“No one makes lasting things, What the Lord makes will stay.”
Jan Knappert quotes a self-effacing Swahili poet in his Introduction, pointing out the difficulties of penning down the history of Swahili poetry. With a modesty that would have been admired by many of the poets for whom he is translating, Dr Knappert asserts that it cannot yet be completely done.
Four Centuries of Swahili Verse has enabled further studies in the field, making it a pioneering achievement in Swahili poetry.
Knappert opens with the birth of Swahili poetry in the seventeenth century and the creation of the Islamic tradition. The eighteenth century saw the inception of the epic tradition. Knappert then examines the individual traditions of the East African coastal towns of Mombasa, Lamu and Tanga in the nineteenth century. His final chapter puts the great twentieth-century poets such as Shaaban Robert into historical perspective.
The history is richly illustrated with a vast selection of original texts with parallel English translations, incorporating an anthology of African verse tradition. Although Swahili used Arabic script, the language is part of a truly indigenous tradition.