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Remembering Nyerere in Tanzania

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Marie-Aude Fouéré

Part 5. Politics & Poetry

Chapter 9. Tanzanian Newspaper Poetry: Political Commentary in Verse

Kelly Askew

Note de l’auteur

This text was first published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, vol. 8, no. 3 (2014), pp. 515–537. It is reprinted with permission. The research on which this essay is based was funded by the University of Michigan Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs (OSVPAA) in two grants (2012, 2013). My deep thanks go to Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts for his support. This essay was written while the author was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2012–2013). Support of the institute is gratefully acknowledged, with special thanks for the opportunity to work with master poet Abdilatif Abdalla on the translations of the poems discussed herein. To Abdilatif Abdalla I offer my deep gratitude for long discussions, shared translation labors, and a cherished friendship. Early drafts received critical input from the “African Print Cultures” network, especially Karin Barber, Rebecca Jones, Stephanie Newell, Derek Peterson, David Pratten, and Kate Skinner; and from participants at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Afrikakolloquium, especially Lutz Diegner, Vital Kazimoto, and Howard Stern. My thanks as well go to the two anonymous reviewers who offered very insightful suggestions for improvement. All errors and infelicities are my own.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For more on the varying traditions and structures of Swahili poetry, see Abedi (1954); Biersteker ( (...)

1Swahili poetry, recognized as one of the world’s distinctive poetic traditions (Greene et al, 2012), emerged in the coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania. It subsequently developed into an East African regional form, thanks to the widespread usage of Kiswahili as a lingua franca. Whilst written examples of Swahili poetry date to the early sixteenth century, Swahili poetic traditions (which include both oral and literary, composed and improvisatory, sung and recited forms) are believed to be considerably older (Mulokozi, 1975; Mulokozi and Sengo, 1995). Over the centuries, poets composing in Kiswahili have generated and still typically adhere to a canon of compositional rules concerning meter (mizani), rhyme (vina), strophe (beti), refrain (kibwagizo), and the division of lines (mishororo) into line segments (vipande).1 Wide variation in form can be found, as well as in topic, but common throughout is a passion for subtlety and artful deployment of language. One common subgenre is that of praise poetry, a famous example of which is the earliest dated manuscript (1517 AD): the Swifa ya Mwana Manga ( “Ode to Mwana Manga”) attributed to Fumo Liyongo, a warrior prince of the northern Swahili coast who is believed to have lived sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries (Mulokozi and Sengo, 1995; Miehe and Abdalla, 2004). Another subgenre is epic “war poetry” associated with the German colonial period and analyzed in great depth by Biersteker and Shariff (1995), Miehe et al. (2002), and Saavedra Casco (2007).

2When newspapers emerged in the late nineteenth century under German colonial administration of what was then Deutsch-Ostafrika, they offered a new venue for Swahili poetry. By the 1910s, Swahili poetry constituted a regular feature of newspapers, whether state or missionary productions. Poetry could be found alongside news about local events; international news; editorials; explication of government policies; announcements; agricultural, educational and public health advice; advertisements; obituaries; and letters to the editor (Scotton, 1978; Kezilahabi, 2008). Its popularity grew with independence, and further yet when socialism was institutionalized in 1967, paralleling the privileged position poetry assumed within the cultural policy of the new nation (Askew, 2002). The growth of the press from 20 print periodicals before the start of World War I (11 in German, 6 in Swahili, and 3 in other African languages), to 50 in 1954 and to 119 in 1986, took a sudden leap when liberalization of the media took root in the 1990s, with over 323 periodicals (the vast majority in Swahili) registered by 1996, including nine daily newspapers (Sturmer, 1998: 42–45, 65, 178; see also Kezilahabi, 2008). Newspapers hit the pavements from Zanzibar to the Western borders on the Great Lakes, and most sought poetry to include within their pages. This essay will present and analyze praise poems from newspapers in what was Deutsch-Ostafrika, then Tanganyika, then Tanzania: (1) German colonial-era poems about Kaiser Wilhelm II; (2) British colonial-era poems about King George V; and (3) post-independence poems about first president Julius Nyerere published at various points in his political career and following his death. By examining them within their political and historical contexts, a history of newspaper poetry emerges and with it an exploration of the poetics of popular expectations and assessments of governance.

Swahili Newspaper Poetry in Deutsch-Ostafrika

3The earliest Swahili newspapers in the former Deutsch-Ostafrika (Tanzanian mainland) and the British Protectorate of Zanzibar were Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) Anglican missionary publications: Msimulizi ( “The Storyteller”) launched first in Zanzibar in 1888, the short-lived Mtenga Watu ( “The Converter”) on the mainland from 1890 to 1892, and the newspaper widely viewed as the first true newspaper on the mainland Habari za Mwezi ( “News of the Month”), which ran from 1894 to World War I and reached a monthly print run of 6000 copies per issue (Lemke, 1929; Sturmer, 1998). These likely did not feature any Swahili poetry since according to Sturmer:

At the very beginning, Habari za Mwezi ran only religious articles, but after negative responses from the readership, secular items were printed, too. Nevertheless, its contents often were of European origin and did not serve the needs of the indigenous population (Sturmer, 1998: 30).

4The first secular Swahili newspaper was Kiongozi ( “The Leader”) launched in 1904 at the Government School in Tanga, Deutsch-Ostafrika’s first state and first secular school. Tanga School had been established in 1892 by Governor Julius Freiherr von Soden, and aimed to produce Swahili-speaking African bureaucrats to facilitate colonial administration and commercial trade in the territory (Askew, 2002: 43f). Kiongozi was to support this by being a source of information for Africans and to promote government agendas. It was subsidized by the government and after acquiring a high-speed press in 1905, issues were released monthly, reaching a print run of 3000 copies and becoming the most influential newspaper of the period (Lemke, 1929; Sturmer, 1998; Geider, 2002).

5Poetry became a regular feature of Kiongozi, transferring into mass-mediated format the Swahili passion for verse. In her 1929 doctoral thesis on Swahili Newspapers and Journals in German East Africa, Hilda Lemke comments, “In almost all newspapers, poetry plays a big role. The Swahili can express everything in their poetic language... and newspaper editors always succeeded in acquiring one or more poets for their papers.” (Lemke, 1929: 44). One finds in the pages of Kiongozi poems of praise for the Kaiser on his birthday and for his might in quashing the Maji Maji “rebellion”. Thus was the praise poem, especially of political leaders, established as a regular feature of newspaper poetry. German colonial editors appreciated Swahili praise poetry and would sometimes commission Swahili poets to compose poems (Saavedra Casco, 2007). On occasion, according to Lemke, these poems would be translated into German and published together for readers to be able to compare the two and try to teach themselves either Swahili or German. One Swahili poet, Hamisi Auwi who composed a poem entitled “Who Has the True Authority If Not the Kaiser?” was even rewarded with a trip to Germany to meet the Kaiser, who “richly rewarded” him (Lemke, 1929: 44; Velten, 1907: 343–349; Miehe and Abdalla, 2004: 471–477).

  • 2 Another example of an acrostic, which was published in the newspaper Mambo Leo, is the poem “A.B.C. (...)

6Inexplicably, the first German missionary publications did not appear until nearly two decades after German missionaries arrived in East Africa. In 1904 (the same year that Kiongozi was launched), Lutherans produced periodicals in the Chagga and Shambala languages but it was not until the German Evangelical missionary began publishing Pwani na Bara ( “Coast and Hinterland”) in Swahili in 1910 that a religious alternative to the “godless” Kiongozi was offered. Swahili poetry found a place within this publication as well, an example of which is the 1911 praise poem for Kaiser Wilhelm II entitled Shukrani za Africa ( “Thanks from Africa”) composed by Jakobo Ngombo. Shukrani za Africa is an acrostic, with each line beginning with a successive letter in the Roman alphabet, demonstrating the Swahili passion for word play (Maw, 1999).2 It features a loose poetic structure composed of rhymed couplets and triplets with hemistiches that do not adhere to a strict syllabic count. It is heavy-handed in its praise, extolling the Kaiser’s might in extinguishing the Bushiri and Maji Maji uprisings and issues a warning to any who would dare challenge the Kaiser. It urges residents to pay their taxes and to pray for the Kaiser’s continued existence. Missionary Pastor Delius who knew the poet and his poetic output commented:

Even finer and more artistic is a “Song of Thanks from Africa” which Jakobo composed as a greeting on the Kaiser’s birthday, and which has already been published in Pwani na Bara. With its noble language it appears like a psalm from the Old Testament (Lemke, 1929: 43).

