Reading in translation: Swahili literature in French

Growing up a monolingual reader, I was obviously exposed to a lot of dubbed films and books in translation. At some point, I was such a fan of Dostoevsky and Chekhov that I pledged to learn Russian so that I would one day be able to read the original text. That didn’t happen and up to this day I still read Russian authors in translation.

I do read other languages though, including Swahili. A glance at my makeshift bookshelf got me wondering: which Swahili authors would I have access to if I had to read them in French as my 12-year-old self would? The short answer is: few, very few of them.

And when I speak of access, it is in a very loose sense of “the text existing in a language I can read”, without taking into account the price barrier, the availability of the book at a library, or the possibility of ordering it. Out of the books listed below, only one can be purchased in ebook format (Kindle), which means that readers outside Europe and north America will have to pay dearly for shipping or wait for a friend to bring it in their suitcase.

The Swahili > French language pair is rare enough to make any new translation an event. To be fair, French is not doing too badly in this department, maybe because Swahili is taught at university level and has been made an examinable language for the Foreign Service entrance examination.

For someone who’s interested in Swahili literature, there is really no shortcut: go learn the language!

Swahili literature available in French

Euphrase Kezilahabi, “Nagona” (1990) and “Mzingile” (1991) translated by Xavier Garnier as “Nagona suivi de Mzingile” (2010).

Aniceti Kitereza, “Bwana Myombekere na Bibi Bugonoka, Ntulanalwo na Bulihwali(1981) translated by Simon Bwaguma Mweze and Olivier Barlet as “Les enfants du faiseur de pluie” (1996) and “Le tueur de serpents” (1999)

It worth noting that this family saga was initially written in Kerewe, though the author had to resort to undertaking a Swahili translation on his own in order to find a publisher. Bwana Myombekere na Bibi Bugonoka, Ntulanalwo na Bulihwali was completed in 1945 but it was published for the first time in 1981 in Swahili translation.

Robert Shaaban, “Maisha yangu” (1960) translated by François Devenne as “Autobiographie d’un écrivain swahili, Tanzanie” (2010).

Adam Shafi, “Kasri ya Mwinyi Fuad” (1978) translated by Jean-Pierre Richard as “Les girofliers de Zanzibar” (1986)

Carl Velten, “Safari za Wasuaheli” (1901) translated by Nathalie Carré as “De la côte aux confins: récits de voyageurs swahili” (2014)

Further reading:

  • In Kiswahili

Tafsiri ya fasihi kama mbinu halisi ya kujikomboa kutoka katika mtego wa utandawazi ? Blog post by Pascal Bacuez

  • In French

Alain Ricard. La publication de la littérature africaine en traduction. IFAS Working Paper Series / Les Cahiers de l’ IFAS, 2005, 6, p. 58-62.

Xavier Garnier. “Traduire le swahili en français. À propos de Nagona et Mzingile d’Euphrase Kezilahabi“, Études littéraires africaines, n° 34, 2012, p. 19-27.

Mwanablogu Christian Bwaya: “Kiswahili ni alama ya Uafrika wangu.”

Tunazungumza na mgeni wetu, mwanablogu Christian Bwaya (@BwayaCN)!

Christian Bwaya.

Christian Bwaya : ‘Si tu ninaelimisha kama ninavyofikiri, lakini ninaelimishwa na wasomaji wangu.’

Christian ni mwanablogu wa Kiswahili ambaye ameendesha blogu itwayo Jielewe kwanzia mwaka 2005. Pia ni mfasiri na mhariri wa kujitolea katika ukurasa wa Kiswahili wa Global Voices.

Anafanya kazi Moshi kama mwalimu wa Saikologia na Elimu ya Viumbe (Biolojia) wakati mwenyewe anaendelea na masomo yake. Ameoa na ana mtoto mmoja.

Ulianza kuandika blogu mwaka 2005. Uliamuaje kushiriki katika mtandao wa Internet namna hii?

