The HyperTexts

Ogaden Poetry
Ogaden Genocide Poetry

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor
and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region run for shelter during a dust storm at Djabal camp near Gos Beida in eastern Chad June 19, 2008.

Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

A place named Ogaden swarms with death like moths

Epitaph for an Ogaden Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

"Somalis have been known to the world, at least since Richard Burton's time, as a nation of poets." — Cedric Barnes, University of London

Come Lord and Lift
by T. Merrill

Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
   Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
   To have the lost be found.

The heart that cries—let it but hear
   Its sweet love answering,
Or out of ether one faint note
   Of living comfort wring.

"Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me." — Jesus Christ

Epitaph for a Somali Child
by Michael R. Burch

I was only a child
in the Somali wild.

What matter — my death
as long as you draw breath?

Forget me — I die.
Never ask yourselves, Why?

Ogaden People
by Hodan Heello

My people are creative, lyrical, artistic, and sentimental
Even thought they have been oppressed for over 150 years
They carry on life the best way they know how to
Most of them didn’t get the chance for proper education yet
You find pure talent everywhere you look
Everything is expressed through poetry, songs, and some form of art
Dhaanto is the supreme form of cultural dance performed at every occasion
Their history isn’t written in that many books thus
It is written in the hearts of every single one of them

My people are strong, resilient, rock-solid and sturdy
Even though they have been oppressed over 150 years
They carry on life the way they know how to
When life beats them to the ground they get up and try again
When hard times hit they still convey their daily lives
When there isn’t enough food or water their smiles never fade away
When the Wayane guns them down they manage ways to stay positive
Their hardships aren’t written in many books consequently
A conversation with one will fill you in to the maximum

My people are unique, inimitable, incomparable, and remarkable
Even though they have been oppressed over 150 years
They carry on life as the best way they know how to
They continue to rebuild everything destroyed by the Wayane
With them life is cherished even more because of their penury
It gives them courage and willpower to stand against something so powerful
To say no to suffering and no to all the malicious crimes committed against them
It takes a lot of audacity to stand up for what you believe is right
My people had been fighting for their rights and freedom for a long time
They have been saying no the ethnic cleansing of the people of the Ogaden region
Their stories aren’t written in many books, hence
Their expressions define the true meaning of their struggle

My people live in the occupied land of the Ogaden region of Ethiopia
With my hope inshallah they will be free from destruction and demolition
They will have the means necessary to a self-governing country
They will have the right to decide their own fate and
inshallah they will enjoy life without a hassle
Their daily life struggle isn’t shared with the world: that is why
A day with one of them will change your worldview and your life forever
My people ... my people ... I love my people ...
Free the occupied land of the Ogaden region ...

Our special thanks to Alaa Ali Mohammed for bringing the poem above to our attention, and of course to Hodan Heello for writing it.

by Michael R. Burch

What good are your tears?
They will not spare the dying their anguish.
What good is your concern
to a child sick of living, waiting to perish?

What good, the warm benevolence of tears
without action?
What help, the eloquence of prayers,
or a pleasant benediction?

Before this day is gone,
how many more will die
with bellies swollen, wasted limbs,
and eyes too parched to cry?

I fear for our souls
as I hear the faint lament
of their souls departing ...
mournful, and distant.

How pitiful our "effort,"
yet how fatal its effect.
If they died, then surely we killed them,
if only with neglect.

Both victor and vanquished are dewdrops:
flashes of light
briefly illuminating the void.
—Ôuchi Yoshitaka, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

This world—to what may we compare it?
To autumn fields darkening at dusk,
dimly lit by lightning flashes.
—Minamoto no Shitago, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

An Illuminating Article from Ogaden Online

Nestled in the heart of the Horn of Africa a woman walks across the Savannah, with her child grasping one hand and a precious water container nearly filled to the rim in the other. She scans the landscape for signs of danger taking the form of Ethiopian troops on patrol. She knows that if she encounters even a small patrol, the chances of being raped, beaten and even killed are high. Despite this realization, her children must eat and drink and so she walks, albeit cautiously, driven by the undeniable love a mother has for her child. She has suffered much; her village has been reduced to ashes. The members of her family killed by the Ethiopians are too numerous to recall. During the harshest famines, she has gone hungry to that her children may eat. Her land is rich by all measures, yet she is poor as her mother was before her.

As she walks she sees movement in the distance. She pauses, just to be certain her eyes had not seen something which is not there. Yet, to her horror, her eyes had not deceived her. A slow swarm of figures is approaching her position. They are barely noticeable. There clothes blend into the country side. She quickly glances around for brushes big enough to give her child cover. She has done this before and her child knows to remain silent until her mother removes her hardened hands placed across her tiny dry cracked lips. She sees the brush she is looking for a several meters away. She walks quickly, nearly running, dragging her child. She keeps her head low using the diverse assortment of vegetation which fills the country side as cover when she approaches the lifesaving brushes. She wishes she had drawn water from the well faster so that she had started back sooner, avoiding this place at this moment in time. She is so close where her family is settled that she considers making a run for it but that thought quickly leaves her mind as she knows there is no way she can make it in time and safe her child.

