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Mogadishu on her mind: A conversation with Rasna Warah

Mogadishu shoreline. Photo | FILE | - AfricaReview. Get Somali news around the world at www.kismaayodaily.com

One woman serenaded a language – Arabic; a culture – Arab culture; and a country – Egypt – more than any other person.Umm Kulthum. The iconic image of Umm Kulthum — accompanied by a retinue of male percussionists — is that of her standing on a stage clutching tightly at her scarf. She would throw her voice one notch higher each time, as if reaching for the very heavens, as waves of ecstasy swept her listeners, who wept and called for encores.

Umm Kulthum’s concerts were a must-see in the Arab world; for prince and pauper, for the Gulf Royals and for ordinary Cairo residents.

Another woman at another time is serenading another country — Somalia; and another culture — Somali; and this time a city — Mogadishu. That woman is the Kenyan writer and Daily Nation columnist Rasna Warah.

Rasna has organised, with the help of Somali friends Ismail Osman and Mohammud Diriye, a one-of-a kind exhibition that opens on June 4 at the Alliance Française in Nairobi. The exhibition, dubbed Mogadishu Then and Now, runs till June 22 and will be followed by a book later in the year. The book will be published in English, Turkish and Somali.

Mogadishu is also referred to as Xamar. There are competing narratives as to the meanings and etymology of the words “Mogadishu” and “Xamar.”

Contested deriviations
The word Mogadishu is variously translated as “the seat of the Shah,” and “abattoir for sheep” from the Arabic “Maq’adu Shah” and the Somali “Maqal – Disho” respectively.

Xamar also has contested derivations — from the tamarind tree (“Xamar” in Somali) or a certain hue of red (also “Xamar” in Somali and ultimately from the Arabic root word for red “Axmar”). It is not clear if the red refers to the colour of the soil in Mogadishu (which it is) or the original inhabitants (“Reer Xamar”), who are several shades lighter than the quintessential, textbook, nomad Somali (think Iman’s dark brown). Reer Xamar are products of interaction between various people, among them the original inhabitants of the Horn and the early Arab and Persian settlers who came to Mogadishu more than a thousand years ago.

Many people think of Mogadishu as a hellhole with nothing much to offer; far from it. As is common with many city-states in the East African littoral, Mogadishu has a rich and variegated history. Start rattling off names like Lamu, Mombasa, Kilwa, Zanzibar and Sofala and you will quickly get the picture.

In Country Cousins, an essay on the travails of Mogadishu, renowned Somali writer Nuruddin Farah describes ancient Mogadishu as “a city-state, the capital of a nation-state and a metropolis with a multiple source of memories, some of which are alien to Africa, others native and of an enduring kind.” He also maintains that the city “owed its prestige and prosperity to its urban residents, many of them Persians or Arabs, from whom it acquired its heterogeneity.”

Source: (Africa-Review).

Kismaayodaily On June - 6 - 2012

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