Swahili – “Tanzania’s Gift to the World:” UN Designates July 7 as Kiswahili Day; and a Brief Note on Ismaili Swahili Scholar Farouk Topan

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Dr. Farouk Topan was very well known to my parents Jehangir and Malek Merchant, and as a teenager it was always a privilege to meet him when he visited my dad at the Ismailia Association offices located on the ground floor of Dar es Salaam’s Darkhana Jamatkhana. His discussions with my dad and “Din” who was also from Dr. Topan’s home town, Zanzibar, were illuminating and thoughtful. Some years later when I embarked on my computer career in the UK, and travelled to Southampton twice a week for an assignment, Dr. Topan and his family hosted me for dinner each Tuesday or Wednesday for several months. That was truly heartwarming.

Farouk Topan, Swahili literature expert
Late Jehangir and Late Maleksultan Merchant with Farouk Topan (left) and Late Gowar Bhatia (right). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Who would have thought that an Ismaili would become a specialist in the language and literature of the Swahili people? Indeed, Dr. Topan was that outstanding Ismaili individual. He is a renowned expert on Swahili literature, religion, spirit possession, and identity in East Africa and has extensively published on these subjects. He pioneered the study and teaching of Swahili literature in Kiswahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Nairobi. Dr. Topan also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and was one of the founder editors of the departmental Journal of African Cultural Studies. Columnist Freddy Macha recently celebrated the life of Dr. Topan in an op ed piece for the Tanzanian daily, The Citizen. The piece was in response to an event organized by the Aga Khan University in London in October 2021 honouring Dr. Topan.

I have introduced a beloved friend of my family in this piece because I think no one would be more happier than Dr. Topan on the news that the United Nations has designated 7th July of each year as the World Kiswahili Day.

Tanzania’s Late President Julius K. Nyerere had once envisioned a Swahili-speaking utopia. While that didn’t work out, it is interesting to note that Swahili is becoming popular in many parts of the world, and becomes the first African language to be honoured by UNESCO. With regard to this announcement, Vivian Lisanza of Africa Renewal has written a fine report in the December issue of the monthly magazine. Please read Lisanza’s complete article here or listen to the audio version of the article below. The news will be welcomed by Kiswahili speakers around the world, and bring them immense pride and happiness.

Featured image at top of this post: Ohio University students write a welcoming message in Swahili. It is one of the universities in the United States that teaches Swahili. Photo: Ohio University.

Date posted: December 16, 2021.


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