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Swahili poetry or "ushairi" (from Template:Lang-ar, poetry) is still written in the traditional manner. Deriving in general from Arabic poetry, it began in the northern Kenya coastal towns of Lamu and Pate before spreading to Tanga Region, Zanzibar and other nearby areas.[1]

However, there are a few fundamental differences between the Swahili and Arabic poetry. With much of African influence, the two poems can hardly be compared for it is sui generis.[2]

Traditional poetry can be classified into different groups according to its form and content. It can be epic, lyrical or didactic, as well as religious or secular[3]. Examples of narrative poetry, known as utenzi, include the Utendi wa Tambuka by Bwana Mwengo (dated to about 1728) and the Utenzi wa Shufaka.

Use of Swahili prose was until recently practically restricted to utilitarian purposes. However, the traditional art of oral expression in poetry has produced a number of valuable works. It is characterized by its homiletic aspects, heroic songs, folklore ballads and humorous dialogues which accurately depict Swahili life, cultural beliefs and traditions. Because of the immediate historical aspect of the Swahili literature, especially in the 19th century, it is still a hard job to interpret many of the poems due to the lack of knowledge of the context in which the poem was written.


  • Bertoncini-Zúbková, Elena (1996). Vamps and Victims - Women in Modern Swahili Literature. An Anthology. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 134–137. ISBN 3-927620-74-2. 
  • Bertoncini-Zúbková, Elena (DEcember 1989). Outline of Swahili Literature: Prose, Fiction and Drama. Brill. p. 353. ISBN 90-04-08504-1. 
  • Knappert, Jan (December 1979). Four Centuries of Swahili Verse: A Literary History and Anthology. Heinemann. p. 333 p.. ISBN 0-435-91702-1. 
  • Knappert, Jan (1982) 'Swahili oral traditions', in V. Görög-Karady (ed.) Genres, forms, meanings: essays in African oral literature, 22-30.
  • Knappert, Jan (1983) Epic poetry in Swahili and other African languages. Leiden: Brill.
  • Knappert, Jan (1990) A grammar of literary Swahili. (Working papers on Swahili, 10). Gent: Seminarie voor Swahili en de Taalproblematiek van de Ontwikkelingsgebieden.
  • Nagy, Géza Füssi, The rise of Swahili literature and the œuvre of Shaaban bin Robert (Academic journal)
  • Topan, Farouk, Why Does a Swahili Writer Write? Euphoria, Pain, and Popular Aspirations in Swahili Literature (Academic journal)
  • Lodhi, Abdulaziz Y. and Lars Ahrenberg (1985) Swahililitteratur - en kort šversikt. (Swahili literature: a short overview.) In: Nytt från Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, no 16, pp 18–21. Uppsala. (Reprinted in Habari, vol 18(3), 198-.)
  • The Political Culture of Language: Swahili, Society and the State (Studies on Global Africa)by Ali A. Mazrui, Alamin M. Mazrui


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