Swahili Translation

Recently, I have been devoting the majority of my creative energies towards translating Swahili poetry. The Swahili language is host to a rich poetic tradition dating back to at least the 17th century, but it is rarely translated (and even more rarely translated for literary appreciation rather than academic purposes). My first published translations in nearly a decade just appeared in the spring issue of Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation, specifically the poems and songs “Cassava From Jang’ombe” by Siti Binti Saad, “Amina” by Shaaban Robert, “It’s No Big Deal To Catch Fish” and “You Might Walk On Land, Hippo” by Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy, “My Old Dowry Chest” by Abd ai-Rahim Sai’d Muhammad Ba Salim, and “[O tapper of palm wine]” and “The Song of the Trees” by unknown authors. You can also read a note I wrote about the translations.

I also have a pair of translations appearing at the end of the month in Los Angeles Review, one poem by the great 19th century Mombasan poet Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy (1776 – 1840) and another by the 20th century Tanzanian poet Mathias E. Mnyampala (1917 – 1969). And in the fall I will begin my MFA in literary translation at Queens College. While embarking on a second MFA might make me sound like some sort of walking parody in a hipster sitcom, I am nevertheless very gratified to be doing what I can to bring these works to the attention of English readers.

And while you are reading my translation of this song, do enjoy the legendary Bi Kidude singing “Muhogo wa Jang’ombe”. It was getting this chorus stuck in my head six months ago that kickstarted my recent flurry of translation. At the time this video was recorded, she was the oldest living performer the world.