In this theoretically rich exploration of ethnic and religious tensions, Janet McIntosh demonstrates how the relationship between two ethnic groups in the bustling Kenyan town of Malindi is reflected in and shaped by the different ways the two groups relate to Islam. While Swahili and Giriama peoples are historically interdependent, today Giriama find themselves literally and metaphorically on the margins, peering in at a Swahili life of greater social and economic privilege. Giriama are frustrated to find their ethnic identity disparaged and their versions of Islam sometimes rejected by Swahili.
The Edge of Islam explores themes as wide-ranging as spirit possession, divination, healing rituals, madness, symbolic pollution, ideologies of money, linguistic code-switching, and syncretism and its alternatives. McIntosh shows how the differing versions of Islam practiced by Swahili and Giriama, and their differing understandings of personhood, have figured in the growing divisions between the two groups. Her ethnographic analysis helps to explain why Giriama view Islam, a supposedly universal religion, as belonging more deeply to certain ethnic groups than to others; why Giriama use Islam in their rituals despite the fact that so many do not consider the religion their own; and how Giriama appropriations of Islam subtly reinforce a distance between the religion and themselves. The Edge of Islam advances understanding of ethnic essentialism, religious plurality, spirit possession, local conceptions of personhood, and the many meanings of “Islam” across cultures.
Since its founding in 1964, the United Republic of Tanzania has used music, dance, and other cultural productions as ways of imagining and legitimizing the new nation. Focusing on the politics surrounding Swahili musical performance, Kelly Askew demonstrates the crucial role of popular culture in Tanzania's colonial and postcolonial history.
As Askew shows, the genres of ngoma (traditional dance), dansi (urban jazz), and taarab (sung Swahili poetry) have played prominent parts in official articulations of "Tanzanian National Culture" over the years. Drawing on over a decade of research, including extensive experience as a taarab and dansi performer, Askew explores the intimate relations among musical practice, political ideology, and economic change. She reveals the processes and agents involved in the creation of Tanzania's national culture, from government elites to local musicians, poets, wedding participants, and traffic police. Throughout, Askew focuses on performance itself—musical and otherwise—as key to understanding both nation-building and interpersonal power dynamics.
The Story of Swahili
John M. Mugane Ohio University Press, 2001 Library of Congress PL8701.M77 2015 | Dewey Decimal 496.392
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. How this came about and why, of all African languages, it happened only to Swahili is the story that John M. Mugane sets out to explore.
The remarkable adaptability of Swahili has allowed Africans and others to tailor the language to their needs, extending its influence far beyond its place of origin. Its symbolic as well as its practical power has evolved from its status as a language of contact among diverse cultures, even as it embodies the history of communities in eastern and central Africa and throughout the Indian Ocean world.
The Story of Swahili calls for a reevaluation of the widespread assumption that cultural superiority, military conquest, and economic dominance determine a language’s prosperity. This sweeping history gives a vibrant, living language its due, highlighting its nimbleness from its beginnings to its place today in the fast-changing world of global communication.
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.