Talking about oneself to act in the World : a Swahili Autobiography (Shaaban Robert, Maisha yangu na baada y Miaka Hamsini) Article - 2012

Xavier Garnier

Swahili Forum, 2012, pp. 106-116


Shaaban Robert wrote three autobiographical texts at different times in his life . The first, which is lost, covered his childhood and had been written when he was 27 ; t he second, which corresponds to the first part of this work, was written at the age of 37, covering the period 1936 - 1946. The last was completed in 1960 , but covers the period 1946 - 1959. It must be emphasised that the poet’s life can not be compartmentalised into separate, successive stages. Over and above a chronological div - ision of events, the two sections of the book can be differentiated by the different periods w hen they were written and thus the different viewpoints on what happened throughout his life. Philippe Lejeune’s definition of an autobiography as "a retro spec tive prose narrative made by a r e al person about their own existence, emphasising their indi v idual life and in particular the development of their personality" (Lejeune 1996 : 14), is a familiar one. This definition fits Shaaban Robert’s text perfectly and yet, in the Swahili context, such an endeavour could have encountered many obst a- cles.

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