A little something about a Swahili book

9 Apr

Way back in high school, Siku Njema was a must read for students taking Swahili language and literature in Kenya. Recently, I had  the good fortune of reading the  book again. I was pleasantly surprised. Its most interesting feature is the beautiful language employed, and after its release in 1996, made it win instant acclaim.

The book is set in Tanzania where the main character, Kongowea, grows up. It so happens that his mother, Zainabu Makame, a Taarab singer, is a single parent and has a photograph of one whom she later tells him that is his dad. The author, (Ken Walibora)  in immaculate Swahili, tells the story of Kongowea Mswahili’s effort to survive and make headway in his life against all odds. His mother dies and most people he can trust are very jealous of his talent in the Swahili language as well as his success in school. His mother passes away and he has to take on the long journey in pursuit of his father, well into another country: Kenya.

The book allows one to appreciate the life of struggle as understood and lived by many in East Africa. The fact that he is alone and has to fend for himself is not a far-fetched idea, at least in this part of the world. Many children actually do so because of HIV, after their parents have died.

There is just one flaw: Kongowea is too lucky and too good that he fails to convince us of his reality. When he needs to escape Tanzania because of death threats that he is receiving, he just manages to escape on time. When his money is stolen on the ship, he just manages to get help from one of the passengers, and many other examples of this kind. Nevertheless, maybe the author wants him to prosper due to his goodness of heart.

The main character is from a single parent. He was born out of wedlock and he faces ridicule in school as a result of this. He is called mwanaharamu: something to the effect of illegal child, one born out of illicit relations. Nevertheless, he is a good person, perhaps too good, and we are left wondering, as he himself does. The act is haramu, but the person is not.

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2 Responses to “A little something about a Swahili book”

  1. juma September 4, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    where can we get the soft copy of this book?

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