Literature and Dignity

Teodros Kiros (PhD)
April 05, 2007
A review of the book Somali Onomastics by Anwar M. Diiriye

Medicine is to the body, as good literature is to the soul. During turbulent times, such as ours, once in a while, a book appears on the horizon, to enlighten us, expand our horizons, stretch our imaginations, and sometimes gently challenge us to readjust our cultural lenses by forcing us to think anew, and to travel on uncharted waters.  The book under review does all of the above with remarkable adroitness and deftness of the writing hand.
Somalia, an ancient city state of the East African world, which in recent times had been hit hard by the tragedies of war, squalor and early death of its relentless people, had just been rewarded with a powerful literary presence, of a book that seeks to expose the achievements of its heroic people to the cynical world.

The reward is a book by a young emerging author, Mr. Anwar Maxamed, Diiriye, and the name of his book, Literature of Somali Onomastics and Proverbs.

The book is organized around explorations of the meaning of Indigenous names, and an exhibition of Somali and English proverbs. Both topics are amply rewarding. They are first rate treatments of important themes in the understanding of the cultural history of a unique nation that shares the glorious past history of the Arab world and the living fountains of African world.

An understanding of contemporary Somalia challenges us to come to terms with a historic nation seeking to determine its rich history by paying homage to Islam, Arabism and Africanity, since Somalia partakes the horizons of a triple heritage.
Chapter one introduces us to Somali nomenclature system, in which any Somali name is followed by the father’s name, and the grandfathers. Women retain their names even after marriage. The original names are either Cushitic (African) or Arabic. All Somali names are organized around qualities (white), and names that ward-off the evil eye. Women’s names in contrast are categorized by physical or moral attributes. All the names however have meaning. Parents and others are provided with meaning and destiny bearing qualities from which they could choose, when they want to name their precious offsprings. The nomenclature is one huge depository of identities.

Chapter two delves deeply into Arabic or Islamic names. The attributes of Allah are the ideals that name givers yearn for as they want to grace their children with holy name, hoping that names will map out the destinies of their children. . Such names are collected in the Quran (Hadith). Great are the names that are available in the Hadith so that proud parents can locate them and choose them as the blessed names of their children. For example, Abdul means servant of the most gracious. Such is the living power of the second chapter that introduces the reader to a wealth of names, which are simultaneously identity providers, and meaningful conveyors of tradition, customs and history of the Somali nation.
Chapter three and four are intricate and brilliant mediators of meaning, instruction and philosophical orality, that is particularly useful to all those cynical outsiders who think that there is no African philosophy. This important  book proves that that there is indeed a philosophical sagacity of a Cushitic and Arabic origin, in Somalia’s cultural soil.  Witness its presence by buying this book and reading it for yourselves.

Consider the following proverbs as mediators of philosphical insight, which are analytic and ethical at the same time.

Wisdom is content out of the knowledge ‘Science’
A nation with no archives is like eyes without sight ‘vision’.

God’s grace does not come in a day’s duration.

Prevention is better than cure.

These proverbs and hundreds like them are a wealth of philosophical instruction that we must read.

This is a great book written by a very bright young man, whom we must read, and to whom I say thanks for giving me the honor to review.

Teodros Kiros (PhD)


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