By Abdi Mohamed
Axmed Farax Cali, also known as Idaajaa, is a household name in Somalia. Idaajaa is a literary scholar who researches, collects and broadcasts Somali poetry on radio. During his long career, he has dealt with gabay, guurow, buraanbur, and many other genres in the realm of verse. He started collecting Somali poetry in the 1970s. His initial focus was on the poems composed during the Dervish independence struggle. Sayid Maxamed Cabdulle Xasan, Ismaaciil Mire, and other senior members of the struggle were all poets who composed poems aimed for celebrating victories and encouraging freedom fighters, informing the public, as well as mocking and degrading the European colonizers and their Somali collaborators.
After exhausting and covering the poems related to the Dervish struggle, Idaajaa turned to other old, well known poets who had composed poems memorialized and kept alive for centuries. They had been preserved in the traditional oral narratives for generations, passed on to one generation after another. He has probed and written about poems by Rage Ugaas, Wiilwaal, and others who gained prominence in later times including Qaman Bulxan, Salaan Carabeey, Cali Dhuux Adan, Yusuf Kenadiid and many many others. His work has always been done meticulously and extensively, unparalleled in scope. Idaajaa has left no stone unturned and covered as many well known and obscure Somali poets as possible.
Idaajaa’s unwavering commitment to poetry, his love and quest to archive this treasure for the enjoyment of today’s generation as well as for posterity are remarkable. He has crisscrossed the nation to meet anyone who may be a poet or who might have memorized others’ poems. And in this endeavour, he has been able to collect and save a significant amount of poems composed centuries ago but kept alive by oral transmission in pastoral Somali society. In the past few decades, there has been increasing growth and advancement in technology, media, and communication. Examples of this include radio, television, and most notably, social media. Due to the world shifting from oral traditions to literary traditions, there is a risk of losing the nation’s unwritten but valuable poetry, folktales, myths, and so on. It is likely that Idaajaa’s farsightedness compelled him to keep written records of this part of the nation’s heritage before they are erased from memory.
Apart from committing to writing these poems narrated and kept in memory for generations, Idaajaa also broadcasts them on radio. He started doing this on Radio Mogadishu in the 1980s and then went to BBC Somali Service following the demise and disintegration of the Somali state and eventually ended up broadcasting on the Voice of America Somali Service. It is also worth noting that idaajaa’s lifelong collection of Somali poetry has been a personal initiative. He has not received institutional support for much of the work he has done. He uses his personal resources, time, and energy to collect and record poetry and inform Somalis about their heritage. It is fair to say that he is driven by his love for poetry as well as a desire to serve the nation’s interest.
Idaajaa usually does not concern himself with technical aspects of the poems he collects. He does not talk or write about the rhyme, rhythm, metrical structures and techniques that qualify what people write and compose as poetry. It seems that his interest lies mainly in collecting, explaining, and preserving poems kept in memory by individuals before they either die or lose memory due to old age and other factors. However, what sets Idaajaa apart from other arts researchers is that he shares his findings on radio. He always informs the public of the author of every poem he shares. He briefly touches on the life of every composer when he reads his/her poems on the radio. He talks about what led them to compose the poems, their situations, as well as the state of the society in which they lived so that the reader or listener will have some knowledge of the people who produced the poems and what inspired them to do so. As I have indicated earlier, Idaajaa does not limit his coverage of Somali poetry to any particular genre but extensively researches and collects anything that can find a place in the broader realm of verse. Poems about war, peace, love, clan chauvinism, pleasant times, difficult circumstances, and many other subject matters are covered in Idaajaa’s work.
Idaajaa also sorts out poems according to the subject matter or theme. For instance, he selects poems transpired by love and explains how each came into being, if it generated a great deal of interest, if it spread widely, and how the society received it. When he exhausts one area, he moves to another area or dwells on poems pertinent to different matters. Idaajaa is also an author and has produced numerous works. His most notable works are the Dabkuu Shiday Darwiishkii, which he coauthored with Cabdiqadir Xirsi Yamyam, and Adan Carab: Maansoyahanadii Hore kii Ugu Dambeeyey.
His tireless efforts, captivating voice, and presence in this field for five decades are what have given him unparalleled admiration and recognition in the broader Somali public. He has pursued his passion for decades while other researchers and academics prioritized personal interests in politics, business, and career. But Idaajaa has stayed on course, researching and explaining Somali poetry to the delight and amusement of millions of his compatriots. Idaajaa’s research enriches the Somali language. He reaches and uses words that are neither available nor attainable for the average Guled, Cali and Cosob. The poems he deciphers and the language he applies to explain them contain words with deep meaning. He brings back to life words that have been on the verge of death. His efforts have saved many words from disappearing or from falling into disuse and dying altogether.
Idajaa’s service to the nation is similar in importance and scope to that of Russian Reformists and French Structuralists for their societies in the last century. He tries to research and explain poetry, its importance for society, and its essence as means of communication and entertainment. The difference is that these Eupopeans had immense resources and support from peers and institutions while Idaajaa has struggled and accomplished a lot single handedly.
The other day when I saw what seemed to be a recently taken photo of him, it occurred to me that his productive years may be shortening. I also thought about what it means for the nation when he stops engaging it with his entertaining and educating literary lessons. Who would fill the void? I also thought about the importance of recognizing and honouring him while still alive. Somali people should acknowledge and honour those who have dedicated their lives to serving the nation.
I believe Idaajaa stands out when it comes to those who have committed themselves to the research and development of Somali literature and language. He is a towering figure among many luminaries of whom we can mention Yasin Cisman Kenadid (deceased), Cabdalla Mansur, and the late Maxamed Dahir Afrax. Idaajaa deserves to be honoured and I cannot think of a higher honour than creating a scholarship fund in his name given to Somalis students studying Somali language in universities, as well as to researchers archiving Somali culture and art. Such a gesture will not only mean a lot to him but also will encourage others who are interested in the research and development of the mother tongue. This will also benefit the future generations as the storied and revered persons will inspire and boost their confidence and ability to achieve meaningful things for their people.
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