The festival theme of “Celebrating heroes” was on show at the final session of the Swahili Literary Festival 2019 at the SwahiliPot Hub, Mombasa on March 3, 2019.
The Swahili Literary Festival rocked the coastal city of Mombasa with an opening ceremony that included a keynote address by Noma award-winning writer and academic Prof Rocha Chimera. The Saturday program at the festival featured presentations of mashairi (poetry) from local high schools ensuring that the next generation embraces this amazing art form. There was also a panel in the late afternoon where artists would discuss what they go through in their art.
On Sunday, March 3, there would be a final panel that would centre the “celebrating heroes” theme of the festival as Swahili heroes of the letter were commemorated. It was kind of a “Swahili Literature Hall of Fame” as the achievements of those who had been with us in the past were read out by friends and those who studied them. Here are some notes from the presentations with the videos I recorded on my phone. All presentations were made in Kiswahili unless specifically noted.
Prof Mohamed Khalil on why we need to remember heroes.
Prof Mohamed Khalil, who is a lecturer at the Pwani University, made a presentation on the importance of celebrating the heroes who came before us. His presentation which was started in Kiswahili and then continued in English would go as far back as the period when Portuguese
war criminal explorer Vasco Da Gama. It turns out that by the time the Portuguese were making their way up the East African coast towards Mombasa the word spread through the region was that they were a hostile force.
He would talk about the influence of the western powers who affected who was spoken about and who was ignored. Sheikh Mvita, for instance, organised the youth of Mombasa and put up resistance against the Portuguese. By the middle of the 16th Century, the Portuguese had arrested him, killed him and sent his head to Lisbon to prove to the ruler that he had been killed.
He spoke of other famous Muslim thinkers and scientists from this part of the world who had been ignored by the world community. He would talk about the importance of heroes for the self-esteem of a people.
Watch his presentation below;
Mama Amira Msellem remembers Prof Nabhany Sheikh.
Prof Ahmed Sheikh Nabhany was a legendary Kiswahili scholar, a reputable poet, a lexicologist, historian and a cultural expert who passed on in 2017. The citation of his work was given by his long-time assistant Mama Amira Msellem. The late Prof left quite a number of his unpublished works with her with instructions to preserve them. Watch her citation below.
Nagib Ahmed Nassir remembers Ustadh Ahmed Nassir Juma Bhalo.
Ahmad Nassir Juma Bhalo, who passed away earlier in the year, was one of the most respected poets in the East African. His work includes the poetry collection Malenga wa Mvita (Oxford UP, 1971) considered a modern classic, Poems from Kenya: Gnomic Verses in Swahili (University of Wisconsin Press, 1966) and Taa ya Umalenga (edited by Abdilatif Abdalla, Kenya Literature Bureau 1978). His epic poem Utenzi wa Mtu ni Utu (MacMillan, 1979) elaborates upon utu, the Swahili term for humanity and goodness, and presents a theory of morality in poetic form. His work was read by Nagib Ahmed Nassir.
Khalid Kitito remembers Shihabudin Chiraghdin.
Shihabudin Chiraghdin was a resident of the coastal part of Kenya who was so learned that he would study at Makerere University which was where the brightest in the land would go in the past. He would return to teach in Kwale where he would improve the education standards to the joy of all. His citation was given by Khalid Kitito of the Kenya Heritage Studies Centre (Formerly Swahili Cultural Centre). Kituto is also the editor of Shihabudin Chiraghdin: Life Journey of A Swahili Scholar a biography which was written by Latifa Chiraghdin. Watch his citation below;
Hassan Makombo remembers Shaaban Robert.
Shabaan Robert was a Tanzanian poet, author, and essayist who supported the preservation of Swahili verse traditions. He is celebrated as one of the greatest Swahili thinkers, intellectuals and writers in East Africa and has been called “poet laureate of Swahili” and is also known as the “Father of Swahili.” His citation was given by Hassan Makombo a Kiswahili teacher at Mtopanga Boys School. You can watch the citation below.
Prof Mohamed Hyder celebrates Ali Mazrui.
Ali Mazrui was one of the most important thinkers to come out of the East African coast. The Mombasa born scholar would attend local schools before heading to Makerere University like the bright ones of his era. He would make a name worldwide as a political thinker, filmmaker, and scholar. His citation was given by his old friend Prof Mohamed Hyder who attended primary school with him. You can watch the whole citation below.