Poetry and music in the “City of Saints”

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Author : Ilaria Sartori

The ancient city-state of Harar, a micro-cultural island in Eastern Ethiopia, has been for centuries a crucial commercial crossroad and the major East African Islamic centre.
Harar’s inhabitants call their town simply Gey, “the City”, or Jugol, the wall that encloses and symbolizes it, but Harar is also named Madinat al-Awliya “City of Saints”, as it is starred with hundreds of mosques, shrines and tombs of holy men. For Harari people, an urban, literate and highly educated population, ada (culture) and din (religion) are strictly interlocked.
Harari songs, called gey fäqär, “the Songs of the City”, are among the most signifcant expressions of local intangible cultural heritage. The Songs of the City, unique and diverse at once, openly represent Harari identity and concurrently reveal local intercultural adjustments and reactions to historical processes.
Today, Harari songs are mainly performed at weddings and tell about the new life of the newly-wedded couple. However, texts of gey fäqär also constantly refer to Islamic religion, as well as to historical memory, patriotism and cultural identity.