Thursday, October 21, 2010

This is How to Write a Swahili Short Story

Title: Mimba Ingali Mimba na Hadithi Nyingine
Author: Owen MCOnyango (Ed)
Publisher: Focus publishers Ltd, 2006
Genre: Fiction (Literature)
Pages: 180

The art of writing short stories as opposed to novellas started in the western literary scene a century and a half ago by 1842. Edger Allan Poe, the fabled American poet-writer gave birth to the art of short story.

On the other hand, although the Swahili literature was brought to the East African coast by Arab traders and Portuguese, it only took root in the region by 1950.

Worth of note is that though Swahili folklore is short it doesn’t qualify as a short story.  A short story entails modernity in a stylistic short form articulating one incident without going over board to be a novella; a short novel.

In this collection of Swahili short stories, Mimba Ingali Mimba na Hadithi Nyingine by Owen MCOnyango is a new genre in East Africa. Owen is the Maseno University public relations officer, a Kiswahili lecturer and a prolific mshairi (Swahili for poet)

My attempts to corner Owen for an interview hit a snug, but that isn’t here or there for this couldn’t stop me from picking it for review from the varsity’s library shelf.

Interestingly, though the English literature has had short stories set books, Kiswahili’s are new in the syllabus. Though written in modern style, Swahili short stories as opposed to folklore will increase the reading culture although literature principles will be shaken.

The Kiswahili wakereketwa (self proclaimed Swahili connoisseurs) invading radio air waves with cheap talk to decry the poor state of Swahili language (like I using English here) should see the potential of short modern stories.

A studious collection;
This modernity theme is brought by the title and story Mimba ingali mimba by Leonard Sanja. A pregnant woman, Nekesa, has an overdue labor with experts, bureaucrats, doctors and intellectuals debating on the delivery date. The baby symbolizes the Kenyan new constitution over two decade search. On the cover Nekesa stands with the Kenyan parliament at the background as three people yap away.

Herein the eleven hadithi (stories) with the editor’s two is core to Swahili short story with the modern genre in language, prose and themes that mirror today’s society.

Seif Karenga’s Bimdogo Selina written in free flowing prose captures the life of an orphan in an intricate of drug peddling while John Habwe’s Kasheshe Jijini invokes the pain of August 1998 terrorist bombing from the eye view of a young man who escaped death narrowly.

The funny side of Nairobi’s  hustle and bustle are easily and lightly written by Muga Onyango in Mimi Sijui has he wonder how people make ends meet from the circus, a hapless drunkard and mama mbogas (market women).

Family life as shattered by AIDS menace, immorality, bareness and dearth of love is crafted in Siri ya Mama, Uchachu huja baadaye and Sitaki by Riyya Timammy, Ernest Muhochi and Frank Mabuba.

Rehema the character in Siri ya Mama knows the truth about his barren husband, but in his stubbornness watches as her co-wives fleece him. Maronya in Uchachu huja baadaye realizes he is infected by HIV/AIDS in marriage after a loose life in campus while Sitaki in poetic style and flashback hold the reader in plight of Nyamweko in the hands of a player in a thought provoking way.

The magnet of the book though is the translation by the editor on Grace Ogot’s New York from English to Mji wa New York! The story bridges Africans living in Diaspora to their motherland. A delinquent finds salvation after mugging an African UN ambassador leading to repatriation to Africa.

This story will put a stop to the gibber ‘Kiswahili is better than English’ especially by ‘waswahili’ who love to hear themselves talk.

Owen MCOnyango’s  Waliohujumu Ujamaa and Mganga wa Tanga are a specialty showing the author’s knack with the pen. The former gives a dark humor to a family ignorance on their son’s typhoid and hope in witch doctors antics leading tom his death.

The latter written like George Orwell’s Animal Farm have animal characters depicting the fall and beneficiaries of Ujamaa system who were the elitist paying lip service to Ujamaa while were capitalist to the core.

It’s just unfortunate I didn’t interview Owen MCOnyango and pick his mind on Kiswahili as a language and why Kenyans are chastised for communicating and not speaking in Swahili.
And the Tanzanian connection in his stories, but that is for another blog post.

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