Nakumbuka nikiwa mwanafunzi nilikuwa mfuatialiaji mzuri wa makala za mwandishi maarufu, Ndesanjo Macha (ambaye sasa ni Mhariri wa Global Voices eneo la Kusini mwa Jangwa la Sahara).

Yeye ni mwanablogu wa kwanza wa Kiswahili. Na kwa kweli niilivutiwa sana na aina yake ya uandishi, mijadala aliyokuwa akiiendesha kwenye blogu yake pamoja na matumizi mazuri ya lugha. Kwa hiyo hamasa ya kublogu ilitokana na blogu yake.

Blogu kwangu niliiona kama fursa nzuri na rahisi ya kujadili masuala ninayoyaelewa vizuri ya kiutambuzi na sayansi. Mule niliona ingekuwa rahisi kupata jukwaa la kubadilishana mawazo na watu bila kikwazo chochote na pia pasipo kulazimika kuonana nao.

Si tu ninaelimisha kama ninavyofikiri, lakini ninaelimishwa na wasomaji wangu. Jambo hili ni gumu kupitia magazeti na vyombo vingine vikuu vya habari. Kwa hiyo uhuru wa kusema ninachokifikiri ulikuwa ni hamasa muhimu ya kuanza kublogu mwaka 2005, nikiwa mwanafunzi.

Kwa sasa bado nafanya juhudi za kupangilia ratiba yangu vizuri ili niweze kublogu kwa ufanisi zaidi.

Unapenda kusema kwamba wewe ni mpenzi wa Kiswahili. Hii lugha, ina maana gani kwako?

Kiswahili ni lugha yangu. Naichukulia kama zawadi ya Mungu kwangu na jamii yangu. Nakiheshimu kama utambulisho wa utamaduni wangu.

Unajua tuna bahati mbaya sana sisi Waafrika hatujali vitu vyetu wenyewe. Kwangu mimi Kiswahili ni alama ya Uafrika wangu. Ni nyenzo ya kuwasilisha kwa urahisi sana mawazo yangu kwa jamii yangu. Ni kipimo cha uelewa wangu kwa maana kwamba kama siwezi kueleza dhana fulani kwa Kiswahili, basi najichukulia kama sijaielewa bado.

Kiswahili ni hifadhi ya elimu. Ni urithi. Na ndio maana mimi ni kati watu wanaoamini kwamba kati ya matatizo makubwa yanayoukabili mfumo wa elimu nchini mwangu [Tanzania] ni uamuzi wa kutumia lugha za kigeni kuwafundishia wanafunzi wetu.

Pamoja na mapungufu yake, bado Kiswahili kinaweza kusaidia sana kuongeza uelewa wa wanafunzi wetu kuanzia ngazi za chini mpaka Chuo Kikuu. Inawezekana isipokuwa tu kama sisi ni aina ya watu wasiopenda vya kwao  tunaong’ang’ania vya watu ambao nao hatuna hakika kama wanapenda vyetu.

Je, unaongea lugha zingine, isipokuwa Kiswahili?

Ndio. Naongea Kinyaturu kwa ufasaha. Hii ni lugha ya mama yangu na amekuwa na jitihada za kuhakikisha tunawasiliana kwa lugha hii. Ni utambulisho wa jamii yetu ndogo ya wanyaturu, wenyeji wa eneo la katikati ya nchi. Nakiheshimu.

Vilevile naongea Kiingereza kwa kuwa tu najua kimetawala ustaarabu wa vitabu na mimi ni mpenzi mkubwa wa kusoma. Ila sikipendi na wala sijivunii nacho.

Kama mwanablogu, unaonaje kuhusu umuhimu wa kutumia lugha za kiafrika?

Mtandao wa intaneti umekuwa ni maktaba ya maarifa. Tukitumia Kiswahili tutakuwa tumesaidia kuhifadhi lugha yetu na kuipa nafasi ya kuwa nyenzo ya maarifa kwa jamii ya wasemao Kiswahili.

