Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame ‘HADRAAWI’, one of the most popular Somali contemporary poets passed away Thursday 18th of August 2022 in Hargeysa, Somaliland. Recognized for his unmatched role both within his native people and internationally and awarded by renowned cultural institutions, Hadraawi’s poetry and philosophical expressions had an unparallel impact on many people over the last six decades. On a personal note, he was my mentor, advisor, and most caring friend I ever met, someone to look up to and learn from his every single action and the word he says. Hadraawi was a life-teaching institution whose words and actions match so meticulously, and his body and actions resonate with what his poetry was preaching. His poetry, in fact, is not for entertainment, it needs a critical mind to comprehend the message it conveys, and whoever knows Hadraawi in person, feels Hadraawi’s poetry as the essence of his language and that language is a mirror of his own soul. The following short biography is based on editor’s note of my 2013 edited ‘The Poet and the Man’.
Hadraawi was born in 1943, towards the end of the Second World War, into a nomadic, camel-herding family living in the harsh environment of the district of Burao in Somaliland. The formidable environment of his homeland seems, from his earliest childhood, to have nurtured a resilient character. In 1955, he was sent to the then famous city seaport of Aden, in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, to be taken under the care of his uncle Niibsane. Attending his Koranic madrassa in Aden, he soon developed the habit of seizing the opportunity made available by his teacher’s short absences when he would gather his classmates around him, entertaining them with his recitations of traditional Somali folk tales which he had amassed in his childhood, sometimes with the addition of his own stories for extra flavour. His Koranic teacher, discovering this tendency to regale his class given the opportunity, nicknamed him ‘Hadraawi’, the big talker! By then he had already shown the first signs of the great poet he would become. After finishing his secondary education at St. Anthony High School in 1967, he left for the then Somali Republic and joined the Lafole Teachers’ Education College, near Mogadishu. From that time on, the poetic animal in him found a solid footing.
His first play, HADIMO, staged at the National Theatre in Mogadishu in 1968, was an eye-catcher. It was mainly for entertainment; but the combination of excellent acting – Hadraawi himself taking part – and brilliant songs, secured him wide popularity. Thereafter, it didn’t take long before his name was rightly placed among the established masters of the Somali art like Ali Sugulle, Hassan Sheikh Mumin, Ahmed Suleiman Bidde, Mohamoud Ismail Qassim and others. Enthused by such sudden success, driven by youthful spirit, and with the added boost of having secured a place in Lafole Teachers’ Education College, he quickly rose to eminence as the unchallenged king of the Somali love song with the release of a succession of much adored masterpieces. including Suleykha, Cajabey. Beledweyn. Axaddii. Jacayl Dhiig Ma Lagu Qoray, Amal, Hudhud, and others.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon was not to last. The seizure of power by the Somali military from the civilian government and the concomitant curtailment of civil liberties, and most particularly freedom of expression, ushered in a very different set of conditions for the Somali people. Hadraawi’s poetic engagements were consequently fated to take a major shift as much of the country slipped, under autocratic rule, towards doom and darkness. His mysterious song poem Hal La Qalay Raqdeedaa and his engagement with other colleagues in producing the controversial play Aqoon Iyo Afgarad, which in its turn heralded the famous Siinley chain of poems in combat in the early 70s, alerted the sensitive junta to the rise of a dissident voice and Hadrawi was jailed in 1973 for anti-revolutionary activities.
By then a well-known artist, a respected teacher, and an amicable social personality, many scholars, politicians, and businesspeople were alarmed by Hadraawi’s imprisonment without trial. A number of leading figures took the matter of his release up with General Siad Barre; to which the General consented only on the condition that Hadraawi would make a written request for a pardon and pledge to refrain from any further counter revolutionary activities in the future. A demand, of course, which Hadraawi dismissed outright as outrageous, thus continuing his internment in Qansaxdheere for the next 5 years until 1978.
