Swahili literature

Swahili Literature

Swahili literature

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Swahili literature is, generally speaking, literature written in the Swahili language particularly by Swahili people of the East African coast and the neighboring islands. It may also refer to literature written by people who write in Swahili language. It is an offshoot of the Bantu culture.

The first literary works date back to the beginning of the 18th century, when all Swahili literature was written in the Arabic script. Jan Knappert considered the translation of Arabic poem Hamziya from the year 1652 to be the earliest Swahili written text. Starting in the 19th century, missionaries and orientalists introduced the Roman alphabet for recording Swahili language.


Swahili literature has been an object of research by many western scholars since the 19th century. There is a debate whether there was objectivity on those researches as a few scholars tried to establish a canon of Swahili writing Knappert, Jan (1980) - The canon of Swahili literature (B.C. Bloomfield (ed.), Middle East Studies and Libraries. London, 1980, 85-102.).

One of the main characteristics of the Swahili literature is the relative heterogeneity of the Swahili language. One can find works written in Kiamu, Kimvita, Kipemba, Kiunguja, Kimrima, Kimtang'ata, Ki-Dar-es-salaam and Ki-Nairobi which are considered varieties of Swahili.

Swahili literature has been sometimes characterized as Islamic by some western scholars such as Jan Knappert. This...
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