Tanzanian literature

Tanzanian literature

Literature. Books. Reading. My idea of paradise.

When I was attending my high school, a long time ago, I was fascinated by my teacher of English literature who taught me how this is one of the most intimate forms of art. I made this my guiding principle, I took my degree, in literature of course, and since then I’ve never stopped being interested in all sort of testimonies from all over the world.

I came into contact with Tanzanian literature, it goes without saying, and I immediately got involved, but I also crashed into a large number of little problems. First of all, the language, as this literature is part of a bigger group, the Swahili one, which includes all the Swahili East African productions.

And there’s more.

As Kiswahili has been standardized only recently, the origins of these productions are linked to the specific dialect of the author. Not easily manageable considering also the Arab and Islamic influences on the East African world.

This mixture between the original Bantu culture, with its songs, proverbs and stories, with the Arab culture created what we now call Swahili culture, a new form with peculiar features of its own.

It’s important to mingle

The traditional form of Swahili literature was poetry.

Lyrical, didactic, religious and, above all, epic. The most famous form of epic was the so called UTENZI.

Some of them celebrated great wars, UTENZI WA TAMBUKA, some concentrated on a sort of religious morality, UTENZI WA SHUFAKA. Or they were stories of didactic kind like the very interesting UTENZI WA MWANA KUPONA, written by the wife of a sultan for her adolescent daughter and regarding the managing of marriage.

A unique example for understanding the role of women and the structure of the family in the Swahili culture.

The passage between a pure Bantu world to a mixed cultural world must have had periods of tension.

This could be represented by LIONGO, one of the most famous heroic figures of the Swahili culture. He was a warrior and a singer and many of his songs have been handed down orally.

They are connected to wedding rituals and gungu dances. As I had many opportunities to underline this, dance is central in almost all the tribes I’ve been in contact with. Dance and music. This is a very ancient form of culture, very rooted in all traditions throughout Tanzania. I guess it’s one of their ways of putting the community at the centre of everything, to see enjoyment as a sort of social cohesion.

Anyway, Liongo seems to have actually existed around the 13th Century.

He is thought to have been a giant and a king. He probably lived in the period in which the old African kings were fighting against the arrival of Islamic Sultanates.

The last two centuries have been characterized by colonization and decolonization and literature has come to a new dimension. Prose, previously employed only for theology and a few other purposes, starts to be used in stories, novels and autobiographies and we arrive at Shaaban Robert and, more recently, to Euphrase Kezilahabi, a very interesting and complicated contemporary author. But we need another article to face these two giants.