Event: Swahili Literary Festival 2020: Identity Politics on the Swahili Coast (04-08 March)

Following the conversation between AiW Guest Aurélie Journo and the founder of Hekaya, Abu Amirah: “Heroes and scholars are everywhere”: Q&A , we are delighted to share that the Swahili Literary Festival is back for its second year.

The Swahili Literary Festival, an annual event entering its second year in 2020, is a celebration of the rich intellectual, cultural and literary history on the Swahili coast. The festival, a program under Hekaya Arts Initiative is largely informed by the need to bring the Swahili community together in acknowledging and celebrating its heroes and intellectual history.

The 2020 edition of the festival is heavily informed by the 2019 edition whose theme was “Celebrating Achievement”. The post-festival conversations we had with different scholars on the issue of “Swahiliness” indicated the need to talk about identity politics in the Swahili coast.

5. Swahili Lit Fest 2020

Why identity?

Swahili identity is something that has been grossly misunderstood, especially in post-colonial Kenya which was rising along ethnic lines created by the mainly colonial-instigated term “tribe”. The Waswahili found themselves almost without an identity, with the hinterland perception of them being a people of Arab ancestry while the Arabs viewed them as Africans, hence inferior.

In a very modernized, culturally diverse setting, the term Swahili, especially to the young Waswahili, is still not considered an authentic term of identity, perhaps because it carries with it a whole lot of stereotypical connotations.

Understanding Swahili identity is crucial to shaping thoughts and building a generation of culturally-informed thinkers who will aggressively defend and preserve Swahili cultural heritage in the same manner that those before us did.

Recapping on the 2019 edition: last year’s festival had the following activities:

  • An evening opening ceremony with Prof. Rocha Chimerah’s speech on the value of celebrating Swahili heroes with a key emphasis on almost-forgotten figures like Fumo Liyongo. Prof Khalil Timamy talked about the importance of documenting our heroes and stories.
  • A school program where different high schools had a competition on shairi recital and performance
  • A celebration of achievement where we celebrated the life and works of the following individuals:
    • Muyakka Bin Haji Al-Ghassainy
    • Maalim Shihabudin Chiraghdin
    • Shaaban Bin Robert
    • Prof Ahmed Nabhany Sheikh
    • Prof Ali M Mazrui
    • Ustadh Ahmed Nassir Juma Bhalo
1. Swahili-Literary-Festival-2019-opening-evening

Swahili LitFest Opening Evening 2019

The 2020 edition, running from 4th to 8th March 2020 will have the following programs:

  • A schools program which will run in conjunction with AFECOD (African Education Community Development) targeting Grade 3 pupils to high school students in spelling bees, writing and public speaking competitions in Arabic, Kiswahili & English.
  • A discourse “Je, Waswahili Ni Nani?” which will bring together the Swahili community and scholars talking about the history of the Waswahili, Swahili civilization before the coming of the Portuguese, the need to actively participate in protecting articles and artefacts of cultural significance, value of having an archival culture and how the Waswahili have developed in post-independence Kenya.
  • A panel discussion on building a sustainable reading culture in the Swahili coast. The discussants are drawn from diverse disciplines.
  • A launch of the book “Kas Kazi”, Hekaya Initiative’s publishing project which won the AWT Seed Fund last year.
  • Celebrating heroes. The 2020 seeks to celebrate the following:
    • Sayyid Abdallah bin Ali bin Nassir (Al-Inkishafi)
    • Mwanakupona (Utenzi wa Mwanakupona)
    • Mwalimu Ali Abubakr, an educationist who heavily influenced the likes of Prof Ali Mazrui, Prof Mohamed Bakari Saggaf and others.

Venue: The event will take place at SwahiliPot, Mombasa County
Dates: 04-08 March, 2020


Follow the Swahili Literary Festival and Hekaya on Facebook and Twitter @HekayaEA and on Instagram @hekaya_ea

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