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'Hadraawi,' African poet known as the 'Shakespeare of Somalia,' dead at 79

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Mohamed Ibrahim "Hadraawi" Warsame, one of Africa's most celebrated authors and poets who was often referred to as the "Shakespeare of Somalia," died Thursday at age 79.

Warsame retired two years ago, but was in poor health and had been hospitalized in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa for some time, according to family.

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Kayd Somali Arts and Culture founder Ayan Mahamoud confirmed Warsame's death Thursday on Twitter.

"I'm heartbroken to inform you our giant Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame Hadraawi has passed away," he wrote.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed said the country had "lost an icon."

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"Poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadraawi) was a symbol of unity and peace," he said in a Tweet later translated by the Guardian. "We have lost a man whom we will remember for his role in peace-building and conflict resolution, building the mindset of many Somalis through his wisdom and poems for the betterment and the unity of Somalis."

In his works, Warsame went by the pseudonym Hadraawi, which is the name of Somalia's Togdheer region, where he was born in 1943.

At a young age he began writing hundreds of epic poems and penned the lyrics to dozens of songs that became popular on the radio in the Horn region for more than two decades.

He became the country's most prominent dissident of President Mohamed Siad Barre, who banned the author's work and had him thrown in jail for five years beginning in 1973 for speaking out against the authoritarian government.

Warsame's metaphors were reportedly difficult for the government to interpret in one of his most popular works titled: "The Killing of the She-Camel," and he was summarily sent to prison without trial.

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Once free, he fled to neighboring Djibouti where his works were passed along through word of mouth, with Somalis using Warsame's anthems to jeer the government.

Following Barre's ouster in 1991, Warsame returned to Somalia and embarked on a personal crusade for peace and nonviolence, but despite his popularity he never sought public office.

Hundreds of tributes went out for the Somali cultural icon on social media.

Somali singer and songwriter Aar Maanta called Warsame "more than a poet."

"He was a philosopher and a freedom fighter who spent many years in jail for his stance against injustice and dictatorship," the Guardian reported.

Those who knew him said Warsame's works, some of which have been translated into English, would remain world treasures for years to come.

"We will treasure his legacy and the rich scholarly work he left behind," said University of Minnesota language professor Salah Ahmed.

Muse Bihi Abdi, the president of Somaliland, summed up the magnitude of Warsame's death, saying his government would organize a national funeral and other events to honor "his legacy and history."

"It is a painful moment for us and for all Somali-speaking communities in the region, a day we lost a great man."

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Anita Pointer of the Grammy-winning Pointer Sisters stands with Andy Madadian (C) and La Toya Jackson (L) as Madadian is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2020. Pointer, who performed alongside her sisters June and Ruth, died at the age of 74 on December 31 following a battle with cancer. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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