Al-inkishafi: A ninteenth century swahili poem
Within the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya’s northern coa st, creative writing has been thriving for at least three hundred years. Thanks to the coming to the region o f Arab immigrants and the introduction of Arabic sc ript, the locals cultivated a strong literacy tradition e specially in poetry. One of the region’s finest poe tic compositions, created about two hundred years ago, is “Al-Inkishafi” which translates as “Soul’s Awakening” (Hitchens, 1972) or the “Catechism of th e Soul” (De Verre Allen, 1977). In this article, I explore the thematic concerns of the poem and their relevance today despite the fac t that two centuries have passed since the poem’s composit ion. I also claim and demonstrate with illustration s from the poem the freshness, intensity and elegance of its language. I then highlight some controversi es o the poem with regard as to whether or not the poem is complete and whether the piece is not merely a religious sermon rather than a work of art. I end t he paper by stating my stand on the controversies.