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Introduction

ZANZINET is a forum which brings together Zanzibaris of all backgrounds and from all corners of the world to discuss and share ideas and information about matters relating to and for the benefit of Zanzibar. In so doing, it works to promote Zanzibar's cultural diversity by providing critical and independent thinkers a forum where they can freely express their views and opinions on a wide range of issues.

Zanzinet has recorded a great success in its main objective by bringing together Zanzibaris from all corners of the globe into an electronic forum where Zanzibar matters most than anything else. Along the process, it has provided a stable platform for swahili language and art enthusiasts to share their talents with their fellow countrymen and ultimately the world at large.

Since the time of its inception, there was a great interest among the earlier founders of Zanzinet to share with the world the richness and beauties of swahili language. Kassim Abdulla and Hassan Ali, who together with other Zanzibaris founded Zanzinet in 1994, both were the first to publish information on swahili language on the web. Almost ten years have passed since then and the websites they launched are still popular today as sources of some important information about swahili language, Zanzibar and Tanzania as a whole.

Zanzinet was thus fortunate to have been conceived by the people who share common passion on the need to develop and nurture the swahili language. When Zanzinet expanded to include members from all parts of the globe, it brought along a new class of amazing language artists and enthusiasts. This generation of artists has revitalized the spirit of swahili poetry that existed in Zanzibar for centuries. We hope you will enjoy your journey through the world of swahili poems as brought to you generously by Zanzinet members.

Karibu! (Welcome!)

Swahili poems

The earliest work on swahili poems are thought to be those by Fumo Lyongo of Pate, who lived more than 1000 years ago during the times of 12th century Mringwari Kingdom that shrined in the northern coast of East Africa. There are more than 13 types of language art or verses in swahili. They include utenzi, shairi, wimbo, hamziya, sivindo, tumbuizo, wawe, kimai, dura mandhuma, and many more. Although all these types have their special significance, the more popular forms of written versifications in swahili are utenzi and shairi. The other types appear more in social functions providing some form of entertainment as well as serving to consolidate the rich culture of the people of East African Coast, or the "Waswahili".

By its nature, utenzi (tenzi, pl.) is made up of short verses that rhyme and can send well-formulated and touching messages to the listening audience. Therefore, tenzis tend to be very long with more than hundred verses and a down to earth coverage depending on the the purpose, the audience and the nature of subject being narrated. Their messages are touchy and emotional and for this reason they are often used as a means of propagating religious teachings or in political rallies to mobilize masses in supoort of a particular campaign.

On the other hand, shairi (mashairi, pl.) is a composition of higher class than utenzi in the sense that one needs to pay a special attention to the completeness of the message in each verse while at the same time observe structural consistency. Simply speaking, a shairi can be a double-, triple-, or even tetrad-versed utenzi. However, more recently there are those who ascribe to some kind of modern poems or mashairi mamboleo, which do not follow strict versification as practiced in the classical swahili poems. Mashairi are of many kinds, each with its own rules and structure but an essential condition is syllable consistency rather than their rhyming suitabilities.

These are the two types of poems normally found in Zanzinet and though other forms such as wimbo (nyimbo, pl.) or song and matumbuizo or choruses of various kinds do appear from time to time, they are not presented here. Interested readers or music lovers could visit Superstar's website or you could make your plans to attend the Festival of the Dhow Countries in Zanzibar. But if your interest stretch far beyond the official version of swahili art, you could take a look at swahili proverbs as depicted in kangas, a famous women cloth in East Africa, by visiting Hassan Ali's kanga page.

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