Will she once again live through this day? Will her child grow up even if only to experience the same fear when she collects firewood or fetches water with a child of her own years from now? The mother can only pray. She rushes into the brushes, ignoring the scratches of the dry bush which has not soaked life giving rain for months. She sits still, with her child beside her. Silent, they sit fearing the worst but still hoping to come out this ordeal alive. Even the soft sound of her breath and her rapidly beating heart seem too loud for her liking. She waits, and waits. They are close now, so close you can hear there voices although there words are unrecognizable.

Then suddenly and without warning, there is movement behind her. Someone is approaching. Could she have missed one of them? Was she too late? Had her worst nightmare come true? She cannot bear to look. If this is indeed the end she prays it comes quickly. She moves her hand from her child’s mouth up to her ears. Even a moment before death she cannot bear to let the loud crackly of rifle shots startle her child. It is her last act of love before leaving this world.

"Walaal" a male voice says. She turns without wanting to and sees a hand stretched out, a kind smile and eyes so gentle; they could only be a blessing from Allah. Her breathing slows, she removes her hands from her child’s ears and stares at a young man wearing a green fatigue with his rifle securely balances on his shoulder. "Walaal" he says again, and this time she knows she is safe. This time she knows she stands before one of her own. She may not be so fortunate another day but today she feels she hit the lottery. Today, they will survive, because today she stands before the only ones who have sworn to protect her. Today, she is in the presence of the defenders of her dignity, and the dignity of countless others like her. She exhales and says "Xaqle" as the young man smiles. She moves her child towards him as he separates the thick twigs to ensure the child is not hurt coming out of the brush. She emerges from her hiding place, and sees those same gentle eyes all around her.

Time is forgotten as the young men talk to her while sharing there rations. When the time comes, she says goodbye to her brothers and, to her pleasant surprise, her sisters of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), she picks up her water container and walks the short remaining distance to her family with a smile on her face.

Tomorrow she will go out and fetch water again. She will do this despite the dangers she may encounter. She tells herself it's a matter of survival, but deep down she knows it is more than that. It is her own personal defiance against those who have brought so much misery to her land and her people. She will not be a prisoner in her own land. She will not yield to the wishes of her occupier.

That night, as her child sleeps, she softly recites a poem of defiance. The same poem her mother recited to her years ago. It is a poem recited by mothers to their children all over Ogaden. It is a poem conveying the message of struggle.

She is a Somali woman from the Ogaden and she is the custodian of our hopes and the symbol of our struggle.

A Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from six U.S. Senators

United States Senate
May 23, 2011
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

We remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation and human rights abuses being committed in the Ogaden region of southeastern Ethiopia. The region is facing a severe drought and we fear the situation will worsen if steps are not taken to help protect innocent civilians.

Millions of Ethiopians are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. The past year's lack of adequate rainfall and the current drought has resulted in severe water shortages, increasing the likelihood of displacement, mass migration, and complications from the scarcity of clean water, such as cholera. Despite the increasing humanitarian need, the international community has been unable to provide adequate assistance due to insecurity in the region and ongoing hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

The ongoing conflict in the Ogaden has had a devastating impact on innocent civilians. Serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed by all sides, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, abductions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and even entire communities being displaced. The Government of Ethiopia has taken a series of steps to clampdown on opposition forces, including use of force and human rights violations. The State Department's 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia detailed incidences of human rights abuses committed by Ethiopian security forces, including police and local militia.

Since the launching of their counterinsurgency campaign in 2007, the Government of Ethiopia has restricted access of diplomats, humanitarian workers, and journalists into the Ogaden region to prevent reporting of human rights abuses by government forces. Furthermore, movement restrictions have made independent verification of the population's needs extremely difficult. Just this month, Foreign Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn refused to accept the findings of the 2010 Report on Human Rights in Ethiopia, stating there was "no need to accept this report as something that can help." The Government of Ethiopia is not demonstrating genuine willingness to help alleviate this humanitarian crisis.
We understand the valuable strategic relationship that the United States has with the Government of Ethiopia. But the United States also has a responsibility to promote good governance and human rights in Ethiopia. Ethiopia's role as a security partner cannot come at the expense of the most fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms, including the right to live free from harm, freedom of movement and freedom of association.

As such, we respectfully request that you urge the Ethiopian Government to reopen the Ogaden region to independent organizations, including humanitarian ones, to assess and monitor the humanitarian situation. We also ask that you keep us informed on U.S. efforts to help bring about a resolution to this ongoing conflict and to urge the Ethiopian Government to hold accountable any military officials complicit in these abuses.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter and for your tireless work to ensure that all people are able to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

Signed by six U.S. senators

The HyperTexts