Mombasa Gears Up for Kiswahili Day Celebrations: Showcasing Swahili Culture and Linguistic Heritage
Various partners representing the linguistic and cultural heritage of Mombasa are joining forces to prepare for the upcoming Kiswahili Day celebrations on July 7, 2023. This significant event marks the recognition of Kiswahili as the first African language to be honoured by the United Nations. To commemorate this achievement, the National Museum of Kenya (NMK), in collaboration with local community-based organizations and the wider Mombasa Old Town community, is spearheading the organization of a special celebration.
During its 41st session in Paris, France on November 23, 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared July 7 of each year as World Kiswahili Language Day. This recognition highlights the significance of Kiswahili as a Bantu language with Arabic influences and its position as the first African language to receive such an honour from the United Nations.
The forthcoming Kiswahili Day festivities in Mombasa promise a diverse range of cultural displays and performances, engaging lectures, youth involvement, a captivating fashion show, thought-provoking women’s discussions, thrilling competitions and awards, mesmerizing poetry recitals, and enjoyable games. These activities are meticulously designed to showcase the richness of Swahili culture and provide a vibrant platform for participants to engage with the language and heritage.
In anticipation of the main event, stakeholders have initiated a series of curtain-raiser activities leading up to the Kiswahili Day celebrations. The main event will be hosted at the National Museums of Kenya Heritage Training Institute (NMKHTI), formerly known as the Swahili Culture Center. The preparations involve the enthusiastic involvement of the Swahili Heritage Training Institute, which aims to extend invitations to esteemed Kiswahili scholars and speakers, ensuring a grand and prestigious occasion.
The designated theme for this year’s Kiswahili Day celebrations is “Kiswahili for peace, cohesion, and integration.” The organizers emphasize that, beyond the enjoyment of the festivities, the primary objective is to showcase the coastal region, revitalize Fort Jesus, and promote it as a prominent tourist destination. By celebrating the language and culture, the event aims to foster harmony and unity among diverse communities.
The weeklong celebrations will offer a captivating glimpse into the richness of the Swahili language and culture. Attendees can immerse themselves in Swahili arts, savour traditional cuisine, appreciate exquisite crafts, admire intricate henna paintings, experience enchanting poetry recitals, revel in soul-stirring music, and explore the vast literary contributions of the language. The event promises to be a cultural extravaganza celebrating the vibrancy of Kiswahili.
The origins of the Swahili language can be traced back to the historical interactions between Arabian traders and the indigenous communities along the East African coast.
Today, Swahili speakers are found in over 14 countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Comoros, Oman, and Yemen in the Middle East. Furthermore, Swahili has gained traction in Southern African countries like South Africa and Botswana, where it is introduced in schools, while other nations such as Namibia are considering similar initiatives. Notably, more than 100 universities, colleges, and schools in the US, Asia, and Europe offer Swahili as a course, underscoring its global influence.
While there are three prominent dialects of Swahili, including Kiunguja spoken in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, Kimvita spoken in Mombasa and other areas of Kenya, and Kiamu spoken on the island of Lamu and its surrounding regions, the standard Swahili is primarily based on the Kiunguja dialect. This standardized version ensures linguistic coherence and facilitates effective communication among Swahili speakers.
Through this celebration, Mombasa hopes to shine a spotlight on its linguistic and cultural heritage, captivating audiences with the allure of Fort Jesus, and encourage tourism in the coastal region.