Ni muhimu sana sisi wenye fursa ya kutumia mtandao tukachangia maarifa haya mtandaoni kwa Kiswahili. Kufanya hivyo kutasaidia kuongeza matumizi ya teknolojia katika jamii zetu maana watu wetu hawatalazimika kujua lugha za kigeni ili kujifunza na kuhabarishwa mtandaoni.

Dunia inabadilika. Itakuwa ni aibu kwa lugha yetu yenye mamilioni ya wasemaji kukosa nafasi inayostahili mtandaoni na siku moja tukajikuta tumo kwenye kundi la lugha zinazopotea.

Kila mmoja wetu achangie. Na hii ndiyo sababu niliamua kushiriki mradi wa Swahili Lingua. Ninajivunia kuchangia benki ya maarifa na habari mtandaoni kwa kutumia lugha yangu mwenyewe. Najua ninawarahisisha wasiojua lugha za kigeni kupata maarifa na habari hizo kwa lugha yao wenyewe.

globalvoices_sw-badge-small

Je, una ujumbe wa kutuma kwa wasomaji wetu?

Hakuna heshima kubwa kama kutambua asili yako. Natoa wito kwa sisi Waafrika kujielewa na kuthamini utamaduni wetu. Kati ya vielelezo vya kujielewa ni namna tunavyothamini na kukuza lugha zetu tulizozaliwa nazo.

Review: Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

Falstaff (Mrisho Mpoto) and his associates

Falstaff (Mrisho Mpoto) and his associates

Translated into Swahili and localized in the Kenyan context by Joshua Ogutu (@ogutumuraya), a boisterous interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ was presented at the 2012 Globe to Globe festival before embarking on an India tour in November 2012. This co-production by Better Pill and The Theatre Company is back in Kenya, much to the delight of local theatre buffs who had been impatiently waiting for a chance to see the show.

A comedy of manners

The plot revolves around a small community – located in Kiambu in the Swahili version – where intrigues are born of ambition, lust, greed and pure complacency. Falstaff, a corrupt politician who deludes himself into believing that he’s irresistible, tries to woo two married ladies with the exact same ‘love’ letter. When Bi. Ford and Bi. Page uncover the trick, they decide to take him for a ride, a plan that ends up creating a cascade of comical situations.  A jealous husband, a shrewd, down-to-earth maid, a young couple whose love is threatened by the girl’s parents’ misplaced ambition and a host of grumpy undisciplined servants, complete the hilarious gallery of characters.

Here is the preview posted on The Theatre Company’s YouTube channel:

In an interview recorded by Globe International, actors Joshua Ogutu and Sharon Nanjos talked about their experience of rehearsing ‘Wanawake wa heri wa Winsa’ and performing the play at the Globe Theatre. They worked with director Daniel Goldman who brought on board a different perspective on theatre performance and managed to whip up a localized interpretation although he did not understand Swahili.

One of the most notable influences of this collaboration was the breakdown of the ‘fourth wall’, with audience members becoming participants in the unfolding of the story.

A performance shining through the language barrier

While some critics felt that the adaptation betrayed the spirit of Shakespearan comedy, most reviewers were enthusiastic about the performance given in April in London and Statford-upon-Avon.

The fact that part of the audience decided to brave the rain to attend the show testifies to the interest raised by ‘Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa’ at the Globe to Globe festival. Only a handful of Swahili-speakers were present, but this did not seem to mar the success of the play, as Dr. Sarah Olive reported :

The audience’s unceasing mirth was proof of the way in which the actors captured a panoply of characters’ essences through their mannerisms, facial expressions and intonation in a way that transcended language and appealed to a global community.

This view is shared by Rob Wilson of Think Africa Press:

While information about the bare bones of the plot were projected on a side-screen in English during the play, the quality of the performance was such that the audience did not need to be Kiswahili speakers to understand what was going on and laugh in all the right places.

Some of the finer details and nuances might have been lost in the process, but the excellent acting definitely made the show worthwhile even for non-Swahili speakers.

