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Swahili Children’s Literature in Contemporary Tanzania

La littérature de jeunesse en langue swahili dans la Tanzanie contemporaine
Flavia Aiello Traoré
p. 176-191


This article will explore the relationship between literature and education, between the oral and written genres, between nationalism, pluralism and internationalisation in Swahili children’s literature produced in Tanzania since the 1990’s. During the years of African Socialism (Ujamaa), Swahili literature was meant to promote the language and to disseminate socialist and nationalist ideas in Tanzanian society; however, the literature was fundamentally aimed at adults or young skilled readers. Since the end of Ujamaa, writers have explored the potential of literature in the field of education, producing original works in which they experiment with manipulation and contamination of modes, styles, narrative genres. These implicitly redefined national identity both in terms of cultural pluralism and of enhanced international relations.

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1Children’s books have for a long time been marginalised from the study of “Literature”, being often considered a matter of private delight which does not deserve adults’ critical attention. Over the last two decades, though, the study of children’s written literature has flourished worldwide, indicating that children’s books are not naïf but complex literary products whose nature challenges critics to break down barriers between disciplines and between types of readers (Hunt, 1999: 2). This theoretical and methodological opening has no doubt been stimulated by post-colonial writings, new historicism and cultural studies, which linked the effort to recover different histories and points of views to the recovery of texts that have never been considered worthy of academic study (Watkins, 1999: 34-35).

  • 1 In the sixties, writers like Achebe or Ngugi wa Thiong’o, after finding out that the educational sy (...)

2In Africa too, there has been an increasing recognition, since the 1980s, of the value of children’s literature, and of its central role in the educational system for developing basic abilities such as language competence and reading skills, as well as a more complex approach to matters of language, culture, gender, identity, after the first phase of post-independence, where the priority was anti-colonial, nationalist affirmation1. As a consequence, in many African countries, government and international donors have supported the publication of children’s literature. This is especially true in those countries which, for one reason or another, had to reinforce and reassess their sense of national unity, for instance post-apartheid South Africa or post-Ujamaa Tanzania. This paper will look particularly at the flourishing of a rich vein of Swahili children’s literature in Tanzania which is available in pre- and primary school libraries, religious centres or bookshops, such places one rarely finds in rural areas (Madumulla, 2001: 171). This production is thus essentially aimed at school pupils, ranging from 3 to 15 years of age. I will first examine the Tanzanian education system and then outline the main features of children’s literature since the 1990s.

Map of Tanzania

Map of Tanzania

Education in Tanzania

3From the period of the nationalist struggle in Tanganyika, education was a central issue in the political philosophy of Mwalimu Nyerere, who considered the reform of the racial colonial schooling system a key element in liberation and démocratisation. After Independence and the Union with Zanzibar in 1964, which formed Tanzania, the new Government spent almost 20 per cent of its revenues on providing education for its children, young people and adults. In 1967, Nyerere wrote a document titled “Elimu ya kujitegemea/Education for Self Reliance” where he claimed that such a high expenditure on education in a poor country had a proportionate relevance to the building of a new society based on African Socialism (Ujamaa) (Lema, Mbilinyi, Rajani, 2004: 45). Nyerere considered the Swahili language (kiswahili) the natural means of building Tanzanian national unity and a new decolonised, non-ethnic, modern, egalitarian society, and, therefore, the necessary medium of instruction in the primary school curriculum and in the adult education programme (Blommaert, 1999: 91).

