Hassan Sheikh Mumin: Poet, reciter and playwright

The mid-1960s to the mid-1970s has been described as the golden age of Somali theatre, and one of the major forces behind this was the poet and playwright Hassan Sheikh Mumin.

Born in the coastal town of Zaila in what was then the British Protectorate of Somaliland, he moved to Boorame when he was nine, where he completed his Koranic and elementary education. This was a time of political upheaval in the Horn of Africa and once the British regained the territory after a brief occupation by Italy in 1941, they allowed Somali political organisations to be established which led to the founding of the Somali Youth Club in 1943; this became the Somali Youth League in 1947.

With a personal commitment to independence and social and political change, Hassan joined the party, and it was for a rally in Boorame in the early 1950s that he composed his first public poems. What he has called his "first-born" poem begins with, "Dadaala Soomaaliyaay!" ("Oh Somalis, strive!"), and in another for the same event he addresses education with the refrain "Carruurta wax bara!" ("Educate the children!").

At this time, Hassan was making a living variously as a trader, a teacher and as a tailoring instructor, but, after independence in 1960, he was employed (between 1965 and 1968) by Radio Mogadishu as a poet, reciter and playwright, a new departure for Somali artists who until then had not been paid in any formal way for their work. After 1968 he was part of the Cultural Department of the Ministry of Education and continued to compose poems and plays, in what was still essentially an oral tradition, and to broadcast on the radio.

As the military regime of Mohamed Siad Barre, which came to power in 1969, became more repressive of artistic expression critical of it or how things were in the country, poets, playwrights and writers were censored or imprisoned and some chose to leave. Hassan moved from Mogadishu to the neighbouring country of Djibouti and then later returned to Boorame. Here he continued to compose poems and plays, but it is for his early plays that he is particularly remembered.

Of these Shabeelnaagood (1968) is regarded by many as his masterpiece and is the only Somali play to have been translated into English, as Leopard Among the Women by B.W. Andrzejewski (1974). In this, he engages with the way in which women in the towns were subject to predatory male attention as referred to in this extract which was sung by Shallaayo, the heroine, who has been tricked into a false marriage by the Leopard of the title:

Women have no share in the encampments of this world

And it is men who made these laws, to their own advantage.

By God, by God, men are our enemies, though we ourselves nurtured them

We suckled them at our breasts, and they maimed us:

We do not share peace with them.

In tackling this issue, aspects of traditional Somali life, which had been eroded by growing urbanisation are championed, along with progressive social reform in relation to the status of women and the importance of education. Further social issues are handled in the other early plays and later work, and for this, as well as for his wonderful and innovative use of their language, Hassan is fondly remembered by Somalis, wherever they are.

Martin Orwin

Hassan Sheikh Mumin, poet and playwright: born Zaila, Somalia 1931; six times married; died Oslo 16 January 2008.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Such tweet sorrow: Will's gone digital
arts
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Life & Style
On the dogwalk: a poodle on the runway during a Mulberry show in London
fashionThe duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
News
peopleEmma Appleton says photographer said he would shoot her for magazine if she slept with him
Extras
indybest
News
peopleRevealed: Goop.com's losses - and the pay rises
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents