Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Swahili Heritage

Courtesy of Javed Jafferji
My Swahili Heritage lies in the sea,
with waves building constantly surrounding this island in mystery,
this island which holds testament to Persian traders, Portugese settlement,
this little island was famous the world over for its spices and
history of slaves, thousands of slaves passed annually
throughout the slave markets of Zanzibar,then to the hands of the British,
who gained control through the abolition of slave trade,
Zanzibar became a protectorate and not a colony,
with traditional viziers appointed to govern as puppets,
switching to a system of British residents,
the isles finally gained independence from Britain,
then a revolution to oust the Indians and the Arabs that ruled us,
my Swahili heritage lies in the perseverance and courage of 1964.
Tanganyika the former colony consumed this island to form a union,
and became known as Tanzania. Welcome to the Spice Islands.

My Swahili heritage lies in the simplicity, in the poverty,
in ukuti and rede and games played in the heat of the afternoon,
in the people of Zanzibar who are a mixture of many ethnic backgrounds,
indicative of the colorful history coupled with a rhythmic language,
Swahili - meaning coast, a language spoken extensively ,
in Zanzibar it exists in its pure form, as this is the birthplace.
My Swahili heritage lies in the important architectural features in Stone Town ,
a world heritage sight bearing testament to the richness of history in Zanzibar,
a panoramic view including the Livingstone House,
The Old Dispensary of Zanzibar, The Old Fort of Zanzibar,
 the House of Wonders, the Hamamni Persian Baths,
are among  the few of the historical places still around in this marvelous place.
my Swahili heritage is rich in history.

My Swahili Heritage is in Fridays and Eid days, 
where women do not sleep on Eid eve, occupied with cleaning and cooking, 
in the morning men and boys don white kanzus and go pray faithfully,
the smell of food and oud lingers in the air, happy faces smiling everywhere, 
and women and girls adorn themselves with the most fabulous jewelry, 
with henna painting tattooing the arms, legs and places I can't write about, 
My heritage lies on the get together, on families visiting each other, 
houses scrubbed to invite the guests, hell you won't find beggars in the streets, 
Lunch time sees a whole family together, bickering, teasing, laughing, 
eating, drinking, gossiping over a whole year gone by since the last Eid, 
and the afternoons at the fair, children get their toys to last them a year, 
grown-ups catch up, chattering, showing off and having mighty fun. 

My Swahili heritage lies on my parents, and their parents,
they know life by the way it feels, they know about all the winds,
all the catch for the day needed to keep a household happy,
my heritage lies in songs, songs sang with a unique tune
borrowed from other forms to give birth to a new melody,
taarab - my heritage lies in innovations, in customs, in culture,
in traditions deeply embedded into my subconscious,
my parents know life by the way it feels and they are
positive that the Lord will never overlook us when
He hands down his graces, so I pray to Him five times a day,
and do my best to never displease Him, so he can shower my life with fulfillment.

My Swahili heritage dictates that before I get married, 
wise married women have to sit me down, share with me their wisdom,
that comes from age and experience, paint for me the wonders of bedroom pleasure
and nooks as well as all the tricks in the books. 
That he is my king and I but a servant in his kingdom, 
kneel and heed, clean and sleep, cook, serve and persevere,
and give and give and just give to his ultimate fulfillment-
They sit me down and talk to me of the ways I am to dish out to my
significant other, even paint vivid pictures of how I should bed him,
giving name, purpose and definition to every position, all the while
whispering in my ear of how He would enjoy me- his woman, 

my Swahili heritage is rich in imagery and mystery. 

I can't think of the my heritage with only fond memories, 
the substance of a  woman  I am today is full of pessimistic views, 
I want to know my Swahili Heritage of today, forget the old, how about the new?
I want to ignore the past for a moment and bask in
complete knowledge on how life truly is today in the isles, 
the heritage of the present that I will pass down to my kids, 
Will it just be the extortion I call living made possible the suffering 
of those before me? They call it tourism, I say otherwise. 
We sell tickets to foreigners to come and experience our history, 
our culture, our traditions, our suffering, our Swahili Heritage, 
and they pay good money to be transported back through the ages, 
and turn a blind eye to the crumbling economy, and
that in more than forty years of freedom we have very little to show for it. 

My Heritage now is crumbling, we parade it to foreigners 
and inwardly resenting it, choosing to be like everyone else, 
I will chose jeans over a khanga any given day, 
Can we really be this naïve or is it narrow minded or maybe short
sited, whatever it is, we are doomed, this is suppose to be a Heritage that
will last a life time through, a lesson to learn from the past and move on , 

to create new possibilities, to uphold our morality, 
and  know when to put the blinds down, when to open 
the umbrella and where or when to ride the storm, 

but I sit here, blanketed by my Swahili heritage I am silent, 
I want to change things but I am forced to turn my head, 
how can I complain why youths from here never want to stay,
they all go to other countries, other worlds, denouncing their 
Swahili heritage for refugee status, so they can live life better.

When I teach my daughter about my Swahili Heritage what shall I say?
With many words flowing in my mind what shall my lips whisper to her? 
Just how to place her waist so he can receive the wonders inside her?
That her heritage lies in history and vast knowledge of the ghetto kamasutra?
As I sit her down and talk to her about life's journey, 
I want her to embrace her Swahili Heritage and do more,
together we will do the unexpected and try to even out the score, 
We will take out the manifesto of our ancestors and read it together, 
and where the book ends, we will put a new heritage in the blank pages,
We will make this life better, by never taking for granted the freedom 
out ancestors died for,
We will stop having a big complex about how the world did us wrong 
and sit around waiting for an apology, 
We will sit down and share my experience about how to keep a marriage alive, 
never invading her innocence on the pretense of preparing her for whats to come. 

Our Swahili heritage will be that of gratitude, of being world class destination, 
explore and learn all about this wonderful nation,
We will fumble, fall and learn all by ourselves, find the pace that best suit us, 
is life not a learning process and are we not a work in progress- 

Alas! I pray there will be a day when culture, heritage and custom move
beyond the reminiscent of  history and travel up to the mind. 
Create a specimen of children that would be used as a point of reference, 
the only thing we have now is the priceless,
memoirs, chronicles, revolutions, slavery,  and times past, 
Lets continue this Heritage where the present marries the past. 
To form one happy union of harmony, understanding, and tinge of misconceptions of 
Our Swahili Heritage. 

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