Dhoodaan was born in 1941 in Wardheer region of the Ethiopian occupied Ogaden territory. Born to a a nomadic pastoralist family, he had what could have been speech and language delay disorder at an early age. Young Dhoodaan during those years was a very shy, quiet, and observant child, many thought he will never speak again. Not surprising for a nomadic society that had little knowledge of disorders or its diagnosis techniques. Little did they know what was boiling under his prolonged silence and like a volcano he erupted. What followed was a miracle, not only was he able to speak but was able to do so flawlessly through poetry. He spoke elegantly and with ease, unusual for a child, yet what people didn’t understand was where he acquired such a skill.
Poetry did not run in his blood line, in fact none of his family history was known for poetry. But because he didn’t have the ability to speak at an early age, he compensated it through observation. He made sense of his surroundings by silently constructing words in his mind. This would later become poetry, and through this poetry he would later speak about the issues facing his community; whether it was famine, war or love. He did not shy away from challenging the status quo, and the leaders of his community. From that point, it was clear that he was not an ordinary young boy, but a legend in the making.
Dhoodaan had many and countless poems, but was famously known for Jacbur, a never before seen form of poetry, a consolidation of unrelated words, yet in a sarcastic way made sense which has subtle political import and messages. It was the first time someone dare challenge the sacred form of the thousands year old form of Somali poetry. Intentionally he poked fun of the old form of poetry; it was brilliant and a comedy at its best. It made people laugh when Dhoodaan brought together allegories of diametrically opposed things such as a goat and a hyena dinning together or grilling a watermelon and sweetening it with hot oil. Something only the brilliance of Dhoodaan can pull off; he became the new standard of Somali poetry and a yardstick for all the other poets to be measured against. He had also a beautiful voice which pulled in and enchant his listeners. No doubt his poetry will forever live among us.
Dhoodaan was from the Ethiopian occupied Ogaden region and just like many others who fled the brutality of the Ethiopian regimes, he moved to Somalia; he very well understood what it meant to live under an oppressive regime. It was no surprise that he immediately challenged and spoke critically against the authoritarian regime of Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in his newly adopted country. After the failure of the 1977 Ogaden War, he openly criticized and condemned the Barre regime for turning the war into a border issue and a disputed territory between Somalia and Ethiopia. He was famously known for his support of the movements for the liberation of occupied Ogaden, as was depicted in many of his poems.
Later in Life
For all he was known for, Dhoodaan later in his life not only accepted the Ethiopian occupation of the Ogaden, but also supported them through his poetry and openly denounced the struggle for freedom in Ogaden in public gatherings. Many wondered how could a man who despised Ethiopian occupation so easily became its voice. Many argued that Dhoodaan was no longer the same man, he was in the twilight of his life and incapable of doing what he could have done when he was younger. In fact, they argue that he has done all he could for his people, urging them to break and free themselves from the shackles of oppression. They said maybe he was a defeated man, maybe he felt that all he has done has gone to waste and fell on a deaf ear.
Unfortunately we will never know these answers. There are those who believe that Dhoodan was coerced and forced to repudiate his previous anti-colonial stance. They say he had no choice; he lived in the belly of the beast (in occupied Ogaden) and could not dare challenge the Ethiopian regime. He was forced to cooperate in order to safe himself. He was aging and did not want to leave his homeland. They reason that Dhoodan himself used say “reflect on my previous poetry” when people ask him why he cannot produce poetry.
However there are many who argue the opposite, saying he should have never accepted Ethiopian occupation, and certainly was not the only man in this kind of situation. Some brought up Mohamud Abdullahi Isse “Singub,” another legendary Somali poet. Singub was a poet in his own right and a darn good one, but was also an actor, producer, director, singer and a song writer. Just like Dhoodaan he was born in the Ogaden and just like Dhoodaan was a big supporter of the liberation movement in the Ogaden. But unlike Dhoodaan, Singub refused to accept oppression and publicly denounced the occupation of his country.
No doubt Dhoodaan will be written in the pages of the Somali history, not doubt we lost an icon. But I have no doubt people will debate his legacy; let’s hope they will remember him for his good deeds, activism, advocacy, freedom for the oppressed, and his impact on Somali poetry. Above all, let us not let the Ethiopian regime own the legacy of Dhoodaan. Let us repossess (by bringing his struggle poetry back to life) the-good-old Dhoodaan from occupied Ogaden
The below lines are extracted from his classic Salleelo poem which explained and showed the people of Ogaden the painful road they must travel if they’re to attain freedom:
Shardoo nacabka Say-dheere iyo saanad lala doonto
Seef iyo bilaawiyo shardoo salabka loo qaato
Suryaduu maraayaba shardood, soodhle kaga shiishto
Sanbabada shardood kala heshoo, sarartu dhiigowdo
Adigana surkuu lugu jariyo sabaro naafooba
Iyo suxuladaadoo jabiyo seed ku kala booda
Shardii ood naftoo sirinsirqa ah toban sagaalayso
Soomalidda Galbeedeey filkiin, lama sin maysaane