Building a Literary Tradition in a Land with No Alphabet
Hargeisa, Somaliland (CNN) — In 1856, British explorer Richard Burton described Somalia as a nation of poets. It may seem an unlikely moniker for a country that has since become defined by piracy, state collapse, and the many horrors unleashed by Al-Shabaab — the Islamic extremists who control much of the country.
But, much has changed since then. Despite appearances, the country used to be one of East Africa’s most dynamic artistic enclaves, and much of the region’s cultural activity took place in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, the internationally unrecognized state that broke away from Somalia in 1991.
“Hargeisa used to be the cultural hub for the Somali republic. There was a beautiful Chinese-built theater; also the main public library, at one time the biggest in Somalia,” recalls Jama Muse Jama, who six years ago founded the Hargeisa Book Fair.