Kaha Mohamed Aden is an Italian writer of Somali origin. She was born in Mogadishu in 1966 and reached Italy in 1986. Her father, Mohamed Aden Sheikh, was a politician, who was imprisoned in 1975, from 1982 to 1989 (six of which he spent in total isolation at the Labanta Girow prison), as an opponent of Mohamed Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime. Kaha narrates her father's arrest in the short story ‘1982: fuga da casa’. She currently lives in Pavia, where she moved in 1987. Kaha graduated in economics and took her Master’s degree at the European School for Advanced Studies in Co-operation and Development – IUSS Pavia. In 2002, she was awarded the San Siro prize by the Pavia City Council in recognition of her contribution to solidarity and immigrant integration. Unlike most Italian authors of Somali origin, Kaha was educated in Somali schools, during the socialist period. Kaha learnt to write in Somali rather than in Italian or English, as Somali has been written with a codified alphabet since 1972.
Her collection of short stories, Fra-intendimenti, was published in 2010 by Nottetempo. As Alessandra Marino points out, this title ‘introduces the central theme of the precariousness of intercultural communication as a border practice. The deconstruction of the Italian word fraintendimenti, literally meaning ‘misunderstandings’, refers both to the migrants’ condition of living in-between (fra) languages and discourses (intendimenti), and to the risk of failure that is embedded in the exercise of cultural negotiation’ (139). One of the most significant stories of this collection is perhaps ‘Nonno Y. e il colore degli alleati’, which focuses on the Italian trusteeship administration of Somalia (1950-1960), a period that has still not received adequate critical attention in Italy. ‘Eeddo Maryan’ shows the legacy of colonialism both in Somalia and Italy, as both Somalis and Italians have prejudices against each other. ‘Apriti Sesamo’ describes the Bossi-Fini immigration Law 189/2002 as a nightmare: like K. in Kafka’s The Trial, the main character of this short story is arrested without having done anything wrong. Fra- intendimenti also recounts several specific periods of Somali history such as the campaign for alphabetisation, or Ololaha (‘Xuseyn, Suleyman e Loro’), the ethnic cleansing after Siad Barre’s fall in 1991 (‘La casa con l’albero: tra il Giusto e il Bene’), and recounts some of the stories of the Somali Diaspora to Italy (‘Nadia’).
Kaha’s work also includes a theatre play, Specchio specchio delle mie brame chi è più abile nel reame?, and oral performances, such as Mettiti nei miei panni, La valigia della zia, and La quarta via. La quarta via was presented at several cultural events and festivals, among them at the Seventh Conference of ISOLA (International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa) in Lecce (2008), the International Award ‘Alexander Langer’ in Bolzano the same year, and the Italian Institute of Culture at Nairobi, and the University of Nairobi in 2010.
In La quarta via, the capital city of Somalia is divided into four main streets, each corresponding to different historical periods. The ‘first road’ is the Islamic district of Mogadishu, facing the Indian Ocean. A past of trade and commerce, cultural exchanges, knowledge and the scent of a thousand spices from Puntland becomes the starting point of a journey towards our contemporaneity. The ‘second road’ introduces a less mythical but important stage in the development of the town: the colonial period and the traces left by Italian domination in Somalia. The ‘third road’ describes the hopes for a new Somalia during the 1970s, and the projects of female emancipation. This road also reminds us of Siad Barre’s dictatorship which forced Kaha to move to Italy. The ‘fourth road’ describes the current civil war, which broke out in 1991. It also describes the present condition of women who cover their bodies with burqas as if they were protecting themselves from a situation of violence and unpredictable danger.
The process of developing La quarta via into a documentary, La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Italia began in 2009 (Kimerafilm, 38’, 2012, Eng. sub., directed by Simone Brioni, Graziano Chiscuzzu and Ermanno Guida, written by Kaha Mohamed Aden and Simone Brioni, and attached to the volume Somalitalia. Quattro vie per Mogadiscio – Somalitalia. Four Roads to Mogadishu, edited by Simone Brioni). This documentary was awarded first prize at Libero Bizzarri Festival ‒ Mediaeducazione section in 2010, and was selected at the Medea Film Festival, Gorizia in 2011. In La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Italia, Kaha narrates her memories of Mogadishu, her hometown, and reconstructs its story in Pavia, where she currently lives. While the focus of the oral performance is to provide an interpretation and a reconstruction of recent Somali history, the documentary also raises questions concerning the link between territory and belonging and describes an alternative geography of Pavia. The ‘fourth road’ symbolises the actuality of civil war, but also negates the preceding periods and makes it necessary to set our hopes on a ‘fifth road’. La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Italia brings to our attention the issues of a land which shared a number of historical relationships with Italy in the past years; yet, this problematical aspect unfailingly tends to be overlooked by Italian mass media. The history of the city of Mogadishu gives rise to many important fundamental questions about the history of Italy itself, and its amnesia towards colonialism. Moreover, this documentary brings into question the concept of confines, not only in geographical, but also in cultural and identitarian terms. La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Italia aims to present the story of a ‘new citizen’ in a country which appears to be growing increasingly xenophobic and intolerant.
