Shaaban Robert

1909–1962
Tanzanian poet and writer

Sheikh Shaaban Robert is regarded as one of the greatest poets and writers in the SWAHILI language. He developed a new style of Swahili writing that combined traditional storytelling with the techniques of modern poems and novels. He also introduced the essay into Swahili literature.

Born near the port city of Tanga in Tanganyika (present-day TANZANIA), Shaaban Robert was educated in DAR ES SALAAM. After completing his studies he went to work as a civil servant in Tanganyika’s British colonial government, serving as a customs clerk and in the Veterinary Department, the Provincial Commissioner’s Office, and the Department of Land Survey. In addition to his work as his civil servant, he was also active in a number of government and other organizations. He was a member of the East African Swahili Committee, the East African Literature Bureau, the Tanganyika Language Board, and the Tanga Township Authority, which later became the Tanga Town Council. Meanwhile, he began to write, publishing many of his poems in a newspaper run by the colonial government. He also translated great works of literature, such as the Rubaiyat by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, into Swahili.

In his later years, Shaaban Robert wrote realistic novels. In works such as The Day of Reckoning and Utubora the Farmer (both published in 1968), he examined the problems of his land and its people. He belonged to various literary organizations, such as the East African Literature Bureau and the Tanganyika Languages Board, and won honors for his writing. Today Shaaban Robert’s poems, novels, and essays are widely read by students of Swahili literature. (See also Literature.)

Shaaban Robert