Elmi Bodari and the Construction of the Modern Somali Subject in a Colonial and Sufi Context
Gabobe, Jamal Abdi
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Elmi Bodari was the first Somali poet to compose poems exclusively about the theme of love. Many Somalis believe that it was his unrequited love that caused his early death. His personal tragedy and poems have earned him a unique place in Somali literature. Most accounts of Elmi Bodari's poetry dwell on this aspect of his life and poetry. This study argues that his innovations were more far-reaching and that his poetry was instrumental for the rise of the modern Somali subject. An essential part of the modernism in Somali poetry that was launched by Elmi Bodari was the supplanting of the ideal of the traditional warrior hero by that of the lover as a hero. The study traces the trajectory and contours of this change in Somali poetry. It also scrutinizes the colonial and Sufi context in which Elmi Bodari lived and composed his poems and his creative response to it. Central to the new outlook pioneered by Elmi Bodari in Somali oral verse was inwardness and constant self-examination. The study probes into how these notions and techniques of self-fashioning were manifested in Elmi Bodari's poetry and in verses composed by others after him, and applies a comparative approach to delineate kinship and divergences between Elmi Bodari and the legendary Majnun Layla of Arabo-Persian poetry.