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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Dr Katriina Ranne


Katriina Ranne
Dr Katriina Ranne
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Thesis title:
The Image of Water in the Poetry of Euphrase Kezilahabi
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PhD Research

I earned my degree of Doctor of Philosophy in October 2011.

My thesis researches the image of water in the poetry of Euphrase Kezilahabi (b. 1944), an acknowledged modern Swahili poet writing in free verse. It is the first extensive, in-depth analysis of a particular image in Kezilahabi’s poetry, and contributes to the research on Afrophone philosophies and their connection to literature.

In the thesis, Kezilahabi’s water imagery is contextualised in relation to water imagery in both traditional and other modern Swahili poetry. In addition to the three poetry collections of Kezilahabi (published in 1974, 1988 and 2008), the image of water in Kezilahabi’s prose and drama is also discussed. The analysis is text-based, but also seeks to connect the literary images to Kezilahabi’s theoretical writing, especially to his ideas of ‘language of Being’ and ‘the eternal now’. Moreover, reference is frequently made to the interviews that were conducted with Kezilahabi during fieldwork. In the analysis, special emphasis is placed on the way in which sound is employed in production of water imagery, concentrating on the expressiveness of phonemes. The examination of soundscapes draws from Reuven Tsur’s cognitive poetics. Other important references include philosopher Gaston Bachelard and the theories of non-conceptualism.

The thesis argues that concrete images can convey content that is not paraphrasable, and furthermore that material images in literature deserve more research. They are often interpreted only as symbols, ignoring the multiple meaning potentials in concrete imagery. Moreover, an extensive analysis of a particular material image can make the central philosophical ideas concealed in the literature emerge. The thesis shows how the image of water constructs the idea of life in Kezilahabi’s poetry, illustrating different aspects of life and expressing philosophy that draws as well from Kerewe and Swahili cultures as world philosophies and religions, fusing the influences in innovative ways and discussing both topical issues and the ultimate questions of being alive.  

During the second year of my PhD, I conducted four months of fieldwork in Tanzania, doing interviews with Euphrase Kezilahabi and other writers and scholars. I also stayed three months at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, with their research student scholarship. During my third year (spring 2010), I was the course convenor of Swahili IIB (Introduction to Swahili Literature) and Swahili III, teaching 50% of both courses. Alongside this, I wrote a novel in Finnish (Minä, sisareni, published by Nemo, 2010) and translated Swahili poetry into Finnish for literary magazines (Tuli & Savu and Nuori Voima).

PhD Publications

  • ‘Heavenly Drops: The Image of Water in Traditional Islamic Swahili Poetry’. Swahili Forum 17 (2010). Pp. 58–81.

PhD Conferences

  • ‘Surrendering in Favour of Tradition: Sensitive Relationships in a Swahili Film’. At 23rd Swahili Colloquium in Bayreuth, Germany, 14–16th 2010.
  • ‘The Image of Water in Traditional Islamic Swahili Poetry’. At 21st Swahili Colloquium in Bayreuth, Germany, 2–4th 2010.