Said Samatar, renowned Somali scholar, dies in New Jersey


Said Sheikh Samatar, a prolific Somali author and prominent scholar, died on Tuesday in the U.S. state of New Jersey from an unspecified illness. He was 72.

Samatar was a professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was also the editor of the Horn of Africa Journal, a key reference for academics with a keen interest in the Horn of Africa.

Samatar has authored several books, including “Somalia: Nation in Search of a State” in 1987, a book that “attempts to capture the complexity and the agony of Somali people, which haunts the society to this day.”

“An astute observer of the history and politics of his native region, Dr. Samatar was widely sought after by the media,” Rutgers University said in a statement. “He was a colleague engaged in the affairs of Rutgers and the larger world, a joyful dining companion, an engaging and popular teacher, and a true friend to his colleagues. His is a voice that will be deeply missed by all who had the privilege to know him.”

Samatar’s daughter, Sofia Samatar, tweeted this Wednesday morning.

On Feb. 21, Twitter user Ahmed Hassan tweeted that Samatar “sustained serious injurious after falling down from stairs in his house.”

 In an interview with the journal “Bildhaan” published by Macalester College, he described the joy of publishing his first scholarly work as an “awesome experience.”

“The first time I saw my name in print was like the first date or sexual act,” Samatar said. “It has an orgasmic quality about it. That was the greatest joy.”

Samatar was born in the Somali region of Ethiopia, and like many Somalis of his generation, the exact location remains uncertain. When asked about this by “Bildhaan,” the late Samatar quipped: “I don’t even know where I was born! Perhaps under a tree!”

Samatar is survived by his wife, Lydia Samatar; daughter, Sofia Samatar; son Delmar Samatar, and four grandchildren.

  • Hassan Doualeh

    I just happened prof. Samater paased away. Inaa lilaahi wa inaa ilayhi raajicuum. Wuxuu ahaa aqoon yahan Soomaaliyeed. Allah ha u naxariisto. Amin.

  • Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

    Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

    This is a great void. I am sure Somalis lost a scholar of a great
    stature and his family lost a great father and husband. Selfishly though, I am wallowing in an immeasurable loss of my own. For, one his
    writing has been a source of food for the mind. Second, I had some kind of tentative agreement to pair up with him for poetry reading this year sometime. But we neither specified the time nor the place. He was going to read some of the greatest Somali poet and freedom fighter, Mohamed Abdalla Hassan‘s poems in English and I was going to read the same poems in Somali. I promised him that I was going to try my best to mimic the great man’s voice as best as I could. Right on the spot and over the phone, he asked if I can recite two or three stanzas on Koofil/Carfield. I did and he was satisfied. I think he was satisfied not because I am that good but because no one else volunteered to do the duet with him.

    This conversation came about fortuitously, for I found him one day on the other end of my phone. Yes, you heard me right, I found him on the other end of my phone. It so happened that I asked a friend of mine for the phone number of a person with the last name Samatar. Inadvertently, the friend gave me the cell-phone number of the sage Professor. Once he said, “Hello,” then two more words I recognized the distinctive, raspy voice of his. So quivering and nervous now I asked, “Is this the Said S Samatar, the Professor and the Scholar?”

    He responded sarcastically, “If that’s who you want me to be, I will take it. Who on earth would deny that title for himself?”

    After that laughter, I told that I was not able get into the lion’s den on my own but my call was misplaced. So as long as I had him on the phone, would he mind chatting with me a minute? Laughing, he responded affirmative. So the minute lasted an hour. That was how we ended up talking about pairing up for poetry reading.

    In a conference, once years ago I also asked him whether he ever entertained the idea of writing his autobiography? To my delight, he answered, “I am thinking about it son; and as a matter fact I should say I have some tentative notes ready!”

    All that as well as his humor are no more. Condolence to
    his family!

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