The Poem of the Palanquin. A Text Edition of the "Utendi wa Haudaji" together with a Textual Analysis Approaching the Style of the Nineteenth-Century Swahili Utendi


Prof. Dr. Clarissa Vierke

Research Area:


My dissertation is centred on a 19th-century Swahili poem from the island of Lamu, Northern Kenya. One part of my dissertation is an edition of the Utendi wa Haudaji which has never been published before but which has been preserved in locally scribed manuscripts – Lamu has a relatively long history of manuscript writing that reaches back into pre-colonial times. Deciphering the manuscripts with the help of local experts, providing a translation as well as a commentary on the archaic poetic language is hence a major aim of the thesis.

The language used in the poem is markedly different from standard Swahili, as it is firstly written in another dialect and secondly, because it makes use of a specific poetic repertoire which I am trying to explore in the second part of my dissertation. How does the poetic translate itself into prosody, language structure and semantics? From a Swahili perspective, poetic speech is essentially an elevated form of speech distinct from ordinary speech in terms of both language and function (being reserved for moral guidelines and historiography). Hence, how does the particular language relate to the poem’s function in society?