4The efforts made by the Tanzanian State during the 1970s were very successful and, in 1980, the gross enrolment ratio reached a peak of 98 percent, but, in the following decade, such high expenditure on education was no longer sustainable because of the dramatic economic crisis and, in the mid-1980s, the education system was detrimentally affected by macro reform policies. First, school fees were imposed, which was one of the conditions for World Bank loans in the early structural adjustment days. The proportion of children enrolled in school immediately began to decrease, the gross enrolment ratio dropping to 71 per cent in 1988 before gradually rising again to 78 percent in 1997 (Lema, Mbilinyi, Rajani, 2004: xiv). The present status of basic education in Tanzania has improved considerably since 2001, with the launch of the Primary Education Development Plan (PEDP). The Government’s abolition of primary school fees led to an immediate leap in enrolment, and the Gross Enrolment Rates increased from 78 per cent in 2000 to 108 percent in 2003, and remaining stable thereafter (Lema, Mbilinyi, Rajani, 2004: xv). In spite of these achievements in expanding school enrolment, the majority of pupils do not have access to good quality education, especially in the rural areas, and this factor, along with the inability of many families to afford other costs of schooling is causing an extremely high school drop-out rate. Although the Primary Education Development Plan shows a renewed mandate for government responsibility in basic education, the effects of policies adopted in the mid-1980s have led to the emergence of two contrasting school systems: on the one hand private, high cost schools, rapidly expanding in all major urban centres, characterised by an emphasis on the English language, a child-centred pedagogy and the non-use of corporal punishment, and, on the other hand, state schools, where conditions are getting worse, teachers’ salaries remain low, adequate textbooks and teaching materials are lacking, classrooms are overcrowded and corporal punishment is still in use (Lema, Mbilinyi, Rajani, 2004: xv). Thus, even though the Tanzanian government and international donors have considerably increased the resources allocated to public education, the challenge today is how to face the social inequalities which have emerged from this dualistic schooling system. One problem resulting from the low quality in state schools is the inadequate development of children’s reading abilities, and, in general, of their reading habits. This situation is being dealt with through a number of projects funded by international donors, which have encouraged the publishing and the diffusion of children’s literature in schools.

The publishing of children’s literature in Tanzania

5The publishing of children’s literature was very problematic in Tanzania before the 1990s. Despite the fact that, during the years of Ujamaa, writers were strongly encouraged to produce literary works in Swahili, thus leading to the flourishing of new literary genres, like poetry in free verse, short stories, novels and modern plays (Blommaert, 1999: 143), written modern literature has remained substantially a product aimed at adults or skilled, secondary school students. Children’s literature never really developed and remained an occasional activity for Tanzanian writers (like Ebrahim Hussein, who translated into Swahili “The little black fish” by the Iranian writer Samad Behrangi and, to some degree, “appropriated” the work of his predecessor, [Ricard, 2000: 134]). The government concentrated on publishing textbooks (vitabu vya kiada) for primary and post-primary education, and could not afford to fund books as further reading {vitabu vya ziada) for pre-school and primary school children (Moshi, 1998:127).

6Publishing children’s books before the 1990s was therefore poorly developed: school libraries were few and far between, and the rare bookshops were little visited either by children or their parents who did not have to buy textbooks. Due to this underdeveloped reading habit among children, and to the lack of public funding, private publishers would not invest in children’s literature either (Saiwaad, 1998:66).

  • 2 Stories Across Africa (StAAf) is one of the core Pan African projects of the African Academy of Lan (...)

7Since the 1990s, the Tanzanian government has established interesting donor-funded projects in order to develop children’s reading abilities and to promote indigenous writers, illustrators, publishers, booksellers and printers of children’s literature (Moshi, 1998: 128). The first of these projects is the Children’s Book Project (Mradi wa Vitabu vya Watoto), which was supported initially by CODE (Canadian Organisation for Development through Education), later assisted by other institutions such as SIDA, British Council, Aga Khan Foundation (Madumulla, 2001:176). The CBP project, launched in 1991, immediately started to produce a considerable number of children’s titles, but only a few schools in each of the 117 districts on the mainland and Zanzibar received copies of these books. For this reason the project had to develop a National Reading Campaign, which was launched in 1997 with the aim of stimulating the desire to read and the appreciation of the importance of children’s literature other than textbooks (Madumulla, 2001: 177). This project, supported by the International Reading Association, by the South African READ Association Trust and by other international donors, had three main objectives: to increase the number of school libraries, to involve primary school teachers in the programme, and to improve the quality of the books through workshops with writers, illustrators and publishers (Moshi, 1998: 127). Tanzanian writers and institutions have also participated in other international projects such as the pan-African StAAf (Stories across Africa), based in South Africa and sponsored by the Academy of African Languages, which provides for the publishing of children’s books written in African languages and translated into other languages of Africa2. All these projects have had some good results, producing a large number of children’s books in Swahili (the CBP alone has printed 237 children’s titles and distributed them to 3,642 primary schools across the country), opening new schools libraries, and promoting good quality publishing. However, there is still much work to be done because the fruits of these efforts have reached only a very limited proportion of Tanzanian schools (Moshi, 1998: 128).

