Advanced Somali: Literature (PG)

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

During this module the students will develop their knowledge of Somali literature, in particular Somali poetry. The module will consider the specific characteristics of poetry in Somali, the periodization and development of poetry. The development of written prose literature and theatre will also be considered though more briefly. They will gain a wider vocabulary, in particular of terms used in the countryside by nomadic pastoralists which feature heavily in much of the poetry, particularly from earlier times. They will gain an appreciation of the ways language is used in poetry covering issues such as metre and alliteration, metaphorical language use, the structure of poems, epistrophe and other such devices as well as the roles played by poetry at various times during Somali history. This will all be undertaken by reading works of literature and secondary sources in both Somali and other languages when available to the students.

For students taking any degree which focusses on cultural or literary studies it will allow them to explore Somali literature in depth given they have the requisite language skills.

Available for students on and SOAS masters degree that allows students to take a language module.


A suitable knowledge and level of Somali is required

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Know and understand the formal characteristics and distinguish the major forms of Somali poetry;
  • Understand the nature of different types of poems, in particular the difference between maanso and hees types of poetry and the function these different types have played at different times in history.
  • Understand and use the terminology in Somali relating to poetry and literature generally;
  • Talk and write about the development of Somali poetry from the late nineteenth century to the present day
  • Talk and write about the development of prose fiction in Somali;
  • Talk and write about contemporary poetry, the major themes and the role of poetry and poets in contemporary society.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1: Introduction to Somali poetry, metre and alliteration. This week will consider the main characteristics of Somali poetry concentrating on maqalaay warlaay metre genres and modern jiifto.
  • Week 2: The distinction between maanso and hees poetry will be considered in greater detail with reference to heesta kebedda and gabay in particular as examples of such types of poems.
  • Week 3: Traditional hees poems will be considered in more detail and the role they may play beyond traditional usage.
  • Week 4: Maanso poetry from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century will be considered this week with reference to the historical circumstances surrounding the poetry which is extant from that time.
  • Week 5: The development of heello and modern hees following the second world war will be considered with reference also to the important figure of Cilmi Boodheri.
  • Weeks 6 and 7: The poetry of the 1960s and 1970s will be the focus of these weeks. The innovative use of metrical forms, the development of affective musical accompaniment and the use of cassettes will be considered as will the development of theatre
  • Week 8: The development of prose literature will be the focus of this week from the introduction of the official writing system in 1972 up to present times.
  • Weeks 9 and 10: Contemporary poetry. Poetry of the last ten years or so will be considered with reference to the important themes, the techniques used and the way in which poetry continues to be at the heart of Somali expressive culture. The translation into English of Somali poetry will also be looked at.

Method of assessment

  • One essay (1700 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 7, term 2 (30%)
  • One essay (2500 words) to be submitted on day 5 week 1, term 3 (40%)
  • One presentation (15 minutes) on the essay topic of assignment 2, at a time agreed by the Convenor (30%)

Suggested reading

  • Orwin, M. 2005. ‘On the concept of ‘definitive text’ in Somali poetry’. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 66(3): 334-47.
  • Samatar, Said S. 1982. Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism: the Case of Mahammad Abdille Hasan. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Andrzejewski, B.W. 1985. ‘Somali literature’. In Andrzejewski, B.W., S. Pilaszewicz and W. Tyloch (eds), Literatures in African Languages. Cambridge: CUP, pp. 337-407.
  • Rashiid Sheekh Cabdillaahi ‘Gadhweyne’ (ed.) 2009. Suugaanta Nabadda iyo Colaadda; War and Peace: An Anthology of Somali Literature (introduced and edited by Rashiid Sheekh Cabdillaahi ‘Gadhweyne’, collected by Axmed Aw Geeddi and Ismaaciil Aw Aaden, translated by Martin Orwin with help from Maxamed Xasan ‘Alto’). London: Progressio and Pisa: Ponte Invisibile.
  • Ali Jimale Ahmed. 1996. Daybreak is Near…: Literature, Clans and the Nation-State in Somalia. Lawrenceville and Asmara: Red Sea Press.
  • Axmed Cali Abokor Somali Pastoral Worksongs: the Poetic Voice of the Politically Powerless. Uppsala: Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University.

All other readings comprise poems which will be taken from various collections in Somali including online resources. Secondary literature will be in the form of articles many of which are available online in the Archivio Somalia and other repositories such as JSTOR. Some less well known articles in Somali will be provided by the teacher.


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