From Andalusia to Yemen: the origin of the Swahili stanzaic metres

  • Emiliano Minerba University of Naples "L'Orientale"


In this paper I will propose a prosodic analysis of three important metres of the Swahili literary tradition, which are utenzi, shairi and wimbo. Despite the great difference between them concerning usage and context of composition, in fact, their metrical and prosodic features show that they have a common historical development. The origin of these three metre is to be individuated in the Arabic poetic tradition of ḥumaynī poetry, a Yemeni development of the genre of muwaššaḥa, that was developed in the Omayyad Andalusia and then spread all over the Arabic world. Some common features between ḥumaynī poetry and the three aforementioned Swahili metres will be outlined, concerning both the prosody of the verses and rhyme patterns: in conclusion of the analysis, I will claim that utenzi, shairi and wimbo are the result of an hybridization between the forms of ḥumaynī poetry and the local, and probably pre-existent, prosodic tradition of utumbuizo, carried out willingly by the intellectual class of the beginning of the classical period of Swahili literature.


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