Somaliland Info: The art of Somaliland

The culture of Somaliland encompasses a wide range of Somali activity and Islamic structures that give Somaliland a rich cultural and historical heritage. Nomadic and Arab Islamic cultural significance have also played a key role on Somaliland’s cultural history.

Islam and poetry are described as the „twin pillars“ of Somaliland culture. Somali poetry is mainly oral, with both male and female poets. They use things that are common in the Somali language as metaphors.

Other important forms of arts in Somaliland include Henna paintings which are used by girls and women to apply or decorate their hands and feet especially for joyous celebrations like Eid or weddings.

Henna Art

The custom of applying henna dates back to antiquity. During special occasions, a Somali woman’s hands and feet are expected to be covered in decorative mendhi. Girls and women usually apply or decorate their hands and feet in henna on festive celebrations. The henna designs vary from very simple to highly intricate. Somali designs vary, with some more modern and simple while others are traditional and intricate. Traditionally, only women apply it as body art, as it is considered a feminine custom.

Somaliland is also known for its decorative handicraft items i.e jugs, koor, sadaq, dhiil and heedho. The traditional dance known as the Ceeyar Somali is Somaliland’s favourite dance.

Laas Geel

Laas Geel paintings

Prehistoric art dating back some 5,000 years have been found in caves in the Northern part of Somalia. The paintings at the Laas Geel are most famous: The artistic works depict the lives of the people in the past with drawings of antelopes, cattle, and hunters carrying bows and arrows. A French archaeological team discovered the isolated Laas Geel caves in 2002.

However, the caves are not listed as a UNESCO world heritage site as Somaliland is not recognised as a separate nation. „We need help, protection, to make more.. we have other sites you know, to make studies, this place needs, you can see all the rocks have been washed out. We don’t have the knowledge, we don’t have the experience, we don’t have the financials,” a site manager of Lass Geel said in an interview.

The cave paintings have become one of the main attractions for visitors to Somaliland. The cave art is reportedly among the oldest found in Africa.

Hargeysa International Book Fair (HIBF)

The Hargeysa International Book Fair is an annual cultural event in Somaliland. It is one of the largest public book fairs in the Horn of Africa. Every summer, HIBF brings writers, poets, artists and thinkers from Somaliland and from all over the world gather to share and discuss their art and literary productions with a wider audience.

The main goal of the festival is to promote a culture of reading and writing in the region by producing and publishing high quality Somali literature and translating international classical literature (including fiction, poetry and drama) into Somali. Organized by the Redsea Online Culture Foundation, the event aims to enable young people to access a range of cultural heritages, with the intention of stimulating the revival of all forms of art and human expression, including painting, poetry reciting, story-telling, drama composition and writing.

The Hargeysa International Book Fair was inaugurated in 2008 by Jama Musse Jama, who serves as Director. It grew from 200 to 10,000 participants over the following six years.

HIBF targets not only a young audience, but wider sectors of society. It aims to help foster cultural understanding, tolerance, democracy, and an appreciation of the diversity of Somali culture and literature.

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