Children’s literature in contemporary Tanzania

8The following observations about Swahili children’s fiction are the results of the first phase of a study, begun in 2008, of children’s literature in contemporary Tanzania. This was dedicated fundamentally to the gathering together, in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, of a corpus of children’s books (almost 100 volumes) and to their interpretation both from a literary and cultural point of view. The focus of the analysis, at this point, is, thus, what adult writers want to tell Tanzanian children and how they fulfill their task of writing for children. The issue of the dissemination and the reception of this literary production by Tanzanian children needs further field research in order to be dealt with.

9The recent abundant production of children’s books which are mainly disseminated through school libraries as further reading has been made possible by the involvement of Tanzanian intellectuals, politicians, academics, writers and publishers, who have participated in International Projects aimed at encouraging a production of children’s literature. This should be, at the same time, a didactic support to language acquisition -very important now that private schools are using English as a teaching language - and literacy, as well as acting as a stimulus for developing a reading habit amongst children (Madumulla, 2001: 175). What seems to be happening is a rethinking of the role of literature in the field of education after the phase of Ujamaa when the priorities for primary education, i.e., the spreading of the use of Swahili, the extention of literacy, and the “decolonisation of the mind” were basically fulfilled through the publication of new textbooks and access to written artistic literature were meant only for mature readers (Blommaert, 1999: 139). The children’s literature which has been published since the 1990s has, in fact, been edited bearing in mind its use in school libraries or in classrooms. At the end of the stories we often find a lexicon of difficult words and, in some cases, suggestions for the teacher regarding the elaboration of a didactic unit. Books are classified into different levels according to age and both the themes and language of the texts are considered appropriate to each level (Kahigi, 1995: 25).

10In this context of “démocratisation” of literature, the development of children’s fiction appears to be an interesting opportunity for those writers who experiment with the manipulation and contamination of modes, styles, narrative genres, implicitly re-evaluating juxtapositions, like orality / literacy, elite / popular literature and tradition/modernity, forged in colonial and post-colonial eras (Barber, 1997: 1).

11Contemporary Swahili children’s literature can be essentially divided into original works, namely picture books for smaller children and short stories and novels for young readers, and translations of foreign children’s literature.

Picture books

12Swahili fiction aimed at small children is generally published in the form of picture books which are captivating from an iconic, aesthetic point of view. Most of these books are strongly inspired by the oral arts (fasihi simulizi), especially by narratives—in the Swahili tradition classified as ngano, hekaya, kisa, hadithi (Bertoncini Zubkova, 1989: 4)—which were traditionally a didactic entertainment for children and young people, and often contained in or built around songs, poems and/or proverbs (Ohly, 1985: 466) .With regards to the style however, we find little influence from the oral narration in children’s written stories. In the corpus of children’s books I have so far collected, I have only found language which is reminiscent of the oral (syntactic structures, verbal markers, repetitions, abundant use of proverbs) in a few stories published by religious centres (such as the Anglican Central Tanganyika Press in Dodoma). In all the other books, published expressly as further readings for school pupils and edited either by European Publishers or by Tanzanian publishers supported by the Children’ Book Project, the reference to oral style is mostly limited to the formula hapo zamani za kale (once upon a time), or to proverbs and songs in the text, usually cleverly inserted into the narrative structure. The writers of these books are, in fact, usually professionals who are well accustomed to the writing of Swahili modern short stories and novels, two literary genres that have flourished in post-colonial Tanzania (Bertoncini Zubkova, 1989: 56).

