The Somaliland Times  
ISSUE 40 October 26, 2002

Maxamed Ibraahim Warsame 'Hadraawi'


Controversy Surrounds NDC/GTZ Demobilizing Project

Promotion of Economic Recovery Project by ILO Launched

Warring Somalia Factions Move to Restore Peace

Sixth Camp in Ethiopia Set to Close as Somali Refugees Go Home


Omer Arteh Ghalib To Run For President


Continued from the previous issue:

Maxamed Ibraahim Warsame 'Hadraawi'


Notes on Mr. Omer Arteh Ghalib


Reintegration Should Be For All

Stratfor Strategic Forecasting
Hostage-Taking Leaves Putin in No-Win Situation

Qatar Coup Plot May Thwart U.S. War Plans

Continued from the previous issue


Translated by Martin Orwin ( Modern Poetry in Translation, New Series, No.17, 2001 )

Hadraawi is considered by many to be the greatest living Somali poet. Born in northern Somalia (the present self-declared Republic of Somaliland) in 1943, he was educated in Aden and went on to a career in teaching in the early 1970's. At this time he began to become well known for his poetry and plays. Aside from the love lyrics (one of which is the poem translated here), he was a powerful commentator on the political situation and critic of the then military regime in Somalia. Imprisoned between 1973 and 1978, he was again in public life as director of the arts section of the Academy of Science, Arts and Literature from 1978 to 1982, when he joined the opposition Somali National Movement based in Ethiopia. He was a very powerful voice in the ensuing years of civil war and the repressive military regime, and continues to be a very important poet commenting on the predicament the Somalis face.

The poem translated here, which became very popular in the early 1970s, was composed in response to an incident which made an impression on the poet. Some time in the early 1970s a famous Somali woman singer called Magool visited Sudan to give some concerts. At one of these a Sudanese man fell in love with her and wrote a letter in Arabic which she received after returning to Somalia. Not knowing Arabic, she passed it to Hadraawi to translate. He was at first surprised to see the letter written in what seemed to be red ink, and as he read on an explanation made itself known. The man had extracted some of his own blood to write the letter and from this Hadraawi's poem sprang.

The poem is of a type known as hees, a modern sung form with musical accompaniment (see general introduction), and is composed in a metre from another poetic genre known as jiifto, a metre commonly used for such hees. It was made particularly famous through performances sung by Magool herself. The poem speaks for itself in a way understandable to a non-Somai audience and is composed in a series of negative questions which have largely been retained in the translation.

Has love been blood-written
(Jacayl Dhiig ma lagu Qoray)

Has love been blood-written
has marrow yet
been poured for it
a person peeled
the skin from their back or ribs
has expression of this 
been offered in flesh
cut from the cheeks
has blood been extracted
its colour still red
been scooped from the arteries
poured into a milk vessel
have two people offered it
one to the other
as they would fresh milk
have they shared it happily

time-separated in spirit
in body as by a thorn fence
sworn to each other
one morning have two
after first soaking rain
the damp mist dense
in an unpeopled place
where apart from the trees
nothing stirred
become aware
of each other's rustle

did that true meeting
seem a vision to them
brought by love's plight
or its mirage
from time to time
as if suddenly waking
out of a dream
did their speech
desiring utterance
pass from a mouth
if just a howl

did words elude them 
was the situation soured by this

did spots of ceaseless rain
emotion's tears
spill from their eyes
did it soak their clothes
did they sweat compassion

disoriented with but
a stutter of movement
they were stuck
each time a word
no link with others
lacking substance
limped out alone
was it ten days later
their tongue and palate
found strength for it

but they are born for success
of equal standing
parted for so long
did they greet one another
exchanging stories
did each for their part
pass on the trials
sustained through their love
did they read the message
exchange the news

love was a food store
which when it was heated
with charcoal and fire
the glowing embers
of emotions stirred
did they fill a large pot
time after time
drag the enclosure's
night-time gate
each one with tender eyes
seeing nothing harmed the other
did they listen thus
for a whole year

did the talking end
did they then spend
half a day
in this silent way
as the daylight fell
from their staring gaze
their inflamed thoughts
did they pass that night
like the camel herders
in nocturnal endurance
of cold and dark
difficulties bringing illness

did the dawn then glow
and the sun call out
approaching each other
not crossing the boundary
of mores and modesty
longing for a balm
with a mere forearm
between them did they stand
bodies held straight
opposite each other
avoiding the step
of moving closer
resisting the play-touch
the youthful way
the taste glimpsed
in the distance
did they just behold each other
through their eyes

they stood on the spot
each one gazing
standing upright
did it last a thousand nights

the legs of the termite
emerged from the earth
breaking the surface skin
did is peel their bodies
consume the flesh
did it wound the veins
pass to the nerves
to the very inside of the bone

the bad news
it places in you
that you look on with fear
is the trials and your death
did they welcome it
with their whole body and a smile

there's a flower which blooms
after morning's compassion
has refreshed it with dew
it brings forth a red liquid
for the mouth to sip
its stamen and stigma
entwine like a rope
was it this they exchanged
offering as a legacy
did they present it to taste
as the last earthly food of love
did they place at the other's ear
the word which was missing

the termite gathered up
sand and detritus
forming clay diligently
rendering and plastering
did it transform those two
did a building arise
did it mould from them
a structure of wonder
a lofty termite mound
famed for its thickness and strength

roaming in the sun-heat
of daytime did people
in the dry season grazing lands
rest in its shade
then move away in the evening
unaware of the reality
of the story that deep inside
this shady backbone support
two souls await the outcome of truth

if self sacrifice is not made
the breath of life not exchanged
if one does not wait
for an enduring legacy
the building of a house upright
children and earthly sustenance
then the kisses and intentions
are nothing but superficial
a poison sipped to satisfaction
in that one same moment
like hyenas snatching
a girl of good repute
as they hide themselves
in the higlo tree
to pounce out quickly
each man is expectant
for what will fall to him
a hyena and his grave hole
the honour he has trampled
the modesty he has snatched
the lying illusion
this does society harm

did he strive for the highest level
of fulfilment of love
that closest to honour
or is something still missing