After his release in April 1978, he was given the post of director in the Academy of Arts and Social Sciences; but he soon became disgruntled by the way the affairs of the country were running and threw his lot in with the patriotic group who initiated the famous DEELLEY chain of poems. His poem DAALACAN, the second in this series, is amongst the most critical of the regime’s irremediable nature. But still not content with that, he practically fled Somalia and joined the opposition forces of the Somali National Movement (SNM) in Ethiopia. There it was that he unleashed his passionate, patriotic libertarian poems in the eighties of the last century during the heated struggle against the obnoxious military regime. Fiery poems like Daallaley, Waxyi, Sirta Nolosha, Gol Jano, Isa Sudhan, Dallaalimo, and Gudgude are among those still fresh in people’s minds and the lessons they bore are still as valid as ever.
Hadraawi joined SNM in April 1982, crossing the border with his friends Rashiid Sheekh Abdillaahi, Farah Ahmed Ali “Gamuute”, Yaasiin Hagi Nuur and Mohamed Hashi Dhamac “Gaarriye”, a group of literary giants and thinkers who shaped the narrative of the political landscape of the Horn of Africa. He resisted until the ultimate liberation of Somaliland in 1991.
Hadraawi left for the United Kingdom in 1993, where he lived for five years. In that period, most of his friends asked Hadraawi to seek asylum and settle in the UK but he declined. It was during this period that a marked shift in his views had been observed. He increasingly drifted towards conservative Somali traditional norms and got highly steeped in Islamic religious principles. Hadraawi produced ‘Dabo Huwan’ which is based on an ancient word to describe ‘life’. The work he has since produced while in London offers many insights into his beliefs, which are clearly influenced by his Somali nomadic heritage and his faith.
In 2001, Hadraawi moved to Somaliland, returning to an area close to that in which he spent his childhood. In 2004, Hadraawi singlehandedly undertook the legendary mission which came to be known as the “Hadraawi Peace March”. He embarked on an extensive tour, through many of the war-ravaged towns and cities of neighbour Somalia, from the northeast right down to the south, appealing for peace and showing his solidarity with those suffering. He was joined on his march by hundreds of others as he traveled despite the perils on the way. Admittedly, Hadraawi had no illusion that restoring peace by such efforts would be simple; but his main intent, as he unequivocally put it, was to show his hapless people how much he cared about their welfare and that he had not forgotten them in those hard and trying times. In that regard, his message was not in vain.
To Hadraawi the lofty principles of justice and human rights always remain indivisible and absolutely universal in essence. This is most pronouncedly evidenced by his untiring campaign against the plight suffered by the GABOOYE group; and one of his latest poems DHUL GARIIR (Earthquake), dedicated to this important issue, highlights the ill-treatment Somali society of this stigmatized group.
Hadraawi’s distinguished rank as the leading icon of contemporary living Somali poets has arisen for many reasons. Significantly, his literary production is prolific, having composed more than 200 short and epic poems over the past 40 years, all of irresistible appeal to the Somali masses since they truly reflect the nation’s struggle, its present predicament and future aspirations. In addition to all this, the themes his poems deal with are so multifarious that they range from beautiful and popular love songs to burning socio-political issues of national importance. In a nutshell, one can safely say all of Hadraawi’s poems are characterised by such laudable features as tenderness of feelings, a strong passion for justice, an excellent command of the language, a masterful utilization of legendary folk tales, a keenness for preserving Somali cultural heritage, an ability to vividly depict a vast range of artistic and literary images. No better illustrations of these facts can be made, according to Hadraawi’s personal affirmation than citing “DABAHUWAN” his longest and most forceful depiction of his philosophical world outlook since the ignominious exit of the military dictatorship in 1991.
His works has been translated into English, and new collection of his poetry and prose have been published in Somali. Hadraawi is 2012 Prince Clause Laureate for “creating profound and beautiful poems that enrich and expand the centuries-old oral poetry tradition that is central to contemporary Somali culture and identity; for sustaining shared historical awareness and inclusive discourse in divisive times; for his lifelong commitment to community development and social justice; and for building bridges, providing inspiration and promoting peace through poetry.”
No matter how much one might agree or disagree with Hadraawi’s political stand and ideological bearing – and indeed there must be many who find cause to do dispute one or other point – the truth remains that no one else has ever captured so much respect and consideration from so many Somalis and beyond as Hadraawi has for his humanity or for the lofty moral values of love, hope, purity, refinement, nobility, and the sincere impressions that run through all of his works.