Swahili beyond the Boundaries
Literature, Language, and Identity

By Alamin Mazrui

2009 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

“Confidently traversing a vast territory and deftly combining sociolinguistics with postcolonial theory.... Highly recommended.”


“Mazrui provides a fascinating, clear and insightful account of the development of Swahili literature, and the continually shifting hybridity that is such an essential component of its boundaries.”

African Studies Quarterly

“Erudite and lucidly written, Swahili beyond Borders is no doubt an outstanding contribution to the study of African literatures and languages in general, and Swahili studies in particular.”

Canadian Journal of African Studies

“Mazrui challenges the longstanding claim of Swahili identity as dependent on ethnicity and historical specificity; instead, he shows the hybrid, multicultural, and transnational nature of Swahili identity.”

African Studies Review

Africa is a marriage of cultures: African and Asian, Islamic and Euro-Christian. Nowhere is this fusion more evident than in the formation of Swahili, Eastern Africa’s lingua franca, and its cultures. Swahili beyond the Boundaries: Literature, Language, and Identity addresses the moving frontiers of Swahili literature under the impetus of new waves of globalization in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These momentous changes have generated much theoretical debate on several literary fronts, as Swahili literature continues to undergo transformation in the mill of human creativity.

Swahili literature is a hybrid that is being reconfigured by a conjuncture of global and local forces. As the interweaving of elements of the colonizer and the colonized, this hybrid formation provides a representation of cultural difference that is said to constitute a “third space,” blurring existing boundaries and calling into question established identitarian categorizations. This cultural dialectic is clearly evident in the Swahili literary experience as it has evolved in the crucible of the politics of African cultural production.

However, Swahili beyond the Boundaries demonstrates that, from the point of view of Swahili literature, while hybridity evokes endless openness on questions of home and identity, it can simultaneously put closure on specific forms of subjectivity. In the process of this contestation, a new synthesis may be emerging that is poised to subject Swahili literature to new kinds of challenges in the politics of identity, compounded by the dynamics and counterdynamics of post–Cold War globalization.

Alamin Mazrui is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at the Ohio State University and visiting professor in the department of Africana Studies at Rutgers University. He is the coauthor of Swahili, State and Society: The Political Economy of an African Language, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience, and The Swahili: Idiom and Identity.

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In Series

Research in International Studies, Africa Series, № 85

Related Subjects

African Authors · African Studies · Monograph · Swahili



Retail price: $24.00, S.
Release date: Mar. 2007
216 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights: World