EU co-funded Somalia Heritage Week festival attracts thousands in Nairobi
In mid-October, the city of Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya hosted a rare Somali cultural festival dubbed the Somali Heritage Week which brought together thousands of Somalis, non-Somali Kenyan and foreign cultural enthusiasts who gathered at the Kenya National Theatre to celebrate and sample the rich Somali culture.
The event was co-funded by the European Union and implemented by its partners Heinrich Boell Foundation and Aw-Jaamac Culture and Reading Centre who gave an opportunity to dozens of writers, artists, musicians, poets and storytellers to gather and showcase the best work and performances on Somali culture.
The cultural festival was preceded by a month of creative workshops including; Art, Literature, Social Media and Cultural crafts in which 50 youths took part. However, during the actual festival, attendants were treated to 5 days of Somali folklore dances, poetry, food, modern music and traditional ornaments and tools on display. Somali and English books were also available for sale.
The event was attended by senior Somali-Kenyan officials as well as Somalia government officials including Nairobi's Kamukunji Member of Parliament Honourable Yusuf Hassan, who was the chief guest, head of Kenya's election commission Issak Hassan and Leader of the Majority in Kenya's National Assembly Adan Duale among others. Somalia Ambassador to Kenya Gamal Hassan closed the event and thanked organizers for reminding the world about the good Somali culture and urged youth to maintain their rich heritage.
The EU Head of Delegation and Ambassador to Somalia Michele Cervone d'Urso took part in a well-attended debate on use of social media to bring positive change within the society. The ambassador urged Somalis not to lose hope and to use their good culture to promote peace.
"Culture is not only music and poetry which is very important but it is also ideas and in some extend with the gradual stabilization of Somalia hopefully people can return to their origins much more and look back to their culture because you Somalis have something unique that no other people certainly in Africa have, which is that common culture and bond which must be cherished," Ambassador Michele told an enthusiastic audience amid claps during one of the panel discussions..
The main highlights of the festival included entertainment by a youthful Somali folklore dance called "Dhaanto" and an all women dance known as "heelo". Dhaanto is getting more and more popular these days amongst Somalis living in urban centres and is often a must see display in any Somali cultural performance. Other performances included poetry, storytelling for children and displays of Somali artefacts, traditional hut, cutleries and other nomadic tools used by Somali nomads.
Somali poet and writer Abdirashid Omar "Ina Cawsgurow", or son of the grass reaper also presented a very interested history about the origin of the Somali people. According to his research, the Somalis originally came from Lake Turkana in northwest Kenya which is generally believed to be the cradle of humanity.
"It is important for Somalis to know their history. We have no relations with the Arabs as many Somalis have been brain washed to believe but rather we are Africans who originated from Lake Turkana together with the Rendile, Samburu, Turkana and Borana communities. Somalis and the Rendile's were from the Gelleh community or those who rare camels while the rest were from the Gallah community, those who do not rare camels or the Bovines," Abdirashid explained after his presentation.
Just to stress the importance of camels amongst the Somalis, a she-camel was on display at the Nairobi cultural festival complete with its fresh camel milk and its Somali herder or "Geeljire" in the Somali language cladded in his traditional attire which typically is a macawis or sarong, a spear and a shield and in some cases back in Somalia and Ethiopia herders are known to carry a rifle but this time round this was not possible because of the gun control rules in Kenya.
The camel herder and a tradional Somali hut or aqal were also a prominent feature, the Geeljire with his afro-like hair style with a wooden hair comb neatly tucked in his big hair was the favourite artist for the youth who were quick to grab a selfie with him because they have never had the opportunity to meet a Geeljire.
One Kenyan non-Somali man who attended the event says he was really impressed by the rich Somali culture on display and thanked the organizers.
"I have never thought of the Somalis as a people with such a rich culture. This event has helped to change my perception of this community. It was inspiring to hear from Hon. Yusuf Hassan, IEBC Chairman Isak Hassan, Former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim and also seeing the beautiful Somali Dhaanto music and dance. For the first time I drunk camel milk, ate camel meat with anjera and also saw how a Somali camel herder looks like. This is a wonderful event and I thank the organizers," he said declining to give his name
The Somali Heritage Week festival trended on Twitter: #SHW2016 and Facebook @SomaliHeritageWeek2016.