Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies



Articles

On the concept of ‘definitive text’ in Somali poetry


MARTIN ORWIN a1
a1 School of Oriental and African Studies

Abstract

The notion of text, along with the issues relating to how variable or fixed a text may be, has been a central issue in the study of oral literature for some time. In this article it will be argued that the notion of the poetic text as being unchangeable is central to Somali maanso poetry, and that such poems are instances of what become, through the composition process, ‘definitive texts’. Arguments in favour of this will be presented from a number of different perspectives. Maanso poetry will be contrasted with traditional hees and the characteristics of both outlined, with a view to showing how the ‘texts’ of each type of poetry differ from an extra-textual viewpoint, that is from the point of view of people's expectations regarding the different types of poetry. Intratextual characteristics will also be mentioned with a view to showing the objectivity and autonomy of maanso definitive texts. The development of modern hees from the heello and also the development of the use of writing in Somali poetry will also be considered and shown to support the idea of the maanso definitive text.