Buraanbur: Resisting through Poetry
By Kirthi Jayakumar
Women performing Buraanbur in 1950-1960 Somalia. Source: Collecting Ayuuto on Pinterest
Buraanbur is a form of poetry within the ambit of Somali poetry. It has been one of the most powerful artforms used by women in Somalia to resist colonialism, having endured as a means for women to share their thoughts, experiences, and aspirations, and to articulate their resistance (Wierenga, 1995). The poems themselves centre on their views in relation to their individual and collective lives in addressing political issues, and are accompanied by drums, dancing, and clapping (De Haan & Oonk, 1996). Buraanbur has played a powerful role in determining the Somali society, educating communities, and conveying political and social messages (Jama, 1994).
Resisting Colonialism Through Art
Buraanbur was a powerful act of subversion, especially given their role in mobilizing constituencies against colonial rulers. Under colonial rule, women used Buraanbur as a means to bring together urban people or reer beled and rural people or reer baadiye to resist (Aidid, 2010; Ingiriis, 2015). Typically used to invite the community to take action or give up something of importance, Buraanbur was used a means to cultivate common consciousness that centred on affirming clan solidarity or their national identity.
The Buraanbur specifically embodied powerful resistance to counter and confront the British Military Administration, which ruled the entire stretch of Somali territory with the exception of Djibouti, which was under French rule (Ingiriis, 2015). In 1948, the British ceded a part of Somali territory to Ethiopia in 1948, evoking violence and armed confrontation from the Somali people in response. At this point in time, women’s poetry came to light as a means of resisting colonial rule and its aggressive military policies.
Under colonial rule, women were denied the limited opportunities that men had by the colonial government (Jama, 1991). In 1947, the Somali Youth League, founded by 13 women, became the centre for women’s activism in resisting British colonial rule. Among the lot, most of the active women were from urban areas, and either unmarried or divorced. They spent most of the 1940s and 1950s organizing and recruiting new members, promoting “Somalinimo” or a nationalist feeling, while also actively sheltering and concealing nationalists from authorities and participating in demonstrations (Aidid, 2010). The women were imprisoned, tortured, and even killed (Aidid, 2010). A famous Buraanbur by Hawa Jibril documents what the women did (Alim, 2008):
At the time we were fighting for our flag Sisters, we chanted and we clapped Till our hands and jaws got sore Sisters, we sold our jewelry Depriving ourselves And donated to our League Enriching the struggle.
This poem also sheds light on how the women were more than willing to sacrifice their jewelry – their key assets – to resist colonialism. Women’s jewelry were often passed down generationally, and could be bought and sold during crises (Aidid, 2010).
With time, women began discussing and debating matters of political concern at the SYL each week, reciting poetry alongside. With time, the Somali Shir, which was originally restricted to men who could exercise political authority and decision-making in the community, opened up to include women (Kapteijns, 2009). In the SYL meetings, the recitation of Buraanbur became a prominent feature, and women gained the opportunity to claim a stake in the otherwise male-dominated space, as equal subjects (Aidid, 2010). Through this, the women began to politicize a poetic tradition that had already been a tool of subversion and resistance.
In 1946, the British government supported the Bevin Plan, a proposal by British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, to consolidate and unify Somali territories under British trusteeship. This was resisted by the local Italian community, as they began mobilizing a strong pro-Italian front (Jama, 1994). Even as the SYL had the support of most Somalis, the minority view was in favor of the return of Italian rule under a 30-year trusteeship. Somali women played a significant role in subverting the potential return of Italy as the colonial ruler (Aidid, 2010).
The women made use of their “invisibility” to urban Italians, and paid close attention to the Somali folk who received special privileges from the Italians, and entered Italian homes (Jama, 1994). Rising in protest against the potential return of Somalia to Italy under a UN Trusteeship arrangement, women went door to door, encouraging more and more Somali people to come out to demonstrate with them. They used their poetry and slogans to send a firm message of their resistance to Italian colonial rule (Jama, 1994). They were met with violent repression, in the form of bullets, hand grenades, and arrows, and several of them were thrown into prison camps.
In 1948, the Mogadishu Riots broke out, in pursuit of Somalis on opposite sides to unite against colonization. However, the Italians took over Somalia, implementing military occupation on the territory (Aidid, 2010).. In 1952, the Somali Youth League began to make preparations to become an independent political party ahead of Somalia’s impending independence. With this, a women’s section was established under the leadership of Halimo Godane and Raha Ayanle. Women voted in the municipal elections in 1958, but were excluded in 1959. The women advocated for themselves, eventually succeeding in the restoration of their voting rights (Aidid, 2010).
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