Shukrani za Africa ( “Thanks from Africa”)3 Jakobo Ngombo Pwani na Bara (January 1911)

  • 3 Lemke (1929: 49–50), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.
  • 4 Likely a metaphorical phrase indicating that he has dispensed darkness in many places.
  • 5 The correct term is jinsi but to maintain the acrostic form, the poet instead substituted a ‘G’
  • 6 Brandenburg eagle, symbol of the Prussian state.
  • 7 Corrected wahaidi to the correct wakaidi, the former being a nonsense word.

Afrika furahi, mshukuru sana
Kaisari wee;

Rejoice, Africa, be very grateful to Kaiser

Baraka na amani kakupa Kaisari yee!

Blessing and peace the Kaiser has given to you!

Jina lake la sifa na lenyi ufahari.

His name is glorious and full of fame

Kumbuka waasi wafanywavyo ni
Kaisari

Remember how rebels are treated by the Kaiser

Chuma pendo, umpende sana
Kaisari saa;

Gather love that you may love dearly the Kaiser

Dola yake ni kubwa, miji yote kaiwasha taa!

The empire is big: in all towns he has lit lamps !4

Eleza ya kale kama sasa yakufaa,

Tell of the past and if the present is useful to you

Fundisha watoto wako wapate kumtii.

Teach your children so that they obey him

Ginsi gani wafanya matata wala hutulii?5

Why do you cause trouble instead of being calm?

Hura, hura umwigie, umwombee na uhai,

Shout ‘Hurrah, hurrah!’ for him and pray that he have a long life

Itokeapo hatari, aikingiyae ni yeye tai,

When danger threatens, it is he, the eagle, who protects6

Jina lake la sifa na lenyi ufahari.

His name is glorious and full of fame

Kumbuka waasi wafanywavyo ni
Kaisari,

Remember how rebels are treated by the Kaiser

Lazimu umwogope wala usimkosee,

You must fear him and not go against him

Mheshimu sana na kodi umletee,

Respect him and pay your taxes to him

Nani aondoaye shida zako kila pahali?

Who else removes all your troubles everywhere?

Nguvu hizi ni za watu walio wakali,

This is the strength of fierce people.

Ona ujue, ya kwamba hii serkali,

See and know very well that this is a government.

Palipo na vita aendaye ni yeye shujaa,

Where there is war it is he, the hero, who strides forth

Raiya wote salama katuondolea mabaa,

All citizens are safe. He has removed all danger

Salaam Bwana wetu wee, na baada ya salaam:

‘Hail to you, our Lord!’ and after greetings:

Shujaa mkuu ndiwe, wote twakufahamu.

‘You are the greatest hero. We all recognize you.

Tangu Bushiri na majimaji akusubutuye nani?

Since Bushiri and Maji Maji who dares rise against you?

Umewatibu kwa nguvu wala huwezekani

You dealt with them with unmatched force.

Vuruguvurugu waondoa kwa watu wakaidi,7

You eradicate disorder caused by stubborn people.’

Wakristo mwombeeni maisha, aishi azidi,

Christians, pray that he be blessed with a long life.

Yeee, Mungu azidi kumpa nguvu na uzima,

Oh, God, continue to grant him strength and health.

Ziondolewe shida zote za hapa
Afrika daima

That he may continue so that all of Africa’s troubles are dispelled forever.

7Colonial-era newspaper poetry also commented on contemporary events in a manner still characteristic of Swahili newspaper poetry today. The following ode to the Kaiser on the occasion of his birth is more a depiction of the unfolding of World War I than a birthday commemoration. With its 13 stanzas, Kwa Siku Kuu ya Kaiser Wetu ( “On Our Kaiser’s Birthday”) exemplifies the most popular poetic form of nineteenth-century Swahili poetry (Harries, 1956; Miehe et al, 2002) and the one most typical of newspaper poetry past and present: the 16-syllable per line quatrain (called shairi form). According to Lemke, Kiongozi’s editors published this poem side by side with a German translation so that all readers could enjoy it.

Kwa Siku Kuu ya Kaiser Wetu ( “On Our Kaiser’s Birthday”)8 Ramazan Saidi Kiongozi (February 1915)

  • 8 Lemke (1929: 46–48), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.
  • 9 Kuingia utamboani is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to fight”.

(1) August ni mwanzo, wa kuenezewa vita.

In August began the spread of the war

Yakatujia mawazo, nyoyo zetu zikijuta.

Ideas came to us while regret filled our hearts

Adui mzo kwa mzo, kuja kwetu kutupita.

Many enemies came to dominate us

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(2) Wote tukastaajabu, Wangereza watakani?

All of us were amazed: what do the English want?

Watajitia aibu, kwa nguvu za jermani.

They’ll embarrass themselves against German might

Wajuwao kuzurubu, wakiingia utamboni.9

Because [the Germans] know how to fight a war

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(3) Maadui wengi sana, walijazana
Ulaya.

Many enemies gathered in
Europe

Wakataka kupigana, kuyaeneza mabaya.

They wanted to fight and spread evil

Dola kupunguziana, [missing hemistich]

to reduce each other’s empires

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(9) Wangereza wasikiri, araza ya jermani.

The English failed to heed the
Germans’ warning

Walizani mahodari, jamii ulimwenguni.

Thinking themselves the world’s finest

Kumbe, ni chao kiburi, pambo lao mwilini.

But it is only their arrogance that they decorate themselves with

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(10) Wadachi wakauzika, wakaanza kuwapiga:

The Germans got angry and started fighting them

Taveta wakaiteka, pamwe na muji wa Vanga;

They captured Taveta and the town of Vanga;

Hata Gasi wamefika, mnyororo kuwatunga.

They even reached Gasi, shackled and chained them!

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(11) Hata Ulaya jamaani, kuna mashujaa sana.

My friends, even Europe has many heroes.

Wamewapiga yakini, kwa pigo la kiungwana.

They have really fought them with noble attacks

Huko kwao Berlini, mateka wamejazana.

There in their capital Berlin, they’ve taken many prisoners of war.

Mungu atawalani, kwa baa la kujitakia.

May God curse them for bringing calamity upon themselves.

(12) Sasa ni mwezi wa sita, hisabu nawaambia!

It is now the sixth month—I’m counting it for you!

Na wale walioteta, sasa wamejinamia.

And those who fought now bow down

Majeshi waliyoleta, yamekwisha angukia.

The army they brought has surrendered

Sasa wanajutia, kwa baa la kujitakia.

Now they regret bringing calamity upon themselves.

(13) Kaiser wetu mpole, mshujaa wa wadachi.

Our Kaiser is calm, hero of the
Germans

Uishi wewe milele, jamia kila nchi.

May you live forever, in all countries

Kokote utawale, uzistawishe nchi.

May you rule everywhere, developing the countries

Siku yako kufika, salam nakuletea.

On this your birthday I bring you greetings.

8In this example, poet Ramazan Saidi employs a refrain (kibwagizo or kipokeo) repeated as the final line of each stanza (beti), which serves to emphasize his main point. While it is normally the case that a refrain is sustained throughout the entire poem, in this instance the poet abandons it in the final two verses. In verse 12, he shifts emphasis slightly but significantly from “God will curse [the English] for bringing calamity upon themselves” to “Now they regret bringing calamity upon themselves.” And it is only in the final line of the entire poem that the poet at last makes reference to the Kaiser’s birthday, the putative subject of the poem. This poem would be more accurately described as an analysis of the war as it played out in the East African theater, and this is acknowledged by Kiongozi’s editors, albeit in the paternalistic fashion of the time:

This translation of the poem is as literal as possible in order to make it easier for interested German readers to translate it in reverse. For this reason it will often appear clumsy and inelegant which is not, however, the case in the original text. The recurring rhyme in fact has been chosen and modified with great skill. The whole things shows that our natives completely understand the course of events and shows that even the events leading up to the war are completely clear to them (Lemke, 1929: 48f).

9Scholars of Swahili poetry highlight the long-standing deployment of verse for praise and political commentary, such as the famous Fumo Liyongo texts, and the use of metaphor and innuendo to convey subtexts. Thus we have, for instance, from Zache (1897) and Miehe et al. (2002) the following example of a double-edged epic poem (utenzi style), titled Uimbo wa Kaizari ( “Song for the Kaiser”). The poet Mbaraka bin Shomari employs a performative style reminiscent of West African griots, whose public declarations about the generosity of a potential patron are intended to induce said patron to be generous, often to great effect.

