Monday, 6 February 2012

KISWAHILI PROFESSOR SAID AHMED MOHAMMED- UNSUNG MAESTRO OF EAST AFRICAN LITERATURE...



 I was watching a William Shakespeare TV documentary with a couple of secondary school students, recently. In the middle of the programme one asked if I had read Hamlet. I said, I had. Romeo and Juliet? Yes. Julius Caesar? Sure.
“Where did you read them?”
I said at Ilboru secondary school in the highlands of Arusha, Tanzania. I also acted in a Caesar play; I was Cassius and saw “Romeo and Juliet” film at the British Council in Dar es Salaam.Yes. William Shakespeare is known in Africa, I explained.
The youths thought Shakespeare is an archaic thing only forced unto them (to waste time) whereas the writing legend has been utilized for ages across the planet to learn English. Shakespeare is the second mostly quoted English writer after the Bible while his plays the most used in cinema. And what significance for the British? It means glory for the English language plus financial gains.


Swahili prolific author and lecturer, Prof Said Ahmed Mohammed Khamis
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And if you are in East Africa where Kiswahili poetry has been injected with some of the finest writers in Bongo Flava, you have to remember that guys like Professor Jay (aka Joseph Haule) are a continuous segment from Mr Two, past 1960’s Swahili poet Mathias Mnyampala through Shaaban Robert to  Fumo Lyongo’s classic poetry of the 12th century.
When Professor Jay recorded “Ndiyo Mzee” ridiculing politicians bubbling fake promises to win votes, the President himself acknowledged the tune highlighting   political hypocrisy. Likewise Morogoro musician  Salum Abdullah wrote songs to inspire the struggles of TANU and Mwalimu Nyerere in the 1950’s.
The profound importance of literature cannot be underestimated in any society.

In 1984 I bought “Asali Chungu” a Kiswahili novel  in Nairobi. The extraordinary publication or its author, Said Ahmed Mohammed were unknown in Tanzania. I also noted that a couple of superior quality Swahili novels were being produced by a 1980’s Kenyan publisher called Shungwaya.
“Asali Chungu” (bitter honey) was also put out by the highly successful London promoter of African books, Heinemann, in a project known as Africa Writers Series. AWS  revolutionised the way Africans are perceived and the series assisted teaching African culture and literature in many international educational institutions.
Released in 1976, “Asali Chungu” is a pre Zanzibar revolution period story of  greed and lechery, known nowadays as Ufisadi. In a detailed rape scene, the Fisadi character (Zuberi) fathers a child that eventually grows to haunt him. The unknown orphan (supposedly) sleeps with the Fisadi’s wife, marries and has kids with his step sisters. The end is disastrous.


This was Professor Said Ahmed’s debut masterpiece. Since then he has written 28 books:  ten novels, among them a brilliant “Nyuso za Mwanamke” issued in 2010, by Sasa Sema. Also known as Longhorn, Sema  are based in Nairobi with a small office in Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam. Professor Said has also published seven plays; four poetry and seven collections of short stories, respectively.


Born in Zanzibar in 1947 Said Ahmed Mohammed has been professor of African literature at the Bayreuth University, Germany since 1997. I asked how come all his books are published in Kenya?
He gave several reasons. First, he says national interests tend to focus on “get rich quickly” schemes; therefore our three countries are not united economically. This makes small things like books from Tanzania being sold in Tanzania and vice versa, difficult. Secondly, he says our country’s reading culture is so poor that publishers in Tanzania and Kenya hesitate circulating certain types of books.

 Thirdly, “majority of Tanzanians cannot afford to purchase books since they are busy struggling to find bread to feed their children. “
There is also a tendency to magnify certain sections of society more than others, he explains.  “It is sad that an historical figure like Mohammed Said Abdullah is revered and respected overseas more than in his country of origin.”

German scholar and  Swahili language lecturer at the University of Humboldt in Berlin, Dr. Lutz Diegner, says Professor Said is: “an extremely gifted writer who made use of Swahili rich in vocabulary and rhetorical devices, engaged in conserving, reviving and being highly innovative at the same time.”
With the current falling standards of Kiswahili and English languages we  need to value the efforts of such a prolific author to help improve the quality of both students and citizens in our East African educational system.

Published in Citizen Friday 3rd Feb, 2012:
http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/editorial-analysis/20-analysis-opinions/19446-said-ahmed-the-unsung-maestro-of-east-african-literature

1 comment:

  1. Kazi nzuri, tafadhali endelea kuwaheshimu mababu zetu ambao walijitoa mhanga kwendeleza lugha yetu.

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