institution in the breakaway territory of Somaliland.

“It has an awareness, a sensitization, an educational role; it has a role in helping people to develop, in saving the environment; it has got socio-economic and political roles; it has cultural and ethical and moral roles.

“In traditional Somali society poetry played the role of the media and to a certain extent it still does: it tells people what’s going on,” said Duale.

Like most of the buildings in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, the National Theater doesn’t exist anymore. It has been bombed to rubble. But the theater’s director Abdi Dhuh still keeps busy.

Last month he choreographed celebrations to mark the first anniversary of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s rule. In between the falling mortars, tank and machine gun fire that punctuated the proceedings a display of poetry, music, singing and comic theater entertained the gathered crowds.

“Poetry and prose are extremely important for the Somali people. It’s the only thing that can turn the people to you or against you, that is how powerful it is,” explained Dhuh.

GlobalPost caught up with the president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, late last year in Chicago:

The show talked about the president’s achievements and the need for national unity and for peace.

“Our hope is that the theater will be rebuilt then the singers and poets will come back,” said Dhuh. “When we had a government — way back when — they used to line up in the mornings for two or three kilometres to get tickets for the evening show. I hope those happy days will come again,” said Dhuh.

“We are a nation of poets,” said Hadraawi. That may be true but it is a side of Somalia rarely seen as, so often, the gunfire drowns out the poetry.

Read one of Hadraawi's poems.

Inside Somalia: The series

Life in hell: under fire in Mogadishu

Peacekeeping: on the ground with African Union forces

Al Shabaab: a glimpse into the Islamic extremist group

Opinion: When will Somalia improve?