Kiswahili has become the lingua franca of eastern Africa. Yet there can be few historic peoples whose identity is as elusive as that of the Swahili. Some have described themselves as Arabs, as Persians or even, in one place, as Portuguese. It is doubtful whether, even today, most of the people about whom this book is written would unhesitatingly and in all contexts accept the name Swahili.
This book was central to the thought and lifework of the late James de Vere Allen. It is his major study of the origin of the Swahili and of their cultural identity. He focuses on how the African element in their cultural patrimony was first modified by Islam and later changed until many Swahili themselves lost sight of it.
They share a language and they share a culture. Their territory stretches from the coast of southern Somalia to the Lamu archipelago in Kenya, to the Rovuma River in modern Mozambique and out into the islands of the Indian Ocean. But they lack a shared historical experience.
James de Vere Allen, in this study of contentious originality, set out to give modern Swahili evidence of their shared history during a period of eight centuries.
James de Vere Allen was Curator of the Lamu Museum.
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Everyone “knows” the Maasai as proud pastoralists who once dominated the Rift Valley from northern Kenya to central Tanzania. But many people who identity themselves as Maasai, or who speak Maa, are not pastoralist at all, but farmers and hunters. Over time many different people have “become” something else. And what it means to be Maasai has changed radically over the past several centuries and is still changing today.
For over two centuries, Western scholars have discussed African philosophy and culture, often in disparaging, condescending terms, and always from an alien European perspective. Many Africans now share this perspective, having been trained in the western, empirical tradition. Makinde argues that, particularly in view of the costs and failings of western style culture, Africans must now mold their own modern culture by blending useful western practices with valuable indigenous African elements.
Africa is a marriage of cultures: African and Asian, Islamic and Euro-Christian. Nowhere is this fusion more evident than in the formation of Swahili, Eastern Africa’s lingua franca, and its cultures. Swahili beyond the Boundaries: Literature, Language, and Identity addresses the moving frontiers of Swahili literature under the impetus of new waves of globalization in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Swahili was once an obscure dialect of an East African Bantu language. Today more than one hundred million people use it: Swahili is to eastern and central Africa what English is to the world. From its embrace in the 1960s by the black freedom movement in the United States to its adoption in 2004 as the African Union’s official language, Swahili has become a truly international language.