October 28, 2010
Oxford House, the venue of the Somali Festival Week, is a delicious little gem steeped in Somali history. It’s started life as a small restaurant serving Somali food to the early Somali migrants who had came to the UK as sailors in the 1960s. It quickly went on to become a central part of the-then-small Somali community’s social life.
Over the years Oxford House flourished and gained a reputation as a place for artist, poets, and playwrights to meet and share ideas and thoughts. Today it continues to provide a platform for famous poets such as Hadrawi and Gariye who regularly frequent the place.
Every year, as part of the Black History month Oxford House holds a week-long festival to celebrate and promote Somali Arts and Culture.
As part of this month’s event, authors Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy, and Yasmeen Maxamuud, Nomad Diaries, participated in the festival and discussed their literary journeys as well as reading chapters from their books.
Nadifa Mohamed has enjoyed great success with her debut novel Black Mamba Boy, published by Harper Collins. The book is a fictionalised account of her father’s boyhood journey through Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and finally across the Mediterranean and in to the UK.
The curious title of the book elicited a member of the audience to ask why she had chosen that title and what it meant. The author explained, “When my grandmother was heavily pregnant with my father, she was following her family’s caravan and she got lost and separated from the others. She sat down to rest under an acacia tree and a black mamba snake crept upon her belly before slithering away, leaving her unharmed. She took this as a sign that the child she carried would always be protected, and that’s how the title of the book came about.”
Yasmeen Maxamuud’s book, Nomad Diaries, tells the story of Nadifa (the name of her main protagonist, not to be confused with the above author) and her family. It documents the family’s changing fortunes, first as a part of the ruling class in Mogadishu and later on in Minneapolis as new refugees. The book highlights the complications of emigration and others social and cultural issues such as polygamy, marital infidelity and abuse, including rape.
Most of the characters in Yasmeen’s book have traditional Somali names and some quirkier ones such as Henna. She explains this is because she wanted “to use authentic Somali names, as opposed to common Arabic ones as a way of preserving the Somali culture. I gave Henna that name to symbolise her beauty and the joyous occasions in which she was born, it also serves to contrast with the hardship she would face later on in life because she was born to a minority tribe that is not accepted by other Somali tribes.”
The festival concludes on Sunday. Those interested in attending can download the program here.
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