We need a slave rebellion in literary studies of Swahili

We have particularly enjoyed two new books: John Mugane’s The Story of Swahili (2015) and Alamin Mazrui’s  The Cultural Politics of Translation: East Africa in Global Contexts (2016). PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In his new book, Mazrui illustrates that translation is primarily a political act. Most post-colonial, queer, and feminist theorists of translation (e.g., Tejaswini Niranjana, Luise von Flotow, Lawrence Venuti, Susan Bassnett, Keith Harvey, and Gayatri Spivak) have since the late 1980s emphasised this point. But Mazrui offers cogent examples from East Africa to illustrate his arguments.
  • Mazrui observes that Kiswahili translators mould the text “to fit the Swahili cultural universe, constantly breathing Swahili life and culture into the textual fabric of the stories.” I zealously follow Venuti’s theory, but I liked that sentence in Mazrui’s book so much I had to belatedly sneak it into my forthcoming book on translation.

My dog Sigmund and I have of late been reading a lot of Swahili literature and its translations for some short projects we are working on. Sigmund likes in Swahili novels and poetry what he calls, in the voice of a seasoned Swahili critic, mtiririko wa matini (smooth flow of the text), although some of the best works he has read are interruptive in their language and structure. Probably the drunkard also expects to experience from the books' mtiririko wa margarita.

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