Uimbo wa Kaizari (‘Song for the Kaiser’)10 Mbaraka bin Shomari (c.1897)

  • 10 Miehe et al (2002), trans. Miehe et al.
  • 11 Kaiser Wilhelm II was the son of Friedrich III, not Wilhelm I.
  • 12 Wadachi does not fit the rhyme scheme for this verse, but as an anonymous reviewer suggested, it wa (...)

(1) Salam kwa wetu bana, Kaisari wa Virhamu,

(1) Greetings to our Lord Kaiser
Wilhelm.

Bana mkubwa na sana, maarufu hatta Shamu.

He is our great Lord well known even in Syria.

Sisi takupenda sana, wadogo hatta harimu:

We like you very much both young and old:

Hapana tena hapana, wewe ndio
Kaizari!

There is nobody else. You are the Kaiser!

(2) Wewe ndio Kaizari, mtoto wa
Virhamu;

(2) You are the Kaiser, son of
Wilhelm11

Jina lake mashuhuri, sote tunalifahamu

His famous name, we all know it:

Ulaya na Zingibari, na Mrithi hatta Amu

From Europe to Zanzibar, and from Egypt to Lamu:

Hapana tena hapana, wewe ndio
Kaisari!

There is nobody else. You are the
Kaiser!

(3) Wewe ndio Kaizari, hatta na wazee wako!

(3) You are the Kaiser. Even your forefathers!

Tumezipata habari, kwa huku mbali tuliko.

We’ve got the news, far away, where we are.

Una wengi askari, wahesabiwa lukuku

You have a lot of soldiers.
They number in hundreds of thousands.

Hapana tena hapana, wewe ndio Kaizari!

There is nobody else. You are the
Kaiser!

(4) Kaizari ya Wadachi, na barra ya
Afrika.12

(4) Kaiser of the Germans, and of the African continent

Nakusifu, bwana wangu, upate kunipulika

I praise you, my lord, that you may hear me.

Niletee langu fungu, nipate kufurahika

Give me my share, so that I may be happy:

Hapana tena hapana, wewe ndio
Kaizari!

There is nobody else. You are the Kaiser!

  • 13 For more examples, see Askew (2002, 2003); Finnegan (1970); Gunner (1994); Mitchell (1956); Scott ( (...)
  • 14 For a rich analysis of Swahili poetry during the German colonial, see Saavedra Casco (2007).

10This poem, published significantly not in a newspaper but in an academic collection in its original Arabic orthography, transliterated into Roman orthography, and with German translation (Zache, 1897: 133–137) is instructive in multiple ways. First, it exemplifies how a stark political claim ( “Give me my share”) can be cloaked in praise ( “I praise you, my lord”) and in implicit critique ( “that you may hear me”) – for the Kaiser may not read or listen to a poem if not framed as laudatory. In contrast to the above newspaper poems, it offers an example of “poetic license”, namely the articulation of discontent, dissent, and/or critique through artful deployment of language, which is tolerated to varying degrees by those in power. As Vail and White argue “poetry in sub-Saharan Africa [is] licensed by a freedom of expression which violates normal conventions... in ways that the prevailing social and political codes would not normally permit, so long as it is done through poetry” (Vail and White, 1991: 43).13 In these Kaiser poems, however, the heavy appearance of exaltation bespeaks a carefully choreographed dance with the colonial state, which expected and demanded obeisance and glorification from its subjects.14 Mbaraka bin Shomari complied but in his final stanza meta-discursively drew attention both to what he was doing and the discrepancies in status and power between himself and the subject of his poem (Miehe et al, 2002: 479).

(9) Wakatabahu khadimu, Mimi kijitu fakiri.

(9) This was written by a servant,
I’m an unimportant, poor person

Jina langu mwalimu, Mbaraka bin Shomari.

My name is Mwalimu, Mbaraka bin Shomari.

Nimesifu mwazzimu, Mfalme akhiyari

I’ve praised the Great, the beloved Kaiser —

Hapana tena hapana, wewe ndio
Kaizari!

There is nobody else. You are the Kaiser!

11Mbaraka bin Shomari died from smallpox in 1897, the year his poem was published by Zache. He had written a number of poems that have been preserved in German collections, including one on the German bombardment of Zanzibar that won him particular praise from colonial authorities and scholars (Velten, 1907; Saavvedra Casco, 2007). An Islamic teacher and jurist, he had assisted colonial authorities in their work even serving as a scribe and translator in the court martial and conviction of rebel leader Hassan bin Omari. That ought to seal Shomari’s fate in the historical record as a “collaborator”. Yet in assessing his poetic output, both Saavedra Casco and Miehe et al. independently find him to have penned veiled critiques of German colonialism: “Going through the lines one is inclined to call them eulogies. A closer look reveals that they contain a lot of criticism” (Saavvedra Casco, 2007: 1943f; Miehe et al, 2002: 92).

12To summarize, poems in praise of Kaiser Wilhelm II place a solid emphasis on praise, even appearing at times sycophantic accolades. Just as Kaiser Wilhelm inculcated his reputation as a military man, so too do these poems focus on militaristic themes of battles won, honor secured, and enemies soundly defeated. In reviewing these colonial-era poets, Kezilahabi dismissed them as “bootlickers” who betrayed their people in glorifying the colonial oppressors (Kezilahabi, 1973: 64). Yet this is to deny the real potential for repercussions were poets to openly articulate anti-colonial sentiments, especially directed at a triumphant German state that had won the Abushiri war (1888-1889), the Hehe wars (1891- 1898), and the Maji Maji wars (1905-1907), hanging or beheading rebels to reiterate their supremacy. Instead, one must seek the subtle mechanisms by which discontent and dissent were conveyed (Arnold, 1973; Mulokozi, 1975; Biersteker, 1996). As highly public records, newspapers were (and are still) dangerous venues for the expression of dissident sentiment. It is thus not surprising that of the examples presented here, it is the one from an academic collection that reveals the most critique, though still opaque and allusive. As Hunter notes (2012: 9).

while it is tempting to see such newspapers as offering a rare and valuable source for African intellectual history, this is a particular kind of colonial intellectual history, one shaped by the power dynamics which produced the newspapers and by the forms of engagement proposed within them.

Swahili Newspaper Poetry during British Colonial Period

  • 15 Pwani na Bara, which initially ran from 1910-1916, was relaunched in 1978 and apparently still prin (...)

13World War I brought a temporary cessation to the Swahili press in East Africa, with not one of the above-mentioned publications surviving the war.15 A hiatus of a decade would pass before the now British-administered Education Department launched Mambo Leo ( “Current Affairs”) in 1923 in Dar es Salaam. A monthly, it included poetry and proved to be a highly popular periodical, though always remaining a mouthpiece for the colonial government. According to both Hunter and Geider, Mambo Leo featured submissions primarily from local authors and “was intended to respond to demands for a newspaper from the African population of Tanganyika, evident from the fact that its circulation rose from 6,000 in 1923 to 15,000 by 1938, and that demand always outstripped supply” (Hunter, 2012: 285; Geider, 2002: 263-268).

14Mambo Leo would follow in the tradition established by the German colonial press of publishing poetry praising the ruler of the empire, in this case, King George V. However, whereas praises for the German emperor focused primarily on his military prowess and might, King George was commemorated for the pageantry and spectacle of empire, exemplified by symbols of authority like crowns and grand birthday celebrations. The following poem by an unnamed poet who identifies himself only by the pen name Kaniki Nguo ya Kale (meaning “Coarse Clothing from Long Ago”) describes the King’s birthday celebration to take place in the absence of the king (who remained in Europe). The only personal attribute attributed to King George is that he liked his subjects. Hints of trouble and dissatisfaction with the colonial order are implied by the many references to the forces on hand to keep the peace, the frequent (seemingly forced) exhortations to be joyful, and a refrain that encourages readers to show the king due respect on this special occasion.

Heshima ya King George V ( “Respect for King George V”)16 Kaniki Nguo ya Kale, Dar es Salaam Mambo Leo (c.1923-36)

  • 16 Mashairi ya Mambo Leo, vol. 1, 28–29 (1966 [1946]), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.
  • 17 Asad is Arabic for “lion.”
  • 18 Furija is colloquiual Arabic for celebration.
  • 19 Reference to the Swahili saying: Asiyekuwa na mwana aeleke jiwe ( “She who doesn’t have a child sho (...)
  • 20 Mbayana means “openly, in an open fashion,” meaning no restrictions, no one will be banned from att (...)
  • 21 Wani = shortened form of wa nini.
  • 22 This line has no seeming connection to what preceded it. Likely forced for the sake of rhyme.
  • 23 Matulubu = that which you are expecting to receive.

