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Popular Swahili texts in books and articles:
An annotated bibliography

(Version 5.0, 31 December 2005)

Vincent A. de Rooij

texts in the publications listed in earlier versions of this bibliography were all collected in the DR Congo (ex-Zaire). From version (2.0) onward, I started including works contaning texts from Tanzania and Kenya . I hope to expand the regional scope of this bibliography to other countries where Swahili is spoken. It goes without saying that this annotated list is far from complete. If you know of other books and articles that should be included here, please send me the references by e-mail <> or snail mail).

The geographic origin of the texts presented in the publications listed below should be evident from the annotations. In order to help the reader to locate texts from a specific region more easily, however, the following codes preceding the bibliographic entries are used:

[DRC] = Democratic Republic of Congo
[KEN] = Kenya
[TAN] = Tanzania

Abdulaziz, Mohamed H., and Ken Osinde.


(1997). 'Sheng and Engsh: Development of mixed codes among the urban youth in Kenya.' International Journal of the Sociology of Language 125:43-63.

Sheng and Engsh are two mixed codes used in Nairobi, Kenya, used mainly by young speakers. The morpho-syntax of Sheng is Swahili with its lexicon drawn from Swahili, English, and other locally spoken languages. Engsh, on the other hand, is mainly English in structure with lexical items from Swahili and other local languages.
Sheng and Engsh have developed from unstable, fluid, secret codes into more stable and more widely used codes among Nairobi's urban youths.
The article contains 23 sentences exemplifying Sheng and Engsh usage, as well as two short lists of lexical items.

Beck, Rose-Marie.


(1992). 'Women are devils! A formal and stylistic analysis of Mwanameka.' In Werner Graebner (ed.), Sokomoko: Popular culture in East Africa (Matatu 9). Amsterdam: Rodopi. 115-132.

A careful formal and stylistic analysis of Marijani Rajab's song 'Mwanameka' (see Rajab 1992). Beck shows how musical, poetic, and stylistic devices are all crucially involved in putting across the messages of the lyrics: a woman who persues her own sexual pleasure is a threat to the social order and is to be condemned. In her analysis, Beck shows how several formal and stylistic features of 'Mwanameka' can be traced back to the taarab genre.
For another analysis of 'Mwanameka', see Mekacha (1992).


(1999). 'Comic in Swahili or Swahili comic?' Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere (=Swahili Forum VI, edited by Rose Marie Beck, Thomas Geider, and Werner Graebner) 60:67-101.

A pioneering explorative study of East African Swahili comics. Beck analyzes the work of various East African comic artists and concludes with some reservation that the Swahili comic has several characteristics of its own. The Swahili comic rarely uses flashbacks and other devices subverting the linear progression of the story. It emphasizes and exploits linguistic variation, and addresses social and political issues. As its main character it often has the urban survivor. The paper contains 16 figures with reproductions of Swahili comics. Translations of the text in the comics are not given.


(2001). Texte auf Textilien in Ostafrika: Sprichwörtlichkeit als Eigenschaft ambiger Kommunikation. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Over 200 Swahili inscriptions on leso or kanga, wraparound cloths worn by East African women, appear in this book. The inscriptions are presented with interlinear glosses and translations. Beck's main argument is that the inherent ambiguity of the inscribed texts and the various ways in which the texts can be displayed are exploited by women to communicate messages that would be unacceptable when communicated orally in face-to-face interaction.

Beez, Jigal.


(2003). 'They are crazy these Swahili. Komredi Kipepe in the footsteps of Asterix: Globalization in East African comics.' International Journal of Comic Art 5(1): 95-114.

This article discusses the story Komredi Kipepe na Kisa cha Bi Arafa (Comrade Kipepe and Ms. Arafa), published by comic srtist Chris Katembo in the comics journal SANI. Featuring in this story are well known Swahili comic figures Kipepe and Madenge who rescue the kidnapped mganga (healer), Bi Arafa. The author shows that Katembo's story parallels Goscinny's and Uderzo's classical comic volume Asterix and the Goths. Apart from pointing out similarities between the two stories, the author demonstrates how the Katembo appropriates the Asterix episode into an East African setting. Contains 6 figures with excerpts from the comics journal SANI. Also contains several Swahili sentences in the text which are translated in English (adapted from the abstract in the published article).


