A lot of the art in Djibouti has been influenced by Somali, Afar, French, Arab, and Ottoman arts and cultures. Some of the oldest pieces of art are in the form of rock drawings, especially near the town of Balho. Speaking of rocks, this is a good time to bring in Lake Abhe (sometimes spelled Lake Abbe). It’s one of the lowest places in Africa and is most famous for its limestone “chimneys” protruding from the ground. This area is also a hotbed for geothermal energy. I’ve also read in two places that this is where they filmed Planet of the Apes, but I also read that it was filmed in deserts of Arizona and California. But I'm not sure which one they were talking about. So, who knows?
Some of the largest pieces of art can be found in their architecture. Most of the buildings are Arab-influenced styles and motifs. Plasterwork seems to be a common medium as well, usually found on ceilings, walls, and moldings. What I find interesting when taking a close look at it, it's highly mathematical. Some of these designs almost seem to be based on tessellations, although many seem to be variations on a theme. It tends to be highly decorated with reoccurring patterns, often filled with Islamic symbology.
Like other North African countries, the art from Djibouti often utilizes geometrical shapes in its designs and motifs and bright colors. They also are skilled at woven arts such as baskets and mats as well as other types of textile arts.
Much of Djibouti’s literary history has been passed on generation to generation by word of mouth. Djiboutians are great poets, and there are several styles of poetry that they utilize. The gabay is a Somali epic poem that is over 100 lines long. In a young poet’s studies, they’ve finally reached a respectable level of being a poet once they can compose and recite one of these poems. In the Afar culture, a ginnili was a kind of warrior-poet and often thought of as a diviner as well. Poets evidently held a high status in their society. They were also great storytellers, mostly in folk stories that are passed on orally, as well as being composers of the great battle songs.
Many Djiboutian writers have also contributed to the world of Islamic literature. One of the most prime historical works is Futuh Al-Habash, written by Shihab al-Din during the Middle Ages. This important work is a leading account of the Army of the Adal Sultanate’s occupation of Abyssinia.
In modern times, there are several politicians and intellectuals who have written memoirs and works about their vision for country as well. One of the most prominent writers today is Abdourahman Waberi. Born and raised in Djibouti City, he later went to France to study English literature. He did work as an English teacher while in France as well as a consultant and critic for various groups. As the recipient of numerous awards, his latest novel Transit was also finalist for the Best Translated Book Award this year.
Up next: music and dance