(1) Leo siku ya tatu katika mwezi wa Juni

(1) Today is the third day in the month of June

Kazaliwa Bwana wetu King
George Sultani

When was born our lord and sultan King George

Jamii ya wote shime andameni
Mkongeni

Everyone hurry up and proceed to Mkongeni

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(2) King George ni mwana wa King
Edward

(2) King George is the son of King
Edward

Amezaliwa Ulaya nchi ya upande wa kaskazi

He was born in Europe in a country to the north

Kama tujuavyo yeye ni pekee asadi17

As we know he is a special lion

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(3) Watakutana mabwana wakubwa na wadogo

(3) The noble and the lowly will participate

Hapazuiwi kijana akuambiaye ni mrongo

No youth will not be denied; whoever tells you otherwise is a liar

Wala fujo hapatakuwa ya mafimbo na magongo

Nor will there be disturbances with sticks or clubs

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(4) Siku hiyo ni siku ya furija na anasa18

(4) This day is a day of celebration and entertainment

Atakayejaliwa kwenda furaha hatakosa

Whoever attends will certainly be happy

Kwani ni siku ya idi bashasha yatupasa

For it is a holiday and we are expected to be joyful

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(5) Atahudhuria Gavana bwana wa
Tanganyika

(5) His Lord the Governor of
Tanganyika will attend

Siku hiyo mwenye nishani itampasa kupachika

On this day whoever has medals should wear them

Asiyekuwa na mwana hata jiwe ataeleka19

The one without children should carry a stone

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(6) Akina Bwana Askari hupanda wao farasi

(6) The soldiers will mount their horses

Mwendo wao taratibu kama mwendo wa papasi

They will pass slowly by, at the speed of a tick

Kuwaonyesha raia mambo yasiyo kiasi

To show the citizens extraordinary things

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(7) Tazameni ibura ya Mfalme kuwa
Ulaya

(7) Look at this extraordinary celebration for a king who is in
Europe

Huko mambo mbayana kama amehudhuria20

There [at Mkongomeni] things will be celebrated as though he were attending

Jamaa ukaidi wani mbona mtaangamia21

What’s the point of being stubborn lest you be destroyed?22

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(8) Kuna wingi wa Polisi wazuiao hatari

(8) There are many police to prevent danger

Wapitisha kwa kiasi zote pia motakari

They only allow selected motorcars to pass

Hiyo ndiyo dunia wala nyingine haiwi

That is indeed how the world is.
It cannot be otherwise

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(9) Mfalme King George wote mnamjua

(9) Sovereign King George all of you know him

Kwa alama za mataji mara utamjua

By the symbol of his crowns you’ll immediately recognize him

Na utakapo ya zaidi soma utajua

And if you want to know more, read about him

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(10) King George ana sifa kupenda wake raia

(10) King George is known for liking his subjects

Walio bora na hafifu wote twamfurahia

The upper and lower classes we all are happy for him

Tumwombee Rabuka huruma amzidishie

Let us pray to God will show more mercy to him

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana
King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

(11) Sifa hapa zimekoma mwaka huu najaribu

(11) The praises end here, this year I am trying

Labda nitapata yangu huwa bahati nasibu

Perhaps I will have my luck

Sikukaa nasimama nangoja yangu matulubu23

I am not sitting, I stand, waiting to get what I expect

Tukatazame heshima ya maulana King George.

So we see respect paid to His
Highness King George

  • 24 Meaning of this pen name unknown.

15The following example of another birthday poem for King George composed by a poet with the pen name “Komagi bin Sansa”,24 spends numerous stanzas describing the King’s many health problems and praising him for overcoming them. This poem is even more loaded with back-handed compliments than the previous example, such as the King is “secretive”, surrounded by “rich people”, had to develop the quality of bravery, and had to be rescued from near death by his doctors. This is hardly the image of an indomitable and omnipotent ruler as we saw in the poems praising Kaiser Wilhelm.

Sikukuu ya Kuzaliwa Mfalme ( “King’s Birthday”)25 Komagi bin Sansa, Tabora Mambo Leo (c.1923-36)

  • 25 Mashairi ya Mambo Leo, vol. 3, 56–60 (1966 [1946]), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.
  • 26 Bwana shauri was the title given to colonial administrators. So on this day no “advice” will be ava (...)
  • 27 Food in this context means the poem, since a newspaper is made of words.
  • 28 The term kadiri here is one of the praise names for God and typically not used outside of that cont (...)

(1) Wenzangu nawahubiri, sikukuu imefika!

(1) My fellows, I’m preaching to you: the birthday is here!

Sote tukae tayari, tuadhimishe ushirika!

We should all be ready to celebrate together

Wala siyo kukasiri, raia tumefurahika,

And we shouldn’t be angry. We citizens are happy

King George mtajika, Mfalme tunayemkiri!

The renowned King George is the king we accept!

(2) Tunamtakia heri nyingi, na baraka,

(2) We wish him best wishes and blessings

Mfalme mashuhuri, ambaye twamtaka

The famous king, whom we want

Atutawale dhahiri, na milele apendeke!

May he rule us well and be forever loved

King George mpendeka, mwema mwenye siri!

The beloved King George, good and secretive!

(3) Pasiwe na ghururi, Mungu amemsimika,

(3) Let there be no deceit, God has installed him

Awali na aheri, hakika ni sikukuu,

From start to finish, truly it is a holiday

Leo hakuna shauri, afisi zimefungwa,

Today there’ll be no government work, the offices have closed26

King George hakika ana wengi matajiri!

Truly King George has many rich people!

(4) Ni furaha ya fahari, Mfalme anatukuzika!

(4) It is a great joy that the king is praiseworthy

Raia na askari, wamejishika pamoja,

The citizens and armed forces are united

Tajiri na maskini, huungwa na mamlaka,

The wealthy and the poor are joined by the authority

King George amefika, hali ya ujasiri.

King George has reached a state of bravery…

(7) Kwa yakini nasadiki, ugonjwa ulivyoshika,

(7) With certainty I believe illness attacked him

Mfalme kwa dhahiri, maradhi yalimshika,

The king apparently was overtaken by disease

Katibiwa na madaktari, na ugonjwa ukatibika!

He was treated by doctors and his ailment cured

King George amevuka, maradhi yaliyokuwa hatari.

King George overcame the dangerous disease.

(8) Alipatwa na hatari, sasa ameokoka,

(8) He faced danger but now has been saved

Nasi sote kadiri, himaya ilimofika,

And we all are able to accept the extent of his rule

Siku zote twamkiri, Mfalme wa mamlaka,

We always accept him as a king with authority

King George Afrika, kaitawala dhahiri.

King George has transparently ruled Afrika.

(22) Salaam nyingi tayari, nafasi zinapunguka,

(22) Many greetings already. Space is running out

Mambo Leo mashuhuri, pokea chakula shika,

Famous Mambo Leo, take the food27

Gazeti letu zuri, busara hukutanika;

Our newspaper is good, wisdom collects here

Maulana ajuika, King George dhihiri.

His Highness is famous. King
George appear to us!

(23) Mtengenezaji habari, Mungu akupe baraka,

(23) News editor, may God bless you

Umetutoa kiburi, gizani pia tumetoka;

You removed our arrogance and we came out of the darkness

Twakusalimu dhahiri, na wengine kadhalika;

We greet you openly and the others as well

Maulana hakika, King George kadiri.

Truly His Highness King George is the able one.28

(24) Kaditamati shairi, kalamu ninaiweka,

(24) I bring the poem to a close and set down my pen

Nawaambia kwa dhamiri,
Inshalla nikifika,

I’m telling you that my intention, God willing, is to

Hoja kuwa na umri, kutunga na kuandika,

continue
To compose [poems] and to write as long as I live

Kwa heri nasimika, King George wa fahari.

I bid you farewell, King George the Proud.

16These poems honoring King George V are notably different in character from those described earlier praising his first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm. Colonialism had matured by this point in the 1920s, and so too had African subjects who had witnessed, and in some cases participated in, the defeat of one colonial power by another. King George, who only became king due to the unexpected death of his older brother, was forced into World War I due to Wilhelm’s aggressive militarism. Even before the war ended and Germany had been defeated, King George distanced himself from his shared origins with Kaiser Wilhelm II by Anglicizing the family name, renaming the British royal house the “House of Windsor”. Soon after the war’s end, one ailment after another beset the king, until he died in 1936. Poems about King George take a more nuanced position relative to his rule, saying actually very little of what, if anything, he contributed to the colony. Notably, the newspaper Mambo Leo itself also receives the poet’s praises – as a repository of collective wisdom offering poetic food for readers.

