Appendix 4 Quatrain: A Swahili Quatrain in Arabic Script

In: An Azanian Trio
Free access

The following quatrain, which occurs on page 831 of the Arabic text, is not written consistently with the Swahili usage of Arabic script. We have done as well as we can to render it in European script. In the third line there is, it seems to me, a wāw written in error for . We understand from Dr Farouk Topan that such verses had a double meaning, which means that some of the words are puns. The author is not named.

‮كـُوغـُوِيَ جَمْفومُ مْفِيتَ مْج وَكـَلي‬‎
‮نـَمَجـِي يَمُ مٌومُ أُكَـَيـَتِـكَ بَـبَالـِي‬‎
‮كـَتـِكَ لِمَؤُ نـْدِمُ تـَتـْوَ مْجِ أُتـَوَالِي‬‎
‮أُفـُدِكـَاوُ نـَفـُولِ أُشيـِرَنـَابُ نـَجيـِوِي‬‎
Kunguwaya cha mvumo mvita mji wa kale
Na maji yamo mumo ukayateka papale
Katika limau ndimo tatwaa mji utawale
Uvudikao na vuli ushiranapo na jiwe.

As far as we can see, it should be rendered into English somewhat as follows:

Kongowaya of the stormy weather, Mvita—the Old Town—
Has water in it which you may draw out from there.
It lies among the lemon trees. You have a town you may govern
In which you become soaked in the rainy season, when (? you trip over a stone).

If this rendering is anywhere near correct, it expresses the general reputation of Mombasa as a town that caused trouble to whoever managed to control it. This would be in accordance with belligerent poems such as the following, which is by Bwana Muyaka as quoted in E.W. Taylor’s African Aphorisms, 1924 pp. 81 f.:

K’ongowea ya mvumo Maangavu maji male
Haitoi liliomo Isingemyele
Msiotambua ndumo Na utambaji wa kale
Mwina wa chiza-mbwi chile Mtambuzwa hatambuli
K’ongoweya is a roaring (surf) In dead calm at spring-tide
It vents not forth what is in it—Gongwa would not be quiet
Ye who know not its war-cries And its gait of old
(or, Its war-cry and its gait of old Are such as ye know not)
The abyss of that deep gloom Even he that is caused to know it knows not.

There are four more quatrains to this poem, but it has rather a different purport from the quatrain given by Shaykh Fāḍil bin ʿUmar, author of Kawkab al-durriya. This seems to be because the latter’s purpose in quoting it is rather different.


MS L footnote 132.