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.
As the sun plunges into the westerly end of the ocean in slow motion, basketball-like, beyond the weather-beaten skyscrapers and slow-moving traffic, way beyond the docked masses of iron, further, further beyond the nondescript fusion of sea and sky, Mombasa undergoes a gradual metamorphosis as the world elsewhere closes its mouth for the night.
Lethargic day life paves way for an exuberant night life soon as the hint of the sun is swept off the sky. Shop corridors and pavements which were otherwise dull during the day light up, tables and chairs dragged from back rooms as workers in sagging tight jeans, plastic sandals, and earphones dangling from their ears clean away the day-time madness, pouring soapy water on the pavements which suck it in pretty fast having being dehydrated the entire day by Mombasa’s unforgiving heat.
Webs of lines are etched deeply into his face. A set of languid, deeply burrowed eyes tell the tale of a man tortured by life. If you pick a random event from precolonial Kenya, this man was probably a little older than that. With each hunching movement he clenches his gum and complains that a terrible ache pierces his back ‘like needles’. The elderly man had long forgotten what it felt to have joints that moved with ease without torturing him with a sting of pain.
As I help him onto a well-aged three- legged seat under a towering palm-tree, he lets out a shriek like a man who had stepped on thorns. This man is a member of a little Known Pemba community living in the Kenyan Coast.