Post-independence Swahili Newspaper Poetry: An Efflorescence

17After Tanganyikan independence in 1961 and through the 1990s, newspapers quadrupled in number and varied extensively in their frequency, with some published on a daily or nightly basis, and others issued weekly, biweekly, or monthly. This led to a concomitant demand for more poetry, now an established element of the medium. Hence the effusion of poetic output that marks this period. Poems covered a wide range of topics from the personal to the local, the national and the international, and filled the pages of newspapers. In this period, editors began the practice of setting aside dedicated poetry sections to accommodate the flurry of artistic activity.

Newspaper

Poetry Section

Baraza (‘Council’)

Mashairi Yenu Matamu (‘Your Sweet
Poetry’)

Dira (‘Compass’)

Bustani ya Washairi (‘Garden of the
Poets’)

Heko (‘Hurrah! ’)

Washairi Wetu (‘Our Poets’)

Kusare

Mashairi (‘Poetry’)

Majira (‘Season’)

Tungo (‘Compositions’)

Mshindi (‘The Victor’)

Ukumbi wa Washairi (‘Forum for
Poets’)

Mwafrika (‘The African’)

Mawaidha ya Washairi (‘Poets’
Advice’)

Mwananchi (‘The Citizen’)

Wasemavyo Washairi (‘What the
Poets Say’)

Nipashe (‘Tell Me’)

Mashairi (‘Poetry’)

Uhuru (‘Freedom’)

Maoni ya Washairi (‘Poets’ Opinions’)

Zanzibar Leo
(‘Zanzibar Today’)

Bustani ya Washairi (‘Garden of the
Poets’)

18Among these poems, one finds poets addressing in verse topics found discussed in prose in the same papers, for example, description and commentary on national and local events/news; and description and commentary on international news. Just as Hunter has argued in her analysis of Mambo Leo, international news in verse:

gave a strong sense of an increasingly connected world, in which the people of Tanganyika needed to know the affairs of far distant places as much as people of coastal Tanganyika needed to know the news of up-country areas. There was a sense too of an emerging international society (Hunter, 2002: 287).

19There were more praise poems for politicians and other community leaders (as subsequent examples will show). In addition, there were poems that constituted obituaries, editorial-like addresses on social issues (e.g., moral decline or corruption), “Dear Abby”-like calls for advice, and even poetic personal ads seeking a spouse. Newspaper poetry also, however, featured (and still features today) topics not typically found in newspaper format. These include prayers and poems of thanks to God for prayers answered; enigma poems, in which a conundrum is posed and fellow poets challenged to resolve it (Harries, 1956); and love poems.

20Like most of the Swahili press of the immediate post-independence period, nationalist and socialist-themed poems proved especially popular. This was not by chance nor only an outpouring of public support for Nyerere and the socialist policies he introduced via the Azimio ya Arusha ( “Arusha Declaration”), the Mwongozo ( “Guidelines”), and his many writings on Ujamaa na Kujitegemea ( “Socialism and Self-Reliance”) – though it was certainly also that. Harries reports how on 6 June 1968, Nyerere invited a group of Tanzanian poets to the State House and specifically requested that they “use their talents in order to promote a better understand by the people of the land (wananchi) of national politics, and particularly of the responsibilities of the citizen resulting from the implementation of the Arusha Declaration” (Harries, 1972: 52).

Nyerere Poems: A Collective Biography in Verse

21As the foundational figure of Tanganyika and the United Republic of Tanzania that followed, as its first president, leader of its ruling party, commander-in-chief, philosopher-in-chief, and “father of the nation” (Baba wa Taifa), Julius Kambarage Nyerere is the subject of countless newspaper poems that span the late colonial period to his death in 1999 and beyond. While many examples exist that trace the contours of his political career in the expected honorific manner of political praise like that shown for Kaiser Wilhelm II, as his popularity fell in the midst of extreme economic crisis in the 1980s, a disarmingly blunt view emerges. By the time of his death, however, his popularity had resurged in the face of widespread corruption and abuse of political office by his successors. Not surprisingly, the lamentation poems canonize him and his achievements on behalf of the nation he brought into being.

22In an early example, published in Mwafrika in January 1963 (just over a year after Tanganyika achieved independence in December 1961), the poet grapples with Nyerere’s decision to spurn honorific titles that would become the rage among African leaders. In contrast to, for instance, the particularly egregious title that would be adopted by “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, and Uncrowned King of Scotland”, Nyerere wanted to be known as nothing other than Mwalimu ( “Teacher”). Trained as a teacher before embarking on his graduate education in Europe, a devout Catholic, and committed socialist, Nyerere eschewed pomp and ostentation. But is “Mwalimu” fitting for Tanganyika’s first president, asks Mohamed Ali of his fellow poets?

Nyerere Kuitwa Mwalimu Mwasemaje Washairi?29 ( “Poets, What Do You Say about Calling Nyerere ‘Mwalimu’) Mohamed Ali (Mwanafunzi - “Student”), High Court, Box 9004, Dar es Salaam Mwafrika (22 January 1963)

  • 29 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew, February 2013, Berlin.
  • 30 Suna refers to knowledge about the Prophet from secondary sources, stories, accounts. Also used to (...)
  • 31 Kutawaza is to be in seclusion. The poet’s reference to being in seclusion is metaphorical for stil (...)

(1) Ninashikia kalamu, ilosafika (
nyinyiri

1) I take hold of this totally purified pen

Niwaulize kaumu, vipi wanatafakari

That I may ask the multitudes what they think:

Jina hili la Mwalimu, kwa Raisi
Mashuhuri

This name of ‘Teacher’ for our renowned president—

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(2) Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu, mimi (
sitii dosari

2) For Nyerere to be called ‘Teacher’, I don’t consider that a shortcoming

Bali huwa mahamumu, na kuingiwa na ari

Instead I become excited and full of enthusiasm

Kwani ninavyofahamu, sio jina la fahari

For as I understand it, it’s not a pompous title

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(3) Majina ya kuzaliwa, hayataki (
kutabiri

3) Names assigned at birth do not need guessing

Walakini ya kupewa, twatazama tafsiri

But for acquired names we need to examine their meanings

Iwapo ya kubeuwa, hatuwezi kuikiri

If they are derogatory, we cannot accept them

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(4) Tulisikia ghafula, jina likatanawari

(4) Suddenly we heard the title widely used

Hatukupewa muhula, tukapata kufikiri

We weren’t given time to contemplate it

Sasa hatunayo hila, kimepwelewa kihori

Now we have no tricks, the canoe is beached

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(5) Mwalimu ni jina bora, kwa mahalipe dhahiri

(5) ‘Teacher’ is a good name if properly used

Hakika litatukera, livishwapo na johari

Yet surely it will bother us when garlanded with jewels

Hivi kaniki ya jora, yafunikiwa mimbari?

How can a pulpit be covered with a plain black cloth?

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(7) Wanambia vyadamana, kwa jina lilokithiri

(7) They tell me they suit each other perfectly with a name well-known

Kupewa wetu Mungwana Raisi wa Jamhuri

To be given to our noble president of the Republic

Na suna yapatikana, jina lilotakarari30

And there is precedent for a name oft-repeated

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Teacher’?

(10) Beti kumi ninatuza, mimi sio jemadari

(10) I end with ten verses, I’m not a field commander

Msijenisusuwaza, mkamba ni machachari

Don’t shame me saying that I am incoherent

Ndisa nanze kutawaza, ningali ni mwanamwari31

I have just started to be kept in seclusion because I am a virgin

Mwasemaje washairi, Nyerere kwitwa Mwalimu?

Poets, what do you say about calling
Nyerere ‘Mwalimu’?

23Unlike the panegyric odes for Kaiser Wilhelm, or even the more muted, more critical but still sycophantic poems for King George, Mohamed Ali does not wax rhapsodic about President Nyerere’s many talents and attributes. Instead, he limits himself to the incongruence between the simplicity desired by Nyerere and the augustness of his position as first president. Ali concludes that although one would not ordinarily cover a pulpit with a black cloth, in this case, the man and the title suit each other perfectly. He ends by emphasizing his own humble status, a “virgin” poet with little experience whose pen name (lakabu) is Mwanafunzi ( “Student”) – a particularly apt and doubly meaningful choice for this poetic exposition on the suitability of “Mwalimu”.