Reception in Nairobi

Being Swahili-speakers and familiar with the setting of the play, Nairobians had access to the full experience, including the social cues and linguistic nuances. The translation uses modern, conversational Swahili to reflect the contemporary context, which facilitated understanding but missed the opportunity to include a certain poetic turn of phrase one would expect of a Shakespeare play. I think the Swahili language would lend itself graciously to such an endeavour.

In ‘Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa’, langage is widely used as a social marker highlighting Kenyan stereotypes: the scheming, greedy maid spoke in a Kikuyu accent, the aggressive kanzu-wearing doctor was supposed to be a Somali and only expressed himself in broken Swahili, and the shady characters serving as Falstaff’s valets were Sheng’ speakers. This added a comic twist to the plot, with each appearance of Bi. Quickly (the maid) causing new fits of hilarity.

Also worthy of note is the successful transposition in Kenyan society of issues originally set in Elizabethan England. Women’s empowerment within a conservative society and the lurking power of greed were themes that ran through the play, evoking current social tensions in Kenya. Had I not known that it was a translation, I would easily have believed that the play was written by a Kenyan with reference to today’s Kenya.

In line with the expectations set by earlier reviews, the acting did not disappoint. The cast of 8 deployed immense energy to manage 18 parts, bringing to life the Windsor community in front of our eyes and constantly engaging the audience to take part in the action. It is however regrettable that several of the initial cast members were replaced, thus compromising the harmony of the group.

Poor lighting and distracting background banner at the Nairobi performance, 15th December 2012

Poor lighting and distracting background banner at the Nairobi performance, 15th December 2012

For all its merits, the performance had some major technical shortcomings. The lighting had clearly not been thought through, to disastrous consequences. A lone white projector lit only part of the stage … and a house in the background which was not part of the set. The technician tried to rectify this during the show, unfortunately to no avail. As a result, the actors could not make full use of the space and had to wriggle around, upsetting stage balance.

Finally, I understand the sponsors’ demands for publicity but having a sponsors’ banner as a backstage wall is really taking it too far!

Disappointing turnout for this quality production

Overall, we were treated to a quality performance. I especially want to salute the translation effort and the creative work that went into adapting ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ into a lively, truculent Kenyan play.

It is a shame that despite the show being advertised on the popular blog Nairobi Now, on Facebook and at Alliance Française, Nairobians still did not turn up in large numbers for Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa:

Did you attend the play in England, in India or in Kenya? Share your experience with us in the comments section below or on Twitter (@hardcorekancil) !


Photo credits: AttributionNoncommercial Maneno Matamu

International Translation Day 2012: Translation as Intercultural Communication

Today, we celebrate International Translation Day honouring translators and the work of translation on the feast of St Jerome, who is considered the patron saint of this profession. This event was initially promoted by the International Federation of Translators (FIT) as early as 1953 before its worldwide appeal gave rise to the 30th September as International Translation Day in 1991.

The theme for this year’s International Translation Day was revealed in an official communiqué (pdf) by FIT:

Indeed, one of the most important  activities  that  help  people  of  diverse  ethnic  origins  and  different  political  and  cultural backgrounds  to communicate  is  translation,  a  distinctive  feature  of  which  is  the  crossing  of  the  boundaries between  Self    and  the  linguistic  and  cultural  Other.  In  other  words,  translation,  as  intercultural communication, is a means of transporting the ways of life, customs, attitudes, mindsets and values of one particular culture across time and space to another culture or other cultures.

Facilitated by the major changes and shifts in the global economy, culture and information technology in the last three  decades,  we  now  have  a  radically  altered  linguistic,  socio-political  and  cultural  context  for intercultural communication. If “to be or not to be … global” is hardly a question for people and nations in the contemporary era, then “to live or not to live … in  translation” is no longer an option but a reality of our everyday life.

As  brokers  of  peace  and  mutual  understanding,  FIT  members  will,  in  various  ways  and  through different channels, celebrate International Translation Day (ITD) 2012  with the  theme of  “Translation as Intercultural Communication”.