13The handling of oral themes in contemporary children’s books is heterogeneous. Animal stories are very frequent; often in the form of aetiological narratives, or showing a clear moral message such as the condemnation of vanity and egotism (in Majivuno yamuua Samaki [The vanity which killed the fish]) by Peter Dominic, Malkia mroho (The greedy queen) by R. Mahmoud), the appreciation of cooperative behaviour (Nyuki na vipepeo [The bees and the butterflies]) by Senator E. L. Matemu, Mfalme chura [The king frog] by A.K. Shaali), respect for adults (Chui wadogo [The young leopards] by D. P. Mganga). We can also find some writers who have a more innovative approach to this oral genre, using animal characters to create an original story, such as W. Bgoya’s Kinyonga mdogo ambaye hakuweza kubadilika rangi yake (The chameleon who could not change his colour), centred on modern, “individualistic” themes, i.e. respect for “others” and the value of what may appear to be a handicap to “normal” people. Another kind of experimentation was introduced by AA. Mohamed and M.J. Ukki in the book Utenzi wa Sungura (The poem of the hare), where the authors combined a theme from the oral prose with a genre of poetry typical of the Swahili written tradition, so mixing together distinct genres of high and popular literature. Here the hare, an animal typical of Bantu oral folk traditions, where he is a symbol of cleverness and cunning, is, in fact, the main character of an utenzi. This is the Swahili poetic genre which is most representative of the Great Tradition, i.e. the output (often written in Arabic characters) of the narrow privileged social strata in Swahili towns, including theologians, courtiers, scholars and men of letters from wealthy Muslim lineages, and was often hagiographie, didactic, religious and socio-utilitarian (Ohly, 1985: 462).

14Stories with other traditional characters, like kings, princesses, hermits and ogres are also published, usually with a didactic message (for example, Binti Mfalme na chura [The princess and the frog] by C. Mdachi), although sometimes these narratives are infused with more pragmatic meanings which are relevant to contemporary life. One example is Mtawa na Binti Mfalme [The Hermit and the Princess]), by the novelist W.E. Mkufya, where the main character, Alifeo, a hermit living in the savannah who is vegetarian and is able to talk to animals, succeeds in convincing a princess and her father that it is not wise to kill the animals of the savannah simply for their ivory and leather that is used in making ornaments. We can also find a number of didactic stories which have a contemporary setting and are meant to teach good behaviour (“Paka” asiyerpenda maziwa [The “cat” who did not like milk] by A. Mohamed, condemning laziness), using a typical oral form, the proverb. Another good example is the story Asiyesikia la mkuu by M. Abdi, which is about the repentance of a boy who did not listen to his parents and became a drug-user and a thief. Here the direct moral message is also given through the title, which is the first part of a very common Swahili proverb, Asiyesikia la mkuu huvunjika mguu, “he who does not listen to his elders will break his legs”.

