Who is Shaaban Robert?

Who is Shaaban Robert?

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Shaaban Robert was a famous and popular Swahili writer from Tanzania. Robert was the product of two cultures—his father was a Christian, but Shaaban converted to Islam. His work ranges from poetry to essay and didactic tale, influenced in style by the Arab tradition. Many poems follow the form of utendi verse (used for narration and didactic themes), but, like his famous predecessor, Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy, he often employed other traditional and experimental forms. His prose style is clear and concrete and strongly individual in expression.
In addition to his poems and tales, Robert produced an autobiography, Maisha Yangu (1949; “My Life”), and a biography, Maisha ya Siti Binti Saad, Mwimbaji wa Unguja (1958; “Life of Siti Binti Saad, Poetess of Zanzibar”). His essays on many subjects were collected in Insha ya Mashairi (1959; “Essays and Poems”). He lectured on poetry and its relation to Swahili culture and strongly supported the movement to preserve African verse traditions of the past. The first volume of his complete works, Diwani ya Shaaban, appeared in 1966.
He was a celebrated humanist. He worked for freedom and gender equality, and was against racial and religious discrimination in Tanzania. Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, had complete admiration for the late Shaaban Robert, and greatly valued and promoted his intellectual work. He had equal respect for both Muslims and Christians. This is demonstrated by the unusual combination of his two names (Shaaban, a Muslim name, and Robert, a Christian name). [The name Robert was in fact one of several of his father’s names, the others being Selemani and Ufukwe.]
Sheikh Shaaban Robert succeeded to write books of essays, prose, and poems, and some of his literature is mandatory reading in schools and universities. His works are still being discovered and published. To date, he has 24 known works.

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