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The collapse of the Somali Republic in 1991 presented an incalculable tremendous loss, including the loss of cultural heritage. Pre-1991, Somalia was famous for a nation with sophisticated art. Unfortunately, this rich art was lost. Nevertheless, there are individual heroes who are still striving to keep a record of the country’s rich artistic history. Among them is Mr. Omar Ali Hassan (Cumar Cali Xassan) widely known as Serbia. For about a year now Serbia and I had lengthy discussions about the state of Art and Culture in post-conflict Somalia. I have decided to document my interactions with him in this write up which also dedicated to him in lieu of his extraordinary efforts to preserve our culture and art.
Mr. Omar Ali Hassan was born in Qorijabley, near Hargeisa in the year 1991. When Omar was seven, their family moved to Hargeisa, where he obtained his basic education, proceeded to high school, and later joined University where he graduated with a degree in Media and Mass Communication. Just recently, Mr. Omar obtained Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy. He is married man with two wonderful children: Abdalle and Hibo.
“I learned the Arabic language and its different artistic expressions at a young age. Then I started to compare Somali art to Arab art. From that comparison, I realized the extent of negligence regarding our art” said Omar he added “Somali art and literature are interesting. Sometimes it is for entertainment, sometimes it is for knowledge but it is always a manifestation of our identity and history. “
I asked Omar about the most challenging problem facing the current archival and preservation of Somali art forms to which he replied “Even those who have the information because of the lived experience are disinterested, and the community is currently taught misleading foreign curriculums, there is no unified syllabus of the current generation and it is rumoured each is separately learning, about other cultures and art of foreign civilizations,” Omar said, “Arabic art like Nasheeda is normalized, but our traditional Somali art is forbidden if not frown upon, this is taught to our children using an exported ideologically expedient curriculums. “
The most challenging part is crediting the original artist as intellectual property is safeguarded, many years of neglected, unrecorded art has caused many people to currently claim former works to be their own creations– poets or singers being the most capable. Also as a media man himself, Omar suggests ways in which we can verify intellectual property with respect to art and poetry. He says “My nine years of experience in media, I am confident we are ready to undertake a verification exercise and establish copyrights as well fair use rules”
Art preservation is crucial to the existence of communities. Omar meets most of the living Somali poets, comedians, and singers interviewing them about their poems, songs, and personal biographies. Even for the poets who have passed away, he attempts to study their works using existing records so as not to miss a thing.
As friends, Omar and I are classmates who enrolled in the same course. He was unmatched in his dedication and I never saw Omar miss a single lesson. “I am life-long learner, who balances his work and classes in seeking education, pursues a multidisciplinary career, with a special focus on Somali art and culture”.
Omar recently published his book Fan Iyo Fanaan on Somali Literature and art which was a national hit and has seen the famous among Somali society being spotted reading the masterpiece. His main motivation behind it was to inform the younger generation about the glory days of Somali art. “I compiled important art forms by numerous poets into my book, all that I could write about our beautiful art’s history. It is published and it is made available across bookstores nationwide” he triumphantly remarks.
People like Omar, who take sole responsibility for the preservation of our cultural heritage, deserve our utmost unwavering respect, admiration and honor. I am inspired by his selfless sacrifice towards the pursuit preserving art.
Ahmed Jeeyte is public health practitioner and anesthetist. He is also a blogger who is passionate about medical and societal issues. He is on twitter https://twitter.com/axmedjeeyte and his blog is axmedjeyte.wordpress.com/