SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

Modern Swahili Poems – Ushairi wa Kiswahili wa Kisasa

Ahmed Rajab

Date: 16 October 2017Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 16 October 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Book Launch

The tradition of poetry writing and recital has very long roots in Swahili culture, and is recorded as a feature of life in the great halls of Kilwa in the sixteenth century.  Ebrahim Hussein, whose family originates in Kilwa Kisawani, is both an heir to this tradition and has been one of its leading modern exponents. But he is not alone: the Department of Swahili Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam found in a national survey that there are five thousand writers of poetry in Tanzania at the present time. In recognition both of the tradition and its living exponents a ‘Prize for Swahili Poetry’ was established in 2014 having been funded by Gerald Belkin, an enthusiast for the language, its poetry and of Ebrahim Hussein himself.

The friendship between Gerald, (who sadly died in 2012) and Ebrahim dates from the early 1970s when Gerald was filming village life in selected but pioneering ujamaa villages in Singida and Tanga Regions.  Ebrahim was part of his advisory and linguistic team and they remained in touch whilst he took his PhD in East Berlin.  Gerald’s films are now being curated by the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris and will be publicly available in a year’s time.

The first round of the Prize was awarded in 2014 and the second in 2016. The 2016  award and reading of the poems was held at the National Museum in Dar. Ebrahim Hussein was present on both occasions. 81 of the poems from these two competitions were published last year (Diwani ya Tunzo ya Ushairi ya Ibrahim Hussein. Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam).

On 16 October we will introduce this to audiences in Europe for the first time. Ahmed Rajab – a London based journalist born in Zanzibar — will give us a brief introduction to the modern development of Swahili poetry and chair the event. A selection of the poems will be read in Swahili, with English translations, and then discussed in English. So this event will be meaningful to anyone interested in poetry from the African and Arab worlds – in its contemporary cultural situations.

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This event is organised in collaboration with the Britain Tanzania Society.

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