(2004). 'Katuni za miujuza: Fantastic comics from East Africa. International Journal of Comic Art. 6 (1):77-95.

A fascinating study of fantastic narrations in Swahili comics, focussing on one particular subgenre, the so-called katuni za miujuza (wonder comics). In these comics, a variety of ghosts, spirits and magicians is found. The paper examines the way in which Swahili artists create horror for their East African audience. Contains 9 pictures with excerpts from comic stories with English translations.

Beez, Jigal, and Stefanie Kolbusa


(2003). Kibiriti Ngoma: Gender relations in Swahili comics and Taarab music. Stichproben Vienna Journal of African Studies 5:49-71

Kibiriti Ngoma, a derogatory Swahili slang expression for a female prostitute. In Tanzania, Kibiriti Ngoma is also the title of a Taarab song as well as the name of a comic magazine. This article compares the use of the term Kibiriti Ngoma in these two genres of popular art in Tanzania thus highlightening the popuar discourse on gender relations and sexuality in East Africa. Comic magazines and Taarab music as forms of popular culture serve in this article as an analytcal lens to understand social processes.

Contains pictures with excerpts from the comic journal Kibiriti Ngoma. Also contains the Swahili lyrics and English parallel translations of two Taarab songs, Kibiriti Ngoma and Ngangari Feki (fake steadfast person)

Blommaert, Jan.


(1999). 'Reconstructing the sociolinguistic image of Africa: Grassroots writing in Shaba (Congo).' Text 19(2): 175-200.

On the basis of a detailed analysis of products of grassroots writings from Shaba, the author calls into question central (socio)linguistic concepts such as 'language', 'competence' and 'literacy', the referents of which are commonly envisaged as static and monolithic wholes. As an alternative, he argues in favor of using more flexible and fuzzy categories for describing sociolinguistic variation and capturing the reality of communication on the ground in African contexts. The article discusses structural, generic, stylistic, and physical characteristics of the documents analyzed in Blommaert (1995), Fabian (1990b), and Fabian (1991). A particularly nice feature of the article are the facsimiles of (parts of) the documents analyzed.


(1995). 'A Shaba Swahili life history: text and translation.' Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere (AAP) 42 (= Swahili Forum 2): 73-103.

The text (17 pp.) presented in this article is a letter written by a an ex-houseboy and sent to his former employers in Belgium. The handwritten document is rendered in a carefully edited format retaining as faithfully as possible the features of the original. The letter describes important, often tragic, episodes and events from the author's life. Blommaert comments on linguistic, orthographic, and textual features of the document while stressing its importance as a prime example of grassroots literacy and historiography. The text is made up of 11 chapters of unequal length, the first 8 of which are written in Swahili while the remaining three are in French. The linguistic variety used in the letter closely resembles colloquial Shaba/Katanga Swahili but also bears clear marks of written Swahili. The text is accompanied by an English translation.

Fabian, Johannes.


(1966). 'Dream and charisma. "Theories of dreams' in the Jamaa movement (Congo).' Anthropos 61: 544-60.

Written during field research in Katanga, this paper contains the transcripts and translations of conversations (recorded in Lubumbashi and Sandoa) with two Jamaa leaders about the nature and interpreation of dreams. They were also a first attempt to set down certain conventions for the transcription of Katanga Swahili.


(1967). 'Tod dem Propheten: Ein Dokument zu einer prophetischen Situation' (Death of the Prophet: A Document for a Prophetic Situation). Sociologus 17: 131-146.

A conversation with a female member of the Jamaa recorded in Musonoi in 1966 by Fr. B. Peeraer (transcribed with assistance from Fr. Peeraer and translated into German). A rare, intimate example of testimony in a conflict situation.


(1970). Philosophie bantoue: Placide Tempels et son oeuvre vus dans une perspective historique. Brussels: Etudes africaines du CRISP. 28 pp. Reprinted in A. J. Smet (ed.), Autour de la "Philosphie Africaine". Vol. II. (ed.). Kinshasa: Presses Universitaires du Zaire. 383-409.

