March 2019 marked the first instalment of the annual Swahili Literary Festival, the inaugural theme being “Celebrating Achievement”, a participatory theme informed by the dire need to acknowledge and celebrate heroes in the East African littoral space. While heroes come in many different shades, our intention was to celebrate those whose achievement was literary or artistic in nature.
To read Latifa Chiragdhin’s ‘Shihabuddin Chiraghdin: Life Journey of a Swahili Scholar’, (available on Amazon)
The thought of speaking before an audience numbering a thousand or more filled me with an equal amount of excitement and queasiness, so much so that I almost bailed out. It was Gloria, my friend and editor who egged me on, reminding me importance of building networks and of Hekaya’s commitment as an emerging publisher in the culturally dynamic East African littoral creative space. It was an absolute joy when International Publishers Association Vice-President Bodour Al-Qasimi reached out and asked if I could speak at the seminar. The opportunity to talk about the little steps we are making in telling the coastal story and to hear what other established and emerging publishers are doing was always a welcome delight.
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” — Sue Monk Kidd, author
Hekaya Initiative is currently looking for fiction writers to participate in a traveling story that aims at connecting the larger Swahili Coast. Locations of interest include: Dar-e-Salaam, Bagamoyo, Kilwa, Swahili-speaking Northern part of Mozambique, Voi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Watamu, Malindi, Lamu, Kiunga, Bosaso, Zanzibar, Comoros, and Pemba.
The story will be passed on from one location to another until it traverses all these locations. Stories connect us, and we hope the traveling story will capture the cultural wealth and diversity of the Swahili Coast.
“…For literature to remain a veritable tool and agent of social change, it must continue to reflect the conflicts and crises thrown up by the society.” Prof Edwin Onwuka, Covenant Uni., Ota Ogun State, Nigeria- Dept of Languages.
Our appreciation of the khanga as an active preserver of Swahili culture will use as its point of departure a true love story whose outcome is heavily influenced by the writing on a khanga . Abdi, a good non-Swahili boy falls in love with Fatma, a pure Swahili girl. Her father would have none of it and insists on getting her married to her first cousin who is just back from Abu Dhabi with lots of Arab money that can only be adequately spent in obtaining a worthy wife, a wife like Fatma. But Fatma loves Abdi, and she cannot see her life without him. Her grandmother knows and supports it too.
There is nothing like a live performance. You can look at things on television, and you can look at things on YouTube, but when you get in a room full of people and you say one joke, and everyone’s laughing at the same thing, it’s a really great experience. -Loni Love
To watch Amarula- a tragic, love comedy performance which brings to the front themes ranging from explicit family values, ‘cross-generational’ love affairs, intimacy in return for good university grades and fear- is to be titillated, to be shocked and to be tickled to laughter, all at the same instance.
The old Fort, an iconic landmark in Mombasa, far removed from the chaos of the city stands defiantly watching the sea. Slightly behind it are a set of aged structures in the National Museums of Kenya property, underneath which tunnels run to and from Fort Jesus. One of these structures which has seen a significant effort at renovation (the most recent being a partial interior redecoration using fabrics) while maintaining elements of the old, houses Swahilipot, a dedicated Tech and Art hub which has since its inception metamorphosed into a creative and expressive space for youth. It has thus become a sort of inspiration for artists who tend to feel more in their element at the Pot than elsewhere where their passion for art may neither be appreciated nor supported.
‘Someone in Africa Loves You’ (English version)
Written by Alexander Nderitu
The tall blonde girl didn’t come to East Africa on safari,
She was an Oxford student majoring in History
And wanted to see the sites involved in slavery
And the relics of Arab-Portuguese rivalry.
I first spied her walking alone by the swaying sea
And something about her just jumped up and bit me.
I asked her her name and she said, ‘Suzanne…with an “e”.’
A few months ago, we did a call out seeking short fiction submissions from Coastal writers and the feedback was amazing, considering that Hekaya is a relatively new name in the coastal writing scene. The main aim of setting up this platform is to amplify coastal voices by publishing prose, poetry and portraiture from the region which spans from Mogadishu all the way down to the Kiswahili-speaking part of Northern Mozambique, largely because the people from these region share a whole lot in common.
For instance, Kiswahili is a common language here. In matters, dressing, the Kikoi is a common attire, differing only in style such that it would be easy to tell a Somali kikoi from its Lamu counterpart. The Chakacha and Taarab music from Mombasa differs only in tone from the one in The Comoros.
Please download the anthology here
The region has also given birth to globally acclaimed scholars of language and literature like the late Professor Ali Mazrui, Professor Abdulatif Abdallah, Professor Alamin Mazrui, Professor Rayya Timamy, Professor Rocha Chimera, Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah from Zanzibar, Ngala Chome, Ali Attas, Alwi Shatry to name but a few.