January 31, 2010

Swahili Proverbs from Life and Politics in Mombasa

Sheikh Hyder el-Kindy was a Swahili political leader whose autobiography, Life and Politics in Mombasa, has a number of great Kiswahili proverbs:

"Kweli ikidhihiri, uwongo hujitenga" meaning when truth comes, falsehood disappears. This was said in relation to Sheikh Hyder's story of standing up to a brutal overseer while on a prison chain gang.

"Mtambua ndwee ndiye mganga" meaning he who diagnoses a disease is the physician. This was related by Sheikh Hyder after the installation of the new Tamim of the Thelatha Taifa (Three Tribes) a group of Swahili clans in Mombasa. He afterwards was appointed deputy Tamim.

"Kinolewacho hupata" meaning that Anything that is sharpened becomes sharper. This was said in relation to Sheikh Hyder's ambivalence about translating subservive Kiswahili political texts for the colonial police,(he worked as a translator), which implicated his grandnephew as an anticolonial agitator.

Sheikh Hyder relates many other stories about the social and cultural history of the coast. His memoirs are a valuable source for understanding the tension between "Arabs" and "Swahili" in the colonial era, the relationship between nationalism and Islam in Kenya, colonial political agitation, and some of the attitudes of postcolonial African leaders in Mombasa.


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