A historical essay on the origins of the Jamaa in Tempels's search for "Bantu philosophy" with recorded extracts from Jamaa teaching on umuntu (transcribed and translated into French).


(1971). Jamaa: A charismatic movement in Katanga. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Contains several appendices with oral and written Katanga/Shaba Swahili texts from the Jamaa, a religious movement in Katanga Province, DR Congo. The texts (40 pp.) constitute examples of several genres of communication used in the Jamaa. The texts, accompanied by a translation in English, were gathered in Kolwezi and Musonoi, on the Congolese Copperbelt.


(Unpublished [1972]). Anthropology and interpretation. Essays on the thought of the Jamaa movement.

This MS (544pp.), planned as a sequel to Fabian 1971, was never published as such. Substantial parts, however, appeared as articles in journals and as contributions to books (see e.g. 1977, 1979a). Three long texts of Jamaa teaching on man and angels, with comments and interpreations, have been published as Volume 5 of Archives of Popular Swahili.


(1977). 'Lore and doctrine: Some observations on story-telling in the Jamaa movement.' Cahiers d`études africaines 17: 307-29.

This article examines appropriations and transformations of "traditional" lore by analysing what at first seems to be a typical animal story as told and interpreted in the context of Jamaa teaching. The text (2 pp, transcribed and translated into English) was recorded in Kolwezi; the speaker is a female leader of the movement.


(1979a). 'Man and woman in the teachings of the Jamaa movement.' In Benetta Jules-Rosette (ed.), The new religions of Africa. Norwood, N. J.: Ablex. 169-183.

The argument is supported by several excerpts (3.5 pp of Swahili texts with English translations in parallel columns) from Jamaa teaching, transcribed and translated (some in need of correction). This article also states first insights on connections between Jamaa religious and a larger context of Popular discourse in Katanga Swahili.


(1979b). 'Text as terror: Second thoughts on charisma.' In Johannes Fabian (ed.), Beyond charisma: Religious movements as discourse. Special issue of Social Research 46: 166-203. (Republished in: Johannes Fabian. (1991). Time and the work of anthropology: Critical Essays 1971-1991. Chur: Harwood Academic Publishers. 65-85.)

This article on negative experiences with religious commitment takes off from a conversation and an exemplary tale (2.5 pp of Swahili text and English translation in parallel columns) recorded in Musonoi with a male leader of the Jamaa. Another example for the incorporation of Popular story-telling in religious testimony.


(1985). 'Religious pluralism: An ethnographic approach.' In Wim van Binsbergen and Matthew Schoffeleers (eds.), Theoretical explorations in African religion. London: KPI-Routledge. 138-63.

The Jamaa version of a classical contest-tale (recorded at Kinkondja, transcribed and translated, with sociolinguistic comments) is the centerpiece of a critique of the notion of pluralism.


(1990a). Power and performance: Ethnographic explorations through proverbial wisdom and theatre in Shaba, Zaire. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Contains transcribed recordings and English translation (133 pp.) of the rehearsal and performance of a theatrical play by the Troupe Théatrâle Mufwankolo about power. The rehearsal sessions took place in Lubumbashi, the capital of Shaba, now again called Katanga, while the play was performed in the nearby village of Kawama. The transcribed recordings and English tranlation are available online as Volume 3 of Archives of Popular Swahili.


(1990b). History from below: The `Vocabulaire of Elisabethville' by André Yav (texts, translations, and interpretive essay). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Contains the written history of what is now Lubumbashi in the Shaba region of Zaire. The original typoscript is reproduced in facsimile. The text was commissioned by an association of former domestic servants and written, or compiled, by one André Yav. The facsimile text is followed by linguistic notes (provided by Walter Schicho) on the variety of Swahili used by the author. The text is twice translated: first, into a 're-oralized' version in current Shaba (Katanga) Swahili and, second, into English. These texts from History from below, as well as Kalundi Mango's comments on the Vocabulaire are available online as Volume 4 of Archives of Popular Swahili.