The memory and legacy of the Somali civil war is also at the centre of Dalmar. La disfavola degli elefanti, a dystopic fairy tale, in which elephants who are escaping from the war move to the land of bears. Their arrival will disrupt the bear community and cause tensions between the two groups of animals.
Kaha Mohamed Aden’s most relevant public appearances include keynote addresses at the Padiglione d’arte contemporanea in Milan in 2003, the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford in 2011, the Symposium ‘Postcolonial Italy: Between Assimilation and Integration’ organised by Flinders University and the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies in 2016, and the Italienisches Kulturinstitut Stuttgart in 2019. She was Honorary Research Associate at the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies in 2016.
Compiled by Simone Brioni (New York)
Dalmar. La disfavola degli elefanti (Milan: Unicopli, 2019)
Collections of Short Stories
Fra-intendimenti (Rome: Nottetempo, 2010)
‘I sogni delle extrasignore e le loro padrone’ in La serva serve ed. by Cristina Morini (Milan: Derive Approdi, 2001, pp. 27-31)
‘Donne e Islam: l’immagine nei media italiani’ in Donne, migrazione, diversità: l’Italia di oggi e di domani ed. by Commissione nazionale per la parità e le pari opportunità tra uomo e donna (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2002, pp. 301-305)
‘Dalmar, Dritta en de Prachtige Barbier’ [Translation of ‘Dalmar, Dritta e il Magnifico Barbiere’ by Henrieke Herber and Francesca Sfondrini] (Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 32.2, 2017, pp. 97-104). Available online DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/incontri.10223. This translation is introduced by a note from Kaha Mohamed Aden: ‘Nota al testo’ (Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 32.2, 2017, pp. 95-96). Available online DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/incontri.10222
Brioni, Simone: ‘Tradurre l’identità nell’Italia post- coloniale: La quarta via di Kaha Mohamed Aden’ (Altreitalie, 41, 2011, pp. 110-124)
—: ‘Pratiche “meticce”: Narrare il colonialismo italiano “a più mani”’ in Postcoloniale italiano: Tra letteratura e storia ed. by Franca Sinopoli (Latina: Novalogos, 2013, pp. 89-119)
—: ‘Autotraduction, traduction interculturelle et intersémiotique dans La quarta via de Kaha Mohamed Aden’ [Translated by Olivier Favier] (Écritures, 7, 2014, pp. 203-221)
—: ‘Memory, Belonging and the Right for Representation: Questions of “Home” in Kaha Mohamed Aden’s Fra-intendimenti’ in Shifting and Shaping a National Identity: A Study of Literature Written in Italian by and about Migrants in Italy ed. by Grace Russo Bullaro and Elena Benelli (Leicester: Troubador, 2014, pp. 23-42)
—: The Somali Within. Language, Race and Belonging in “Minor” Italian Literature (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015)
—: ‘Doppia temporalità e doppia spazialità: il cronotopo dei Fra-intendimenti di Kaha Mohamed Aden’ in Maschere sulla lingua: Negoziazioni e performance identitarie di migranti nell'Europa contemporanea ed. by Manuel Boschiero and Marika Piva (Bologna: Emil, 2016, pp. 27-38)
—: ‘“Un pas que ma jambe se refuse à faire”: expériences collaboratives et croisement de regards sur le colonialisme italien’ [Translated by Olivier Favier] in Le littératures de la Corne de l’Afrique.Regards croisés ed. by Paola Cabot-Ranzini (Paris: Karthala, 2016, pp. 173-202)
— [ed.]: Somalitalia: quattro vie per Mogadiscio / Somalitalia: Four Roads to Mogadishu (Rome: Kimerafilm, 2012)
Gerrand, Vivian: Possible Spaces of Somali Belonging (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2016, pp. 142-143)
Jansen, Monica: ‘Le cinque vie di Kaha: i colori dei Fra-intendimenti’ (Narrativa, 33-34, 2012, pp. 237-248)
—: ‘“Relational” and “Translational” Practices of Postcolonial Citizenship in Kaha Mohamed Aden’s Fra-intendimenti’ in Italy and the Literatures from the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti): Beyond the Language and the Territory ed. by Daniele Comberiati and Xavier Luffin (Rome: Aracne, 2018. pp. 93-109)
Le Gouez, Brigitte: “Fra-intendimenti entre Italie et Somalie. Pour une lecture de Kaha Mohamed Aden” in Xénographies féminines dans l’Europe d’aujourd’hui, ed. by Margarita Alfaro, Stéphane Sawas, Ana Belén Soto (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2020. pp. 15-30)
Lori, Laura: Inchiostro d’Africa. La letteratura postcoloniale somala fra diaspora e identità (Verona: Ombre Corte, 2013)
Clotilde Barbarulli: ‘Kaha Mohamed Aden e Ribka Sibhatu in dialogo con Clotilde Barbarulli’ in Poetiche politiche: Narrative, storie e culture delle donne ed. by Cristina Bracchi (Padua: Il Poligrafo, 2011, pp. 157-175)
Zinato, Susanna: ‘Susanna Zinato dialoga con la scrittrice Kaha Mohamed Aden’ in Maschere sulla lingua: Negoziazioni e performance identitarie di migranti nell’Europa contemporanea ed. by Manuel Boschiero and Marika Piva (Bologna: Emil, 2016, pp. 17-25)