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The Traveller to Legendary Lands: WardheerNews interview with Shiela Andrzejewski

Editor’s Note:  Peaking into the rich WDN archives full of ten years of rare collection of historical pieces, news, commentary, opinion as well as cultural and poetry analysis and writing from across the globe, we come upon a jewel, a rarity, a genius piece of writings, honest and true and free of bias. Indeed, it could be called the past calling with glaring disappointment. We reflect and share with our readers, esteemed and staunch a series of articles from the past. This time,  an interview with Shiela Andrzejewski. 

No amount of praise can do justice for the late Bogumil Witalis Andrzejewski and his contribution to Somali literature and language. His tireless dedication and adoration for the Somali language had led to the Somali orthography which eventually would make Somali a written language. Considered the world’s leading connoisseur in Somali literature, Prof. Andrzejewski’s meticulous research and writing of the Somali language, served as the blue print for many scholars and academicians in the field of Somali literature. He single handedly created a space for Somali oral literature and poetry in the composite world of literature. This interview highlights the labor of love between Andrzejewski and his beloved wife Sheila as they worked together side by side for years to translate intricate lines of Somali poetry. It’s indeed a proud moment for WardheerNews to bring this rare interview conducted by Dr. Gorge Kapchits another devoted Somali Scholar and a distinguished student of the late Professor.


Georgi Kapchits: My Somali friend Khaliil Hassan who is a member of the editorial team of WardheerNews, one of the best Somali websites, says that a generation ago Professor Andrzejewski‟s nickname Goosh was known to every educated Somali. But today the young Somalis (even well educated) who visit his website know hardly anything about your husband‟s contribution to the development of Somali studies. Therefore he has offered me to ask you, if you could give me an interview about Goosh. He is sure that it would be not only interesting, but also useful. Especially for the young people. What do you think about it?

Prof. Andrzejewski (Goosh)

Sheila Andrzejewski: Yes, I would be most interested in answering any questions about Goosh. I hope I shall be able to remember it all. Of course I love the idea of keeping his name remembered as the pioneer of bringing Somali poetry to the notice of the world, though alas the world was not often very interested…

Georgi: I wouldn‟t share your opinion. It was interested, and it is interested today, 15 years after Goosh‟s demise. To make sure of this it is enough to look for “Andrzejewski” in the Internet. Every searching system will immediately give you his CV and the list of his numerous publications. By the way they do not deal with the Somali poetry only, but also with the Somali language, folklore and culture. Besides there is not a single contemporary book or an article on Somali issues without a references either to “Somali poetry: An Introduction” which Goosh wrote with I. Lewis, “Xikmad Soomaali” (“Somali Wisdom”) published with Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal or “The Declensions of Somali Nouns”, “The Case System in Somali”, “The Role of Indicator Particles in Somali” and so on.

Sheila, I wonder what books or articles written by Goosh can be found now in his house in Harpenden, Herts, where, I am sure, a part of his soul lives?

Sheila: Not very much, in fact, can be found in Harpenden, because all his articles, notes on his work, even odd words on small pieces of paper, etc. are stored in two University libraries: the originals are in SOAS library, and photocopies of everything in Bloomington, Indiana. All printed works can be found in these, as well as in libraries of record and in others specialising in Africa. Recordings of his first researches in 1950-51 are stored in the British Library‟s African Recordings Section. Later ones are certainly in Bloomington Library, but I am not sure if they are in SOAS. The recordings of his 1950-51 research are his sessions with Muuse Galaal, his brilliant assistant, who on being asked for a grammatical example would always quote a line of poetry which contained it. The beginnings of Goosh’s interest in literature.

Georgi: How did Goosh happen to start learning Somali? When I first met him in 1990 we had a very long conversation, by the way in Somali. It was so wonderful to see the patriarch of the Somali studies and to listen to his excellent Somali. He was the first European scholar who was able to speak this language fluently. Goosh told me that Muuse Galaal had been his protector (abbaan) during his first trip to Somalia and his first teacher of Somali. Here in Moscow, in my study there is a photograph which you sent me several years ago for my book “Faaliyihii la Bilkeyday” (“A Soothsayer Tested”). This photograph was taken in 1951. I look at it every day and see Goosh as a young man with a group of Somalis. Goosh and his friends are serious. The only exception is Muuse Galaal, smiling. How did Goosh and Muuse meet? What kind of a person was poet Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal?

Sheila: When Goosh graduated from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in English language and literature, he started applying for jobs to teach English in schools abroad, where his Polish accent might not be noticed so much. At an interview for one in Malta (still a British colony then so the interview was at the Colonial Office in London) he talked of his interest in making a study of the Maltese language, with its links with Arabic, as he had become interested in Arabic while fighting the Germans and Italians in 1941 in Libya. He was not accepted for this job, but the interviewers promised to pass his name around, and indeed he got a letter a few weeks later offering him a job in British Somaliland, not to teach but to make a study of the language with a view to creating an alphabet; we knew nothing of the country but he accepted the job with joy! Our very first Somali friends were Anthony Mariano and Ali Sheikh Jirdeh, who were studying in England at that time (1948-9), and they gave him an idea of the pronunciation and culture, without attempting to teach him very much of the language.

Read more: The traveller to legendary lands-WDN Interview with Sheila Andrzejewski


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