(1991). 'Potopot: Problems of documenting the history of spoken Swahili in Shaba.' In Jan Blommaert (ed.), Swahili studies: Essays in honor of Marcel Van Spaandonck. Ghent: Academia Press. 17-44.

Contains annotated samples (plus English translation) representing Swahili as spoken/written in the Former Belgian Congo. The first two samples are excerpts from Makonga (1959) and LeCoste (1960) respectively.
The other samples are three reports written by Boy Scouts in 1937. These reports are the earliest examples of grass-roots literacy from Katanga that are known to us. They also provide insight in the way Swahili was spoken in the late 1930s.

Goyvaerts, Didier L.


(1996). 'Kibalele: Form and function of a secret language in Bukavu (Zaire). Journal of Pragmatics 25:123-143.

Kibalele is a secret language used by inhabitants of Bukave (Eastern Congo) who are engaged in illegal activities. Outsiders talk about the language and its speakers in strongly negative terms. At the same time, Kibalele is used as a means to build and maintain a strong ingroup identity by its speakers.
Although, Kibalele cannot be considered a variety of Popular Swahili, this article is listed here because many lexical items in Kibalele originate from Swahili. Other languages contributing to Kibalele are Lingala, Shi, English, and French.The article gives various examples (isolated words and sentences) of how Swahili lexical items are incorporated in Kibalele by processes of syllable permutation.

Gysels, Marjolein.


(1996). Genre, intertextualiteit en performance. Een etnografische studie van de hadisi: Een orale traditie in Lubumbashi, Zaïre (Genre, intertextuality, and performance. An ethnographic study of the hadisi: An oral tradition in Lubumbashi, Zaire). Doctoral Dissertation, University of Amsterdam.

This study of story telling in Lubumbashi (Shaba/Katanga) contains some 40 pp of Shaba/Katanga Swahili texts followed by a Dutch translation. A resurfacing theme in the texts is 'traditional authority and control'. The texts give the reader a good impression of the colloquial variety of Shaba/Katanga Swahili used in story telling events which difers from the normal colloquial variety in that it is characterized by minimal admixture from French.

Klein-Arendt, Reinhard.


(1992). Gesprächstrategien im Swahili: Linguistisch-pragmatische Analysen von Dialogtexten einer Stegreiftheatergruppe . Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

A detailed analysis of conversational strategies in one hour of improvised theater by the Mombasa based stage troop Zingatia. The book contains the transcriptions (58 pp of Swahili texts with translation into German) of two short plays that were recorded and broadcast in December 1988 by 'The Voice of Kenya': Kijicho cha Boss (The Boss's envy) and Undugu kazini (Family ties at work). The variety of Swahili used by members of Zingatia is closer to kiUnguja than the kiMvita dialect of Mombasa, with English influence restricted to infrequent insertion of English nouns.

Lecoste, Baudouin.


(1960). 'A grammatical study of two recordings of Belgian-Congo Swahili.' Swahili 31:219-226.

Lecoste's article presents extracts from transcripts of two recordings. Lecoste provides the following information. The first recording was made by A. Coupez in 1958 and the second one by Jan Vansina in 1959. The speakers in Coupez's recording are a protestant pastor from Kamina (Katanga) where he spoke Luba(-Katanga), a clerk born in Albertville (now Kalemie) where he spoke Tabwa, and a man described as 'coloured' from Kindu whose only African language was Swahili. In Vansina's recording there are five speakers. Three of them were born in the extreme east of Kivu while the remaining two come from Ruanda. The recordings were made in Astrida (now Butare).

Lecoste notes that the Swahili used in the recorded conversations resembles both "the Ngwana dialect of Swahili" and the "concordless Swahili spoken as much by the natives living ouside the arabized regions as by Europeans". The variation encountered in the conversations leads Lecoste to conclude that there appear to be "no fixed rules".

These recordings and transcripts are clearly in need of a more thorough analysis than the rather sketchy one provided by Lecoste: the tapes and transcripts should still be available at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren (Belgium)! Especially interesting would be to find out whether and how in these conversations structural simplification can be explained as resulting from sociolinguistic accommodation.

