Based on extensive archival research, this intellectual history of Standard Swahili—a dialect of the Swahili language written in the Latin alphabet—argues that attention to the intertwined processes of codification from 1864 to 1964 lends new perspectives on history, colonialism, time, and cultural representation in East Africa and beyond.
Swahili was once an obscure dialect of an East African Bantu language. Today more than one hundred million people use it: Swahili is to eastern and central Africa what English is to the world. From its embrace in the 1960s by the black freedom movement in the United States to its adoption in 2004 as the African Union’s official language, Swahili has become a truly international language.
Kiswahili has become the lingua franca of eastern Africa. Yet there can be few historic peoples whose identity is as elusive as that of the Swahili. Some have described themselves as Arabs, as Persians or even, in one place, as Portuguese. It is doubtful whether, even today, most of the people about whom this book is written would unhesitatingly and in all contexts accept the name Swahili.This book was central to the thought and lifework of the late James de Vere Allen.