(emphasis mine)

This is an occasion to salute the remarkable work accomplished by translators in Africa and around the world, which too often goes unacknowledged. A series of conferences and other events have been taking place over the weekend in London, Dublin, Thessaloniki, Manila, Yaounde, Cape Town,  Johannesburg…and several other cities!

Here is to translators:

I wish to conclude with a bit of fun: some excerpts from 100 facts about translation :

35. There is no such thing as the “perfect translation”.

36. Nabokov hated translation and tried once to translate one of his own novels into English, with hilarious results (he did it word-for-word).

37. Goethe said that translation is the most noble profession.

(…)

66. There is no such thing as an ugly language.

Happy International Translation Day to everyone!


Illustration ‘I ❤ Translation’ by Danielys Pulve

Education Apps for All…in ALL languages

iLearn4free is an organisation whose  mission is to ‘support language diversity in education by encouraging and enabling the creation of digital applications for literacy‘. Taking advantage of the World Literacy Day (8th of September 2012), it launched the Education Apps for All challenge to bring about collaborations between apps developers and educators around the theme of elementary education.

The apps selected will be judged according to their relevance to elementary schools’ education, adaptability to different languages, usability, user interaction design as well as user engagement. Each team must include at least one educator and present an app in two different languages, with a possibility to eventually extend its use to other languages. Submissions shall start on 15th October 2012 and the winners will be announced on International Mother Tongue Day, i.e. 23rd February 2013.

The stated objective is to expand the range of digital educational tools available in languages other than English.

Part of iLearn4Free’s mission is to develop the free resource library Art4Apps :

We hope to help developers and educators create applications for educational use at a low cost through the use of our resources. The primary objective in sharing this database is to promote apps development in the field of literacy in an effort to support and sustain the diversity among world languages.

Following numerous user requests, Art4Apps is looking for linguists specialising in the Tooro / Rutooro language, spoken in western Uganda. If you are competent and interested, do get in touch with iLearn4Free to participate in this innovative project.

You can connect with iLearn4Free on Twitter (@iLearn4Free) or on their blog to read the latest updates and offer your contribution!


Informations pour les francophones sur le blog SecouezLeCours.

News flash: Tolkien translation in Swahili by Oliver Stegen

Warning.

If you are into poetry, you are going to love this.

If you are a Tolkien fan, you are going to love this.

If you are a Tolkien fan AND you speak a decent amount of Swahili, you’ll have the jitters when you read this:

M. Oliver Stegen is in the process of translating Tolkien’s works in Swahili! This lifetime pursuit which borders on megalomania (he says so himself) has started in the form of a poem that you can find on his website:

Bilbo’s Aragorn Poem in Swahili

To be enjoyed with absolutely no moderation.

Comments and feedback : @babatabita

Bambara: how a misconstrued word can make your class go haywire

I love words, play on words, etymology, drawing meanings across languages and generally just twisting them around in one way or another.

Today, I came across this blog and I was not little intrigued by the fact that the word ‘kayak’ made a classroom full of Malian students giggle:

As I discussed the Great Canadian North and its inhabitants, I heard snickers and stifled laughter each time I said the word “kayak.”

Finally one of the girls put up her hand. “Miss, that word sounds just like a word in Bambara. A very, very bad word that a lady would never ever use.”

Kayak is a word I have always liked saying out loud for its simple musicality but also because it is one of those mysterious palindromes. I just had to get to the bottom of this, if only to avoid embarrassment on my next Malian expedition.

My Inspector Maneno jacket had to be unearthed from under a pile of otherwise more mundane clothes and off I was to find the truth about this disturbing ‘kayak’ the Bambara language was harbouring. My first impulse was to interview Mr. Konaté for I knew his knowledge to be great. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found on the world wide web and I had to resort to other means to discover the truth about ‘kayak’. It was not long before I wiped the dust off this very old-fashioned Bambara-French dictionary which held the key to the case at hand. The incriminating word was indeed not ‘kayak’ but ‘kaya‘ whose translation you will be well-advised to read for yourself.

On these good words we part. Tonight, Inspector Maneno can hang her jacket with yet another African word under her belt.