Comments on Lecoste's article can be found in Fabian (1991).

Makonga, Christophe.


(1959). 'Tumbako ya mu mpua: Een toneelschets in het Potopot-Kingwana van Katanga, uitgegeven en vertaald door Marcel van Spaandonck (Tumbako ya mu mpua: A sketch for a theatrical play in Potopot-Kingwana from Katanga, edited and translated by Marcel van Spaandonck).' Kongo-Overzee XXV(1):1-16.

Makonga's brief text (6 pp.), commisioned by Van Spaandonck in 1958, is an outline for an improvised play. Van Spaandonck supplies some background on the text and its author. Makonga is referred to a 'very young Muluba'. Stated like this, the label 'Luba' is ambiguous: it could stand for either Luba-Kasai or Luba-Katanga, which are two different ethno-linguistic groups. Van Spaandonck further notes that Makonga was employed by a big company, which must have been either the railroad company or the mining company, and that the outline was written in one hour's time.The play tells the story of a chief and his nubile daughter. Instead of paying bridewealth the young men have to pass a test: they have to snuff tobacco without sneezing. All candidates fail except from a young man from Elisabethville who passes the test by means of a clever trick: he sneezes while imitating the sounds of a train engine, a car, and a plane. The Swahili text is followed by a Dutch translation.

Comments on 'Tumbako ya mu mpua' can be found in Fabian (1991).

Mekacha, Rugatiri D.K.


(1992). 'Are women devils? The portrayal of women in Tanzanian Popular music.' In Werner Graebner (ed.), Sokomoko: Popular culture in East Africa (Matatu 9). Amsterdam: Rodopi. 99-113.

Focussing on the lyrics of Marijani Rajab's song 'Mwanameka' (see Rajab 1992), Mekacha investigates the portrayal of women in 'muziki wa dansi'. Mekacha suggests that the portrayal of woman as evil in 'muziki wa dansi' lyrics can be seen as a warning to young unmarried girls to accept their subordinate role in society and not to transgress social norms guiding sexual behavior. The article also presents material from the following other songs: 'Mume wangu' (My husband) by Makassy, 'Ndoa ya mateso' (Marriage of misery) by Marijani Rajab, and 'Esta' by Orchestra Maquis Original.

For another analysis of 'Mwanameka', see Beck (1992).

Miehe, Gudrun, Katrin Bromber, Said Khamis, and Ralf Grosserhode (eds.).


(2002). Kala Shairi: German East Africa in Swahili poems (Archiv Afrikanistischer Manuskripte, Band 6). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

The bulk of this book consists of a 380 (!) pages compilation of Swahili poems recounting historical events during the German conquering and occupation of present-day Tanzania. The poems present us with local African views on colonial conquest and occupation.

The poems in this book were gathered from earlier collections and all, except one, are published with an English translation for the first time. Swahili poems and English translations are presented in parallel columns. The poems are annotated and preceded by introductory chapters on historical background, formal and stylistic features of Swahili poetry, spelling and linguistic peculiarities of the material, and a final chapter on the authors of the poems. The body of texts is followed by four appendices listing German administrative and military terms, nicknames and variants of German names, biographical entries on Germans and Africans appearing in the poems, and geographical names.

Rajab, Marijani.


(1992). 'Mwanameka - The seductress.' In Werner Graebner (ed.), Sokomoko: Popular culture in East Africa (Matatu 9). Amsterdam: Rodopi. 91-97.

Swahili lyrics and English translation of Marijani Rajab's song 'Mwanameka', a big hit in the early 19802 in Tanzania. The song tells the story of a woman who seduces a married man, destroys his marriage, and then leaves him. The lyrics condemn Mwanameka's behavior in very strong terms as selfish and sinful.

Mwanameka is the object of detailed analysis in Mekacha (1992) and Beck (1992).

Rooij, Vincent A. de.


(1989). Kazi/Kazhi: Creatief gebruik van fonologische variatie als middel tot vormgeven en manipuleren van `situatie' in een Shaba-Swahili text (The creative use of phonological variation as a means of shaping and manipulating 'situation' in a Shaba Swahili text). M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam.