15Some children’s books draw materials from the oral Oriental tradition: Ali Baba na majangili arobaini [Ali Baba and the forty thieves] and Masimulizi ya Alfu Lela u Lela [Thousand and one nights] by Hassan Adam. Oriental narratives were the only non-western stories published in colonial East Africa (Madumulla 2001: 173), probably because of what was considered their more “civilised” Arabic origins (Mazrui, Shariff, 1994: 97). Oriental stories are very well known along the Swahili coast, and they have often been re-elaborated and “contaminated” by African orality, such as the human character of Abunuwasi, which has been the inspiration for a number of Swahili tales, sometimes being transformed into Kibunuwasi, no longer a man but a hare, as explained by the Zanzibari poet Haji Gora Haji to Madumulla (2001: 173). In socialist Tanzania, though, there has, for a long time, been a marginalisation of whatever was perceived as too “Arab” because it did not fit into the model of a modern, socialist, African nation. The ideology-based constructions of “Arab-ness” and “African-ness”, a reversal of the inter-relationship between the racial categories forged during colonial times (Topan 1994: 140), meant that, for a long time in Tanzania, there was a suspicion of coastal Swahili culture, associated with Arabic culture, slavery and conservatism (another example of this is taarab music, defined as a non-autochthonous music [Askew 2002: 224]). The rediscovery of Oriental stories and Swahili verbal traditions in the production of children’s stories is, in my opinion, an effect of and a contribution to the end of the marginalisation of Swahili culture, which has been taking place over recent decades, thanks to the post-Ujamaa demolition of a monolithic idea of the Nation, and thanks to the role of intellectuals in the re-thinking of the Arabic factor not as a racial or ideological category, but as an integral socio-cultural component of Swahili history (Farouk Topan, 1994).

  • 3 They were also considered very important in teaching methodology and in developing writing ability, (...)

16The recognition of the heterogeneity of Tanzanian oral traditions is indicative of contemporary cultural changes. In the Ujamaa period, in fact, the approach to oral traditions was inherently ambiguous. Oral traditions and verbal arts were held in high regard during those years, and, in fact, examples of the oral production of Tanzania’s different ethnic groups were collected and published (Ohly, 1985: 469)3. But, on the one hand, African Socialism/ Ujamaa was said to be rooted in African tradition, and for this reason, ethnic traditions were to be proudly re-valued as part of National Culture, on the other hand, Ujamaa ideology was deeply unifying, de-tribalising and modernising, so that a more radical conception of National Culture would soon emerge among intellectuals. This new conception would be very selective with regard to those local rituals (such as ngoma performances) and oral traditions which did not fit into a modern, socialist, supra-ethnic way of thinking, an example being the feminist reception of Tanzanian oral literature (Balisidya, 1982). The handling of orality in contemporary children’s fiction reflects this process of rethinking the dialectic between ethnic traditions and national culture as manifested in the recovery and the visibility of the oral traditions of not only Waswahili but also Tanzania’s other ethnic groups, for example, Hadithi ya Morile [The story of Morile] by Freda Mariki, from the oral tradition of the Wachagga.

Stories and novels for young readers

17Looking at children’s fiction for young pupils, it is noticeable that the writers generally prefer to create an original story, and that they are particularly inspired by modern written prose. We can roughly distinguish three main trends: didactic stories, investigative stories, and historical fiction, although the first two often overlap.

18Didactic books for young people differ from those for smaller children. They do not have a blunt, direct moral message and show a different pedagogic approach which discusses issues such as cultural and gender identity, alphabetization or sexual education. Good examples are the works by Elieshi Lema, a Tanzanian intellectual, writer and editor: Ndoto ya Upendo [The dream of Upendo], Freshi na Mai s ha [Freshi and Maisha], Mkate mtamu [Tasty bread] and Mwendo [Motion]. In the novel Mwendo, for example, there is a very interesting and innovative handling of oral traditions and rituals. In this book, in fact, the theme discussed is the role of ethnic traditions and rituals in the up-bringing of children. A child, Felisia, is not allowed to go to school when she begins to menstruate, and is kept at home by her parents who, in the tradition of the Makonde people, want to celebrate the ritual of transition to adulthood (ngoma ya Unyago) which lasts many weeks. The big problem is that the family does not give any explanation to Felisia’s teacher, who is only informed by another pupil. The teacher goes to visit Felisia’s parents explaining that the young girl risks being expelled from school, but this leads to a total failure in communication, because the parents do not want to give up their traditions. Felisia, too, is scared, because she has heard that many young girls die during this ritual. The solution to the problem is found by Felisia’s aunt, Helena Margreta, who is also her somo, i.e., the person who traditionally supports the child during the ritual in the place of her mother. She explains to little Felisia, that, in the case of the Makonde tradition, the ritual of passage is not dangerous because it does not involve excision, and that little girls should refuse and rebel against any form of violence. At the same time, though, the ritual of Unyago is very important for young girls and for their families because it provides help for female children who experience a period of physical and spiritual transition which cannot be faced by the child alone. Helena Margreta very courageously also talks to the teacher and the director of the primary school and convinces them of the importance of this tradition, especially as nothing is done in formal education to help a female child in this delicate moment of passage. Helena asks the teacher what she would do if a child got her first menstruation in the classroom and the answer is: “I would let her go home”. The somo, instead, is a woman who stays with the child, explaining to her what is happening to her body, and so, reassuring her and reinforcing her sense of identity. The important message in this short novel is that, although it is necessary to fight any form of violence against female children, it would be nonsense to try to cancel the traditions of Tanzania’s ethnic groups in the name of a rationalist, modernist conception of education. The writer is. thus, giving a new interpretation to the concept of National culture, saying that it should be considered to be much more than simply folklore mixed with nationalist rhetoric. As ethnic traditions are a fundamental part of community life and a factor in identity, they should be part of, and not erased by, the unity of the nation. More than this, though, Elieshi Lema is also claiming that, in order to improve the schooling system in Tanzania and to make it more child-orientated, elimu and utamaduni, education and culture, should always interact, and schools and families should communicate and cooperate in the up-bringing of children.

