School of Humanities

European Languages Events

Translating the self: story-telling, language and identity

Two encounters with Italian authors Cristina Ali Farah and Kaha Mohamed Aden.


Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, ‘Written in milk: scattered mother tongues’

Kaha Mohamed Aden, ‘Fra-intendimenti’: (Mis)understanding, or ‘translating yourself’

Monday 28 November
9.00 am – 12.00 pm
Arts Lecture Room 6, University of Western Australia
The event is free of charge. RSVP to by 26 Nov.


Kaha Mohamed Aden
“La Quarta Via” (2012, 37’, English subtitles)
a multi-award-winning documentary on Somalia seen from Italy.
Trailer at
Monday 28 November
6.00 – 7.00 pm
Webb Lecture Theatre, Geography & Geology Building, University of Western Australia

Little Mother novel

Ubax Cristina Ali Farah
 ‘Written in milk: scattered mother tongues’

This presentation will focus on the role played by bilingual vision in the author’s writing practice. Reflecting on two cultures – Somali and Italian – was something she had to do right from the beginning. Ubax Cristina’s formal education was in Italian but Somali was the language of everyday life. On her arrival in Italy, she yearned for songs, texts or any form of oral and printed material from Somalia. She will talk about the use she makes of Somali songs, fables and tales in her work, particularly in the novel Madre Piccola. The novel tells the story of two cousins who had to flee Mogadishu because of the collapse of the state and the clan-based persecution that followed. The cousins meet again in Italy after almost a decade. The title of the book, ‘Little Mother’ was inspired by the Somali term Habaryar, the maternal aunt. In a society of extended families motherhood is not just a biological link, but also a social one. In the household, mothers share with other women the responsibility for and care of their children. It is not a coincidence that one of the main characters of the novel, Barni, is a midwife but not a mother. Not only does she help women giving birth, it is also thanks to her that her cousin (and one of the novel’s minor characters known as the Mute) regains the ability to talk. Two sources in particular were crucial for the writing of this book: the telephone conversations with friend and relatives and a series of oral stories by migrant women collected in Rome. Through the fabric of these interlocking voices, at times close, at others distant, Ali Farah tries to tell the story of the Somali diaspora. 


Kaha Mohamed Aden
 ‘Fra-intendimenti’: (Mis)understanding, or ‘translating yourself’

This talk is based on the author’s identity. It draws on multicultural, autobiographical experiences: the daughter of Somali parents who grew up in Somaliaand went to Italy to study, but found herself living there as a stateless person because of the civil war that broke out in her country. African culture, the influence of Islam, the Arab tradition, and experiences of European culture blend to produce complex results. After being a free, Somali citizen, Kaha suddenly had to deal with the fact that she had not only lost the community she came from, but was not wholly integrated into the community in which she now lived. Her stories deal with the meetings and clashes between different cultures. Language plays a central role because it reflects the complexity of intercultural relations due to (mis)understanding, or ‘(fra)intendimenti’. Her story-telling mainly describes how these ‘fra-intendimenti’ come about, what they consist of, and how we can overcome and thus mediate them. Her writing therefore centres on this mediation, in an attempt to bring out Somali stories and imagination that have been obscured by conflict, and to provide them with refuge in the Italian language. The author’s ambitious goal is the construction of shared languages and spaces. Her own personal story, which she describes as a ‘confusion’ of different experiences (in different languages) is what she uses to translate herself, reconfigure herself and so reach out towards others.

Kaha Mohamed Aden
“La Quarta Via” (2012, 37’, English subtitles)

Kaha Mohamed Aden narrates her memories of Mogadishu, her hometown, and reconstructs its story in Pavia, where she currently lives. The capital city of Somalia is divided into five main streets, with each corresponding to different historical periods. The 'fourth road' symbolizes the actuality of civil war, but also negates the preceding periods and makes it necessary to set our hopes on a 'fifth street'. “La Quarta Via” brings to our attention the issues of a land which shared a number of historical relationships with Italy in the past years; yet, this problematic aspect unfailingly tends to be overlooked by Italian mass-media. The history of the city of Mogadishu gives rise to many important fundamental questions on the history of Italy itself, given the assumption that we have a limited, and, to some degree, distorted historical view on this matter, not to mention the partial omission of the colonialism period, of which people seem inclined to take no notice. “La Quarta Via” aims to present the story of a 'new town' in a country which appears to be growing increasingly xenophobic and intolerant.

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