1st Edition

The Swahili Novels of Tanzanian Women Agency, Tradition, and Change

By Izabela Romańczuk Copyright 2025
    196 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book provides a rich and full analysis of female Swahili novelists from a feminist perspective, highlighting their important contributions to the living Swahili literary and intellectual tradition.

    Compared to the diverse and centuries-old oral literature, or religious-philosophical poetry tradition developing since at least the 17th century, the novel is a relatively young phenomenon in the rich body of Swahili literary output, emerging only in the last hundred years. Since then, academia has focused primarily on male novelists, largely disregarding important female writers such as Ndyanao Balisidya, Zainab Burhani, Martha Mvungi Mlangala, Zainab Mwanga, Lucy Nyasulu, and Zainab Alwi Baharoon. This book traces the evolution of women’s writing in Tanzania, highlighting emancipatory and feminist discourses, as well as intersectional themes of class, education, and urbanisation. The author demonstrates how concepts such as utu 'the essence of humanity', aibu 'shame', 'disgrace' and heshima 'honor', 'social respectability' are used in the novels to articulate the value systems and social norms in Swahili communities, including the gendered perceptions of women that they create.

    Grounded throughout in the historical and socio-political contexts of the authors it discusses, this book will be an important read for researchers of African literature and women’s studies.


    Part One: Contexts

    1. Methodological framework

    2. Literary outline

    Part Two: Texts and their analyses

    3. 'Don't Forget Me': women's writing in the 1960s

    4. Visions of women's emancipation in the Ujamaa literature

    5. The last decades of the 20th century

    6. Feminist discourses in 21st-century novels



    Izabela Romańczuk completed her PhD at the Department of African Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland. She works as an assistant professor in the Department of African Languages and Cultures at the University of Warsaw. In her research and teaching work she deals with various aspects of