19The other trend, namely detective or thriller stories for children, is also very popular. It is inspired by the genre which has become predominant in popular adult literature (fasihi pendwa) in Tanzania since the 1980s. Elieshi Lema, for example, has also written a very charming investigative novel, Safari ya Prospa [Prospa’s journey], where Prospa, a child living in a village near Arusha, goes to Dar es Salaam in search of his sister’s son who has been kidnapped, and, helped by a little girl called Sara and by some street children living in the big city, he eventually succeeds in finding his nephew. The author spent years documenting about the social groups and contexts she was dealing with before writing this work (the same for Mwendo), following the idea that the writer should try to get as close as possible to children’s experience and world view (Hanak, 2001: 58). Among these children’s detective books, I found an interesting work, Kipofu mwenye miwani myeusi [The blind man in sunglasses] by Ben Mtobwa, one of the most beloved writers in popular literature (Bertoncini Zubkova, 1989: 53). In this detective story, the main characters are two children who start to investigate a blind man. They eventually discover that he is a policeman and help him in his investigation. Many children’s books follow this trend: Lab a msichana shujaa [Laba, heroic girl] by Marcell Lotto, a story about a young girl who courageously defeats some armed criminals who want to steal her family’s harvest. In another book, Bibi mwenye macho mekundu [The lady with red eyes], we find a theme which has been very common in Swahili literature since Ujamaa, namely the condemnation of superstition and the belief in witchcraft. Once again the main characters are two children, Tina and Musa, who save their grandmother from being killed by a man who is convinced that she is a witch who has poisoned his daughter. The man is supported in this belief by some local medicine men, who also point out that the old lady has red eyes. In reality, though, the daughter died because she had not received appropriate vaccinations, and the poor old lady has red eyes because she has cooked over a wood fire all her life. The writer of detective and thriller stories are, thus, manipulating this genre of popular literature in a very innovative way, creating works which combine the literary (standard) language and stylistic structures of “high” prose, their pedagogic stances, and the charm of investigative narratives. This attitude in Tanzanian writers represents another important shift towards a more heterogeneous conception of literature and culture, no longer stigmatising popular culture as a commercial form which is extraneous to that true art which should be committed to socio-political issues relevant to the masses (Blommaert, 1999: 139).

  • 4 I would like to thank my colleague Jean De Dieu Karangwa (INALCO) for his stimulating comments.