24After 1967, numerous newspaper poems appeared addressing and assessing Nyerere’s introduction of “African socialism” or Ujamaa, in which the commanding heights of the economy were nationalized and a socialist ethic promulgated. The following poem by J.I. Farahani (pen name Simba Kuu – “Great Lion”) assures President Nyerere that the citizens support both the 1967 Arusha Declaration and the 1970 Mwongozo ( “Guidelines”). He further describes how these policies caused many capitalist exploiters (bloodsucking “ticks”) to run away and frustrated foreign powers.

Rais Nyerere ( “President Nyerere”) J. I. Farahani (Simba Kuu – “Great Lion”) Baraza (6 April 1972)

Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew.

  • 32 In his speeches, Nyerere often used the metaphor kupe ( “ticks”) for “capitalists” or “exploiters”. (...)
  • 33 Limewatoa kamasi, literally “it has caused them to produce snot,” is a colloquialism for something (...)
  • 34 The meaning of majumba yakala lasi ya alai yalofikia escapes us. But since the Mwongozo was just me (...)

(1) Baba Nyerere Raisi, Raisi wa
Tanzania

(1) Father [of the Nation] President
Nyerere, President of Tanzania

Akujalie mkwasi, Rabbi Rassuli
Jalia

May almighty and generous
God protect you

Upate nyingi nemsi, dua tunakuombea

May you be abundantly honored. We offer prayers for you

Mola akupe afia, Raisi Baba
Nyerere

May God grant you health,
President Father [of the Nation]
Nyerere

(2) Baba Nyerere Raisi, Mwalimu mwenye sharia

(2) Father [of the Nation] President
Nyerere, our lawful Teacher

Usiwe na wasi wasi, tuko imara raia

Do not be worried, we the citizens are strong

Ataeleta ufyosi, tayari kumvamia

We will attack the one who brings chaos

Mola akupe afia, Raisi Baba
Nyerere

May God grant you health,
President Father [of the Nation]
Nyerere

(3) Baba Nyerere Rais, kiongozi mwenye nia

(3) Father [of the Nation] President
Nyerere, a motivated leader

Azimio limepasi, makupe wamekimbia

The Declaration passed; the ticks have run away32

Limewatoa kamasi, wa kule wamechukia33

It caused them great hardship.
Those far away [Western countries] are furious

Mola akupe afia, Raisi Baba
Nyerere

May God grant you health,
President Father [of the Nation]
Nyerere

(4) Baba Nyerere Raisi, Mola akupe afia

(4) Father [of the Nation] President
Nyerere, may God grant you health

Hapo hukusema basi, Mwongozo ukatongoa

You didn’t say: “Enough”, you clearly explained The Guidelines

Majumba yakala lasi, ya lai yalofikia34

[Meaning unclear, likely having to do with the prohibition against government officials holding rental properties for additional income]

Mola akupe afia, Raisi Baba
Nyerere

May God grant you health,
President Father [of the Nation]
Nyerere

(5) Baba Nyerere Raisi, beti tano naishia

(5) Father [of the Nation] President
Nyerere, I’ve completed five verses

Edita Bwana Khamisi, shairi langu pokea

Editor Mr. Khamisi, receive my poem

Litafutie nafasi, hata pemba sawa pia

Seek out a spot for it, even a corner will suffice

Mola akupe afia, Raisi Baba
Nyerere

May God grant you health,
President Father [of the Nation]
Nyerere

25By the start of the 1980s, Tanzania was in a severe economic crisis due to a potent combination of factors spanning debts from the 1978– 1979 war to unseat Idi Amin, support for liberation struggles south of the border, inefficiencies in the parastatal sector, a series of droughts that badly affected agricultural production, plus an alarming foreign exchange deficit stemming in large part from the international oil crisis. Nyerere was pressured to abandon his resistance to International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditional-ities to access much needed loans. He refused to concede his principles, anticipating rightly that opening the doors to free trade would undermine the previous two decades’ efforts to build up Tanzanian agricultural and commercial strength. But structural adjustment proved inescapable and so in 1985 Nyerere stepped down from the presidency to allow President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, a known advocate of reform, to oversee liberalization of the economy and political system. He retained his post as chairman of the ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi or CCM until 1990, before also passing that on to President Mwinyi.

26Following the abandonment of socialist policy, Nyerere suffered a fall in his popularity. Some openly blamed him for the economic woes of the country, the high rates of poverty, and lack of development (especially compared to neighboring Kenya). In 1998, poet Rajabu Njembwe came to his defense, asking that people show the first president respect. He praises Nyerere for delivering education and being full of wisdom, but the degree to which he pleads with his audience to respect Nyerre and stop “publicly deriding him”, to “not belittle him and ruin his reputation,” illustrates that Nyerere had become – in some circles – an object of scorn. In 1998, Nyerere was an elder of 76 years old. Committed still to addressing the plight of the poor and bringing peace to trouble spots on the continent, Nyerere spent his later years promoting South-South cooperation and serving as chief mediator in the Burundi conflict, something obliquely acknowledged by Njembwe: “The world knows and respects him.”

Tumuheshimu Mwalimu ( “Let’s Respect Mwalimu”)35 Rajabu Njembwe, P.O. Box 33353, Dar es Salaam Mfanyakazi, 20 June 1998

  • 35 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew.
  • 36 Newsprint smudged; word unclear
  • 37 The meaning of kunanga is unknown to us; we infer “to deride” from the context.
  • 38 Before foreigners introduced Western measurements of kilograms and pounds, Swahili used to measure (...)
  • 39 The metaphor here signifies someone who is not superficial but gets to the heart of the matter.

(1) Tumuheshimu Mwalimu, kiumbe mwenye fahamu

(1) We should respect Mwalimu, a person with great knowledge

Tuache kumlaumu, ameokoa kaumu

Let’s stop blaming him. He saved the nation

Katufundisha elimu, katuachia36

He educated us; he has bequeathed us

Dunia yamfahamu, tena inamheshimu

The world knows and respects him.

(2) Nasema kitaadhima, huyu mtu ni mpevu

(2) I say this with honor: this person is enlightened

Natutunuku heshima, kwa kuwa huyu mwelevu

And let’s give him respect because he is knowledgeable

Sitaacha kuwasema, kumtusi si welevu
Hamna hata haiba, kumnanga hadharani37

I’ll never stop admonishing them, because insulting him is not a wise thing to do
You show disrespect by publicly deriding him

(3) Leo nami naeleza, huyu kwetu ndiyo baba

(3) So today I’m telling you that to us he’s a father

Na mimi nawabwatiza, nyinyi kwetu ni viroba

I am scolding you: to us you are robbers

Sisi tumewapuuza, nawajazia kibaba38

We ignore you but in responding
I’m giving you credit that you don’t deserve

Tumuheshimu Mwalimu, nawaeleza kwa heshima

We should respect Mwalimu, I respectfully argue

(4) Hamna hata haiba, kumnanga hadharani

(4) You show disrespect by publicly deriding him

Nawaeleza kwa mahaba, tumuheshimu jamani

I inform you out of love, let us respect him, people

Nawajazia kibaba, huyu mtu ni makini

I’m adding yet more: this person is steadfast

Tumuheshimu Mwalimu, nawaeleza kwa heshima

We should respect Mwalimu, I respectfully argue

(5) Nawaeleza kwa heshima,
Nyerere tumthamani

(5) I respectfully argue that we should value Nyerere

Ni mtu mwenye heshima, ametutowa gizani

He is someone deserving great respect who delivered us from darkness

Ni mtu aliyezama, kwenye kina baharini

He delved deeply into the waters of the ocean39

Dunia yamfahamu, tena inamheshimu

The world knows and respects him.

(6) Dunia yamfahamu, tena inamheshimu

(6) The world knows and respects him.

Huyu mtu ni Mwalimu, mengi anayafahamu

This person is a Teacher, who knows a lot

Watu wote mufahamu, huyu kwetu ni muhimu

You should all understand that he is important to us

Tumpe vigelegele, vilivyojaa imani

Let’s cheer him from the heart

(7) Kambarage maarufu, anavuma duniani

(7) The famous Kambarage of world renown

Habari zake ni ndefu, zimejaa vitabuni

Books are full of information about him

Tusimpake udhaifu, ili ashuke thamani

Let us not belittle him and ruin his reputation

Tumuheshimu Mwalimu, nawaeleza kwa heshima

We should respect Mwalimu, I respectfully argue

27The year after Njembwe’s poem signified a vexed relationship between the nation and its first president, the news was released that Nyerere had died of leukemia in a London hospital on 14 October 1999. Crowds took to the streets, a 30-day period of national mourning was announced, and a poetic outpouring of lamentation filled the newspapers and airwaves (Askew, 2006).

