The Portable Islam: Swahili Muslim booklets and network in the 20th-century Indian Ocean
An online interactive lecture in the framework of the Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies by Annachiara Raia, Assistant Professor of African literature at Leiden University (LUCAS) and senior researcher at the African Studies Center Leiden.
The lecture will take place from 12:30 - 14:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Time, CET).
Printed Islamic booklets disclose important sources for Africa Indian Ocean intellectual history, ones that scholarship has neglected but are still known by local people.
Swahili literature has a longstanding and well-known manuscript tradition in Arabic script dating back to the eighteenth century. In a time of heavy social change in East Africa, transoceanic Islamic texts printed locally (coastal Kenya and Tanzania) and overseas (Cairo, Bombay, New Delhi), played a crucial role in negotiating Swahili Muslim intellectual discourse. Books and booklets printed in Swahili and adapted from Arabic started complementing and interfering with the Swahili Muslim local oral and textual culture.
Through this talk, Annachiara Raia will show how print culture in the twentieth century in East Africa has reshaped the textual circulation of religious and moral ideas among the Swahili Muslim reading publics. Her primary focus is on printed Islamic booklets—small, mainly of poetry, inexpensive and easy to travel with — which disclose important sources for Africa Indian Ocean intellectual history, ones that scholarship has neglected but are still known by local people. The key question aims at investigating printed adaptations and paring considerations on the medium of print as well as on the new potential rivalling media, i.e. radio and audio recordings. This presentation will benefit from a first survey on Swahili Islamic print culture in Nairobi and Mombasa carried out in July 2019, which confirmed the rich potential of my ongoing new line of research.
Annachiara Raia is Assistant Professor of African literature at the Centre for the Arts in Society at Leiden University (LUCAS) and senior researcher at the African Studies Center Leiden (The Netherlands). She is specialized in Swahili Muslim literature, with interests in intellectual history, oral, manuscript and print cultures, material network and media in African languages. With a grant from Leiden University Centre of Islam in Society (LUCIS), she is co-running a research programme on “Travelling Islam: The Circulation of Ideas in Africa”. In her monograph (published by Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Archiv Afrika-wissenschaftlicher Manuskripte Bd. 12) she investigated on the Swahili poetic tradition of the story of Yusuf. This Islamic narrative tradition made its way to East Africa and was diffused through manuscripts in Arabic script in the 19th and 20th century. Since 2018 she is one of the editors of MATATU, journal of African literature and culture published by Brill. Her current focus of research is clustered around textual history and adaptation, and she aims at investigating Swahili-language intellectual history and mobile archives in the Indian Ocean.
The Leiden Indian Ocean Lectures series is organised by the Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies (Leiden University, KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and IIAS).