20There are not many historical books for young readers. There are those dealing with the colonial past, and those relating to contemporary African civil wars. The series of historical novels written by M. Mulokozi, Ngoma ya Mianzi [The Ngoma of Bamboos], Ngome ya Mianzi [The fortress of Bamboos], Moto ya Mianzi [The Burning of Bamboos], is set during the years of Wahehe resistance against German rule, 1891-1898. The need for national heroes is typical of Africa post-colonial literatures, but in this case there is no single tragic hero (like Hussein’s Kinjeketile or Mulokozi’s Mkwawa) in the narration, instead the accent is placed upon the role of the communities, including young people, who are in fact the main characters of these novels. Another interesting feature of Mulokozi’s works is the use of cartoons combined with prose (in Ngome ya Mianzi), another clear indication of the writer’s use of literary experimentation with genres of elite and popular literature. An example of works dealing with contemporary civil wars is the short novel by O. Mnyaka Kimbia! Helena, kimbia! [Run, Helena, run!], which is based on stories told by Hutu refugees in Congo and Tanzania. Although the writer tries to give a “politically correct” report of the dramatic events happening in the area of the Great Lakes, the handling of such sensitive memories, in work where fiction and factual reports are not neatly distinguished, seems to be a very risky operation4.


21In the production of Swahili children’s literature there are a number of translations and adaptations of written stories, often resulting from the participation of writers in international projects. One example of this is the translation of South African children’s literature provided by some Swahili writers like Mulokozi’s Dar es Salaam lew a Baba [Visiting daddy in Dar es Salaam], Lihamba’s Mama Mbeku [Lady Mbeku] and Lema’s Nyamanza ndege wa Amani [Nyamanza, the bird of peace], which represent very interesting aspects of interculturality. Other examples are Hazina iliyozikwa [The Buried Treasure] by the Nigerian A. Adimora-Ezeigbo, translated by Alii A. Batta, Cardoso’s Popo, Ndege na Panya [The Bat, the Bird and the Mouse], translated by Mzee Hamis Akida and Walter Bgoya, and Aesop’s fables translated by H. Adam under the title Hasira hasara [Anger has Consequences]. Finally, I would like to mention the excellent translation into Swahili of Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio by Graziella Acquaviva, entitled Hekaya za Pinokio.


  • 5 My thanks go to Martin Brimble and the Editors for their revisions of the English language.

22For many years in post-colonial Africa the “cultural imperialism” thesis has basically stated that the impact of imported western print and media has been dangerous, damaging indigenous cultural production and wiping out oral traditions. This vision has often caused deep concern among progressive African intellectuals and policy makers, but it is important to note that many African innovators have increasingly seized upon the possibilities of print and the media to revitalise their traditions and create new forms (Barber, 2005: 3). This is also the case in Tanzania, where many writers have enhanced the relationship between literature and education, devoting their creativity to the development of Swahili children’s fiction, a new production which appears to be a chance for experimenting with the manipulation and contamination of orality and literacy, elite and popular literature, implicitly giving voice to a more heterogeneous vision of National literature and culture. Although the situation of education in contemporary Tanzania reveals many areas of difficulty, the recent flourishing of good quality children’s literature is a positive novelty, an improvement which we hope will become available to as many Tanzanian children as possible in the coming years5.

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Watkins, T., 1999, The setting of children’s literature: History and Culture, in P. Hunt (éd.), Understanding Children’s literature Routledge, London/New York. pp. 34-35.

Cited Swahili children’s books

Adam, H., 2004, Ali Baba na majangili arobaini, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

—, 2003, Masimulizi ya Alfu Lela u Lela, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

—, 2004, Hasira hasara, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Adimora-Ezeigbo, A., 1996, Hazina iliyozikwa [translated by Alii A. Batta], Macmillan Aidan, Dar es Salaam.

Bgoya, W., 2003, Kinyonga mdogo ambaye hakuweza kubadilika rangi yoke, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Cardoso, J.O., 2003, Popo, Ndege na Panya (translated by Mzee Hamis Akida and Walter Bgoya), Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Collodi, C, 2000, Hekaya za Pinokio (translated by Graziella Acquaviva), edizione Libreria Dante & Descartes, Napoli.