Contains the transcript (48 pp. double spaced) of an improvised play by the Groupe Mufwankolo (see Fabian 1990a and Schicho 1981) recorded by Johannes Fabian in 1973 in Lubumbashi, Shaba, Zaire (now Katanga, DR Congo). There are four characters in the play: a miner, an office clerk, and two street vendors (both female). As always in the plays of the Groupe Mufwankolo, the play is concluded by a mafundisho, a teaching or instruction, in which Mufwankolo spells out the moral of the tale: everyone's work is of importance to everyone, with one exception: the work of a thief which is bad and has no value whatsoever. The transcipt is summarized in Dutch. A fragment of Fabian's transcript of this text appears in Fabian 1982.


(1995). 'Shaba Swahili.' In Jacques Arends, Pieter Muysken, and Norval Smith (eds.), Pidgins and creoles: An introduction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 179-190.

This article on the history and structure of Shaba/Katanga Swahili contains a short text collected by an informant of the author in Lubumbashi (the capital of Shaba/Katanga) in September 1992. The speaker in this transcribed recording is a 26 year old woman from Kolwezi visiting her relatives in Lubumbashi. The text has interlinear glosses and is accompanied by an English translation.


(1998). 'Problems of (re-)contextualizing and interpreting variation in oral and written Shaba Swahili.' In: Mortéza Mahmoudian and Lorenza Mondada (eds.), Le travail du chercheur sur le terrain: Questionner les pratiques, les méthodes, les techniques de l'enquête (Cahiers de l'ILSL 10). Lausanne: Institut de Linguistique et des Sciences du Langage del'Université de Lausanne. 105-126.

Contains two brief Shaba/Katanga Swahili texts: one oral, the other written. The oral one also appears in de Rooij's PhD dissertation (Cohesion through contrast: Discourse structure in Shaba Swahili/French conversations, 1996, Amsterdam: Ifott). The written text was authored by one of de Rooij's informants during fieldwork in 1992 and recounts the story of a friend of the author's who had become a devout Christian after having engaged in magical practices. The article is an attempt to show how texts can be interpreted by various means of recontextualization.

Rossé, René.


(1977). Le Swahili populaire de Lubumbashi. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Nice.

This thorough study of what the author calls 'Popular Lubumbashi Swahili' has an appendix of 121 pp. of Swahili texts, 11 of which consist of locally published written texts. The oral texts are transcripts of 9 unstructured interviews and one recording made with a hidden microphone in the Lubumbashi ZOO. The texts have interlinear glosses (in the form of numbers that refer to morphemes in a second appendix) and a French translation.

Schicho, Walter.


(1981). Le Groupe Mufwankolo. (Textes enrégistrés et édités par Walter Schicho et Mbayabo Ndala) Wien: Afro-Pub.

Contains transcribed interviews (47pp.) with members of the Groupe Mufwankolo as well as the transcripts (94pp.) of four short sketches performed by this group of actors. The Swahili texts are accomponied by a French translation. The translation of the interviews is not an integral one, however, as some sequences are only summarized in French. Features typical of the Shaba/Katanga variety of Swahili used in the texts are commented upon in notes.

Topan, Farouk M.


(1995). 'Vugo: A virginity celebration ceremony among the Swahili of Mombasa.' African Languages and Cultures 8(1):87-107

About half the article consists of the lyrics of songs sung during vugo ceremonies in Mombasa. The lyrics are followed by an English translation. The materials discussed were collected from a 1964 publication by Mbarak Ali Hinawy, a local authority, transcriptions of recording of a vugo ceremony in 1966, and from women who used to be prominent singers in vugo ceremonies.

The vugo ceremony celebrated the virginity of the bride. Vugo songs were performed in two different forms. There was a more traditional 'tribe'-based vugo, and a 'para-tribal' vugo performed by women clubs. The former lost ground to the latter over the years. Topan juxtaposes 'tribal' and women clubs' versions of several songs.


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Version 5.0, 31 December 2005
©  Vincent de Rooij