28One example published in March 2000 was composed by a youth named Kassim Kibwe ( “The Musician-Poet”). Embedded within the poet’s expression of sorrow is a critique of efforts by politicians to revise the constitution so as to undermine further the policies championed by Nyerere, now rehabilitated and viewed as moral exemplar and champion of the powerless.

Twakulilia Nyerere ( “We Cry For You Nyerere”)40 Kassim J. S. Kibwe (Mwanamuziki Mshairi - “The Musician-Poet”) National Youth Forum, S.L.P. 9354, Dar es Salaam Mfanyakazi (1 March 2000)

  • 40 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and K. Askew
  • 41 Donge means a clump of something. So refers to something clumped up in one’s heart or soul.
    Nitatoa (...)
  • 42 Litiki ewa is not Kiswahili. Meaning unknown.

(1) Kwa jina lake karimu, donge langu nalitoa41

(1) In the name of God, I must unburden myself of this weight

Litiki ewa muhimu, niwaeleze jamaa42

I need to explain this to you friends

Binafsi nalaumu, katiba kuichezea

Personally I blame those who are playing with the constitution

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(2) Twakulilia Mwalimu, kweli kufa kupotea

(2) We cry for you Mwalimu. Truly to die is to disappear

Hujambo si marehemu, kiza kimetunamia

You are fine, not deceased.
Darkness envelops us

Tungekupigia simu, ili uje tukemea

We would telephone you so you could come and tell us off

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(3) Katiba si kama ndimu, kila mwaka inazaa

(3) A constitution is not like a lime tree that fruits every year

Kwa zama au msimu, kuichafua chafua

In turn or by season, continually revising it and messing it up

Ila kisa maalumu, kitakachopelekea

Only a special incident should provoke review

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(4) Chafuko kila sehemu, viongozi waanzia

(4) Trouble in every corner, stirred up by leaders

Katiba hawaheshimu, ndipo lazuka balaa

They don’t respect the constitution, creating strife

Kwa madaraka matamu, hivyo nguvu watumia

From privileged positions they use their power

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(5) Katika hii awamu, wengi waifurahia

(5) Many are happy about our current government

Katiba waihujumu, wapate kuendelea

They are sabotaging the constitution for private gain

Twaomba yako mizimu, Nyerere kutuepua

We plead for your spirits,
Nyerere, to heal us

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(6) Ni jambo la kidhalimu, japo mtanichukia

(6) It is a matter of cruelty even if you’ll hate me for it

Muhalalishe haramu, ili vitini kukaa

You legalize that which is forbidden in order to occupy the seats [of power]

Mwisho mtamwaga damu, Rabbi kwa hili tengua

In the end you’ll spill blood, let this not happen, O God

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

(7) Beti saba nasalimu, kwa wote
Watanzania

(7) With seven verses I greet all
Tanzanians

Tuonyeshe urahimu, vyovyote itavyokua

Let us show gentleness, whatever it takes

Ghadhabu tuzihukumu, busara kuzitumia

Let us abandon anger and apply wisdom

Kweli kufa kupotea, twakulilia
Mwalimu

Truly to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu

29Here the poet contrasts the period of Nyerere’s governance with that of the current regime, which he accuses of revising the nation’s constitution to facilitate plundering of the state. The peace and unity that Nyerere championed and devoted himself toward establishing in Tanzania are being sabotaged and the nation runs the risk of violent upheaval. Would that they could telephone Nyerere to ask for his guidance once more, but “to die is to disappear. We cry for you Mwalimu.”

30October has remained a month of mourning ever since with newspapers, politicians, and musicians honoring the anniversary of Nyerere’s death with poetry, speeches, exhortations, songs, and editorials of remembrance. A final example, one focused more on the man and the legacies he left his nation, is the poem composed by Athanas George Masao ( “Power Strike”) on the first anniversary of his death.

Nyerere Tunakukumbuka ( “Nyerere, We Remember You”)43 Athanas George Masao (Power Mkongoto -” Power Strike”) Mfanyakazi, 28-31 October 2000

  • 43 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew.
  • 44 Kiboko is a whip made of hippo hide, which deals heavy blows. I credit a reviewer for this insight.

(1) Nyerere tunakukumbuka, wa kudumu muhisani

(1) Nyerere, we remember you, our eternal benefactor

Mema yako twakumbuka, mengi yasiyo kifani

We recall your unparalleled goodness

Twakuombea Rabuka, uwe kwake namba wani

We pray that God makes you his number one

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(2) Ilikuwa kama ndoto, na leo hii ni mwaka

(2) It seems like a dream yet today a year has passed

Vyetu bado moto, nyoyo bado zinawaka

Things are still tough, our hearts still on fire

Kifo kweli ni kiboko, umetwacha nyakanyaka

Death really is a blow.44 You have left us in a sorrowful mood

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(3) Kukumbukwa unapaswa, wewe wa kisawasawa

(3) You deserve to be remembered, you the righteous one

Butiama hata Maswa, popote tumepagawa

From Butiama to Maswa, everywhere we are overwhelmed

Kukuenzi tunapaswa, kwa mema uliyogawa

To honor you we must forward the goodness that you shared

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(4) Nani asosikitika, kwa pengo uliloacha

(4) Who doesn’t regret the void you left behind?

Mbuyu umekatika, na wa uhakika ticha

A baobab has fallen. And it is certain, teacher

Darasani umetoka, hutorudi hata kucha

That you have left the classroom, never to return

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(5) Elimu umetwachia, pia wingi wa hekima

(5) You left us education, and lots of wisdom

Amani umetwachia, pia wingi wa heshima

You left us peace, and lots of respect

Upendo umetwachia, wala siyo wa kupima

You left us love, a love beyond measure

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(6) Utulivu umetwachia, kwenye anga kama njiwa

(6) You left us calm, in the air like a pigeon

Umoja umetwachia, tena ni wa kusifiwa

You left us unity, a unity worthy of praise

Vyote hatutaachia, hata kwa kughilibiwa

We’ll not abandon any of it, not even by deception

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(7) Na alaaniwe hasa, atakayetuvuruga

(7) Curses on anyone who would mess us up

Yote uliyotuasa, ni mwiko kuyavuruga

All your warnings should not be neglected

Tutayalinda kabisa, hata kwa ngoma kupiga

We shall abide by them, even playing the drum

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

(8) Kaditama muhisani, ujumbe wangu fikisha

(8) Here I end. O benefactor, send my message45

Usije nitia kapuni, nikabaki kuchekesha

Don’t put my poem in the wastepaper basket, lest I be laughed at

Nyerere namba wani, jemadari wa kutisha

Nyerere is number one, a fearsome warrior

Nyerere kipenzi chetu, bado tunakukumbuka

Our dear Nyerere, we still remember you

Conclusion

31Swahiliphone newspaper poetry offers an incredibly rich repository of popular political debate. These examples translated by Kenyan master poet Abdilatif Abdalla and myself give but a mere glimpse into the vast quantity of poems that have been produced by ordinary people over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, spanning the full geography of what is now Tanzania. Famous poets also published poems in newspaper format, a notable example being Shaaban Robert’s Utenzi wa Vita vya Uhuru, “Poem of the War for Independence”, which was serialized from 1942 to 1944 in Mambo Leo, or at least 726 of its 3000 stanzas (Geider, 2002: 276). Yet by far, the majority of poems in the vast untapped sea of swahiliphone newspaper poems were composed by nonelite citizens. They have not received serious attention because of this, since literary scholars tend to deride this corpus as the work of amateurs and thus unworthy of analysis. For as Barber has noted, the popular arts “are usually disregarded by the formal educational and cultural apparatus” (Barber, 1987: 11). And yet it is this very fact of popular production in the sense of “the populace” that makes swahiliphone newspaper poetry such an important archive for understanding engagements with political processes by ordinary citizens whose opinions are difficult to access otherwise, especially for periods in the past.

32This essay has offered an exploration of the historical, structural, topical, and contextual contours of Swahili newspaper poems about leaders spanning three eras: German colonial Deutsch-Ostafrika, British colonial Tanganyika, and independent Tanganyika/Tanzania. These poems expose significant developments in political praise poetry with levels of critique increasing in directness over time, from the homophonic panegyric odes about Kaiser Wilhelm to the contrapuntal passive-aggressive poems “honouring” King George to the polyphonic, complex and nuanced poems about Nyerere.

