‘If there was no jaad’: poetics of khat and remembering the future in a London Somali community

Guntars Ermansons*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The Somali people have suffered from a devastating civil war and large-scale forced displacement since the late 1980s. This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork with Northwest London Somalis during the khat (Catha edulis) control debates that led to the prohibition of the substance in June 2014. It argues that diaspora poetics can become an expression of a deeply divisive past offering ways to rearticulate ruptured interpersonal and community relationships in terms of their restorative potential. When Somali diaspora people in the United Kingdom used poetry to engage in the khat prohibition debates, the anti-khat poems entangled this mild stimulant with the Somali history of state collapse and displacement. This revealed that, for Somalis, the stakes of the prohibition vastly exceeded concerns about potential social and health harms of khat in the United Kingdom. The poetics of khat situate acts of remembering within a distinctive conception of ideas about Somali nationhood, the need for conciliation, and visions of a common future. Yet remembering proved to be less about nostalgic longing for the past and more about enacting new moral and political relations enabled by the momentum of the khat prohibition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1290-1308
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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