Zanzibari Swahili Poetic Imaginaries and Networks


Duncan Tarrant

As part of the University of Bayreuth’s Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence my research will focus on the multi-layered co-presence and circulation of verbal arts in relation to narratives, imagery, and sound travelling the Indian Ocean. In line with the cluster project, literary works are not conceived as neatly delineated units, but as internally multiple and dynamic configurations in relation to other literary works and artworks. The main question, which feeds into the cluster’s wider interest in practices of worlding, is: Which multiple world(s) do literature and other artworks inhabit, imagine and construct?


The aim of the Prof. Dr. Clarissa Vierke case study, to which my PhD research will contribute, is to examine how popular Swahili poetry and songs relate to the broader Indian Ocean. Although Swahili expressive cultures have been recurrently characterized as shaped by a multitude of influences, there has been little investigation of how Swahili poetry and music have actually incorporated elements from elsewhere, for example India and the Middle East. My part in the project will focus on Swahili poetry and song lyrics in Zanzibar and Oman, and their entanglement through back and forth migration and, more recently, social media.