Dominic, P., 2004, Uadui wa Kunguru na Nyoka, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Lema, E., 1998, Mwendo, E&D Limited, Dar es Salaam.

Lema, E., 1999, Nyamanza Ndege wa Amani [translation/adaptation of The terribile Graakwa by Janine Corneilse, 1996], Cambridge University Press/E&D Limited, UK.

Lema, E.,1995, Safariya Prospa, E&D Limited, Dar es Salaam.

Lihamba, A., 1999, Mama Mbeku [translation/adaptation of Mama Mabena’s magic by Diane Hofmeyr, 1996], Cambridge University Press/E&D Limited. UK.

Lotto, M.M., 2003, Laba msichana shujaa, Heko Publishers Ltd., Dar es Salaam.

Mahimbali, R., 2005, Bibi mwenye macho mekundu, Ruvu Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Mahmoud, R., 2004, Malkia mroho, Ruvu Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

—, 2004, Mwindaji mwenye kiburi, Ruvu Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Mariki, F., 2000 Hadithi ya Morile, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Matemu, E.L., 2005, Nyuki na vipepeo, Ruvu Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Mdachi, C, 2003, Binti Mfalme na Chura, E&D Limited, Dar es Salaam.

Mganga, D.P., 2004, Chui wadogo, Tanzania Publishing House, Dar es Salaam.

Mkindi, A., 2004, Kisa cha Ng’ombe na Simba, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Mkufya, W.E., 2002, Mtawa na Binti Mfalme, Ruvu Publishers, Dar es Salaam. Mnyaka, O., 2005, Kimbia! Helena, kimbia!, Heko Publishers Ltd., Dar es Salaam.

Mohamed, A.A., 2000, “Paka” Asiyependa Maziwa, Oxford University Press, Dar es Salaam.

Mohamed, A.A., M.J. Ukki, 2002, Utenzi wa Sungura, Oxford University Press, Dar es Salaam.

Mtobwa, B.R., 1998, Kipofu mwenye miwani myeusi, Heko Publishers Ltd., Dar es Salaam.

Mulokozi, M. M., 1999, Dar es Salaam kwa Baba [translation/adaptation of A long way to Baba by Sue Hepker, 1996], Cambridge University Press/E&D Limited, UK.

Musa, M., 2003, Fisi na Kucha za Simba, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Shaali, A.K., 2004, Mfalme chura, Oxford University Press, Dar es Salaam.

Shimba, H, 1996, Mlekwa na Simba, Central Tanganyika Press, Dodoma.

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1 In the sixties, writers like Achebe or Ngugi wa Thiong’o, after finding out that the educational system and the books read by the children were still inherited from the colonial experience, soon recognized the challenge of writing children’s stories which would be able to reverse cultural misconceptions, often through the redeployment of the folktale tradition as a valid form of instruction and entertainment (Emenyonu, 2002: 585).

2 Stories Across Africa (StAAf) is one of the core Pan African projects of the African Academy of Languages, the official language agency of the African Union, see

3 They were also considered very important in teaching methodology and in developing writing ability, following Nyerere’s idea that the school system should be linked to the life and experience of the local community (see Kamera 1983).

4 I would like to thank my colleague Jean De Dieu Karangwa (INALCO) for his stimulating comments.

5 My thanks go to Martin Brimble and the Editors for their revisions of the English language.

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List of illustrations

Title Map of Tanzania
File image/jpeg, 65k
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Bibliographical reference

Flavia Aiello Traoré, “Swahili Children’s Literature in Contemporary Tanzania”Journal des africanistes, 80-1/2 | 2010, 176-191.

Electronic reference

Flavia Aiello Traoré, “Swahili Children’s Literature in Contemporary Tanzania”Journal des africanistes [Online], 80-1/2 | 2010, Online since 01 June 2013, connection on 12 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Flavia Aiello Traoré

Chargée de cours, Université délia Calabria, Cosenza, Italia (

By this author

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The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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