33Kaiser Wilhelm II was widely viewed as ruthless, impetuous, bombastic, prone to violent outbursts, and insistent on his superiority in all matters but especially military ones. In newspaper poems, the Kaiser received praise for his military prowess, his might, his ability to put down rebellions, and defeat his enemies. He emerges as a single-faceted figure, unsurprisingly so given that the experiences colonial subjects had of their German overlord were primarily of military domination. Indeed, in a July 1900 speech he gave to troops being sent to the colonies, Kaiser Wilhelm exhorted them to “administer violence and to repress brutally any form of resistance” (Conrad, 2012: 83). Poetic allusions to resistance under German colonialism are thus understandably hidden and indirect. When Britain acquired Tanganyika in post-World War I negotiations, the militaristic mode of praise characterizing poems for Kaiser Wilhelm no longer suited the circumstances of rule under King George. Famous not for military prowess but for chronic illnesses, King George is memorialized in the newspaper poems reviewed here for the pageantry his administrators performed in the colony. These poems offer a curious mix of uninspired praise and back-handed compliments for the politically and physically weaker British monarch.

34In the era following independence, by contrast, undiluted praise, pride, and patriotism characterize early poems about Tanzania’s first president. The combination of socialist rhetoric about people’s empowerment and an increasingly liberalized media enabled the publication of a wide variety of opinions about him in verse. Nyerere’s praises range from his success in bringing independence to Tanganyika, his humility in rejecting grandiloquent titles, and his policies against capitalist parasitism to his wisdom, his educational policies, his advocacy for the poor, and his legacies of peace and national unity. He is memorialized as a hero of the people who waged battle with the twin legacies of colonial and capitalist economic relations. However, as unrealistic expectations of the eradication of poverty, ignorance, and disease failed to be realized over his 24-year presidency, newspaper poets expressed growing popular disillusionment with Nyerere. By relinquishing the presidency and later control of the ruling party, he would be interpreted by many as a tragic figure, defeated by a world system focused on economically driven individuals, not philosophically driven communities. This would evoke in some quarters feelings of contempt toward him and his socialist policies, inciting one poet to plead that he be shown respect. Yet derision would be replaced by eulogy upon Nyerere’s death. His legacy and principles, so recently cast in negative light, would once more be championed as the standard to be emulated. Poets have not, however, returned to the panegyric and uncritical style with which the Kaiser was memorialized nearly a century earlier. Instead, they acknowledge that Nyerere made mistakes but contrast his policies and principles to those of current politicians, many of whom have lost legitimacy in the eyes of citizens and are viewed as placing self-interest ahead of the needs of the nation.

35In her rich analysis of the agency of texts, Karin Barber argues that:

As well as being social facts, however, texts are commentaries upon, and interpretations of, social facts. They are part of social reality but they also take up an attitude to social reality. They may criticize social forms or confirm and consolidate them: in both cases they are reflexive. They are part of the apparatus by which human communities take stock of their own creations. Textual traditions can be seen as a community’s ethnography of itself (Barber, 2007: 4).

36Swahili newspaper poems constitute one form through which Tanzanians assess their political institutions and the faces of those institutions: the leaders who give voice to and shape the nature of these institutions. The violent nature of the German colonial state as figured in the man of Kaiser Wilhelm is thus fundamentally different from the spectacle of the British colonial state under King George, which in turn is wholly distinct from the independent Tanganyikan/Tanzanian state figured in the philosopher-teacher Julius Nyerere. The poems analyzed here articulate these differences in artful language and in so doing offer poetic ethnographies of the Tanzanian state even as they offer partial biographies of a German emperor, a British king and an African president.

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Notes

1 For more on the varying traditions and structures of Swahili poetry, see Abedi (1954); Biersteker (1996); Harries (1956, 1962); Komba (1976); Maw (1999); Miehe et al. (2004); Mulokozi and Sengo (1995); Njogu (2004); Saavedra Casco (2007); Shariff (1988). A modernist school of Swahili poetry rejecting the traditional rules of composition and advocating free verse did emerge in the 1970s (Madumulla et al, 1999) but this has not proved popular.

2 Another example of an acrostic, which was published in the newspaper Mambo Leo, is the poem “A.B.C.D.” by Omari Sebu of Tabora (in Mashairi ya Mambo Leo, vol. 1, no. 23, 1966 [1946]). This is an innovation building from an earlier Swahili poetic genre of composing acrostics based on the Arabic alphabet. My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out.

3 Lemke (1929: 49–50), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.

4 Likely a metaphorical phrase indicating that he has dispensed darkness in many places.

5 The correct term is jinsi but to maintain the acrostic form, the poet instead substituted a ‘G’

6 Brandenburg eagle, symbol of the Prussian state.

7 Corrected wahaidi to the correct wakaidi, the former being a nonsense word.

8 Lemke (1929: 46–48), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.

9 Kuingia utamboani is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to fight”.

10 Miehe et al (2002), trans. Miehe et al.

11 Kaiser Wilhelm II was the son of Friedrich III, not Wilhelm I.

12 Wadachi does not fit the rhyme scheme for this verse, but as an anonymous reviewer suggested, it was likely an editor’s substitution for Wazungu, which would have indeed fit.

13 For more examples, see Askew (2002, 2003); Finnegan (1970); Gunner (1994); Mitchell (1956); Scott (1990); Tracey (1948).

14 For a rich analysis of Swahili poetry during the German colonial, see Saavedra Casco (2007).

15 Pwani na Bara, which initially ran from 1910-1916, was relaunched in 1978 and apparently still prints today. A new Kiongozi completely unrelated to the Tanga School newspaper was launched in 1950 as the main publication of the Catholic Church and also continues today. See Sturmer (1998).

16 Mashairi ya Mambo Leo, vol. 1, 28–29 (1966 [1946]), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.

17 Asad is Arabic for “lion.”

18 Furija is colloquiual Arabic for celebration.

19 Reference to the Swahili saying: Asiyekuwa na mwana aeleke jiwe ( “She who doesn’t have a child should carry a stone on her back”), meaning everyone should participate, and come in big numbers (bringing even fake children).

20 Mbayana means “openly, in an open fashion,” meaning no restrictions, no one will be banned from attending.

21 Wani = shortened form of wa nini.

22 This line has no seeming connection to what preceded it. Likely forced for the sake of rhyme.

23 Matulubu = that which you are expecting to receive.

24 Meaning of this pen name unknown.

25 Mashairi ya Mambo Leo, vol. 3, 56–60 (1966 [1946]), trans. A. Abdalla and K. Askew.

26 Bwana shauri was the title given to colonial administrators. So on this day no “advice” will be available.

27 Food in this context means the poem, since a newspaper is made of words.

28 The term kadiri here is one of the praise names for God and typically not used outside of that context.

29 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew, February 2013, Berlin.

30 Suna refers to knowledge about the Prophet from secondary sources, stories, accounts. Also used to mean “precedent” or something normally done

31 Kutawaza is to be in seclusion. The poet’s reference to being in seclusion is metaphorical for still being a novice poet.

32 In his speeches, Nyerere often used the metaphor kupe ( “ticks”) for “capitalists” or “exploiters”. See Hunter (2008) and Brennan (2006).

33 Limewatoa kamasi, literally “it has caused them to produce snot,” is a colloquialism for something causing hardship.

34 The meaning of majumba yakala lasi ya alai yalofikia escapes us. But since the Mwongozo was just mentioned, it could reference the prohibition against having second homes for rental income.

35 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew.

36 Newsprint smudged; word unclear

37 The meaning of kunanga is unknown to us; we infer “to deride” from the context.

38 Before foreigners introduced Western measurements of kilograms and pounds, Swahili used to measure in kibaba and pishi measurements. There’s also a Swahili saying: Haba na haba hujaza kibaba, meaning literally, “Grain by grain, the kibaba will be filled” or “Little by little....”

39 The metaphor here signifies someone who is not superficial but gets to the heart of the matter.

40 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and K. Askew

41 Donge means a clump of something. So refers to something clumped up in one’s heart or soul.
Nitatoa donge langu = colloquialism for unburdening yourself of something; saying what’s bothering you.

42 Litiki ewa is not Kiswahili. Meaning unknown.

43 Translated by Abdilatif Abdalla and Kelly Askew.

44 Kiboko is a whip made of hippo hide, which deals heavy blows. I credit a reviewer for this insight.

Auteur

Director of the African Studies Center and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Afroamerican/African Studies at the University of Michigan. Her works include Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania (University of Chicago Press, 2002); African Postsocialisms (co-editor, Edinburgh University Press, 2006); The Anthropology of Media (co-editor, Blackwell, 2002); and two documentary films: Poetry in Motion: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa (70 min., 2012); The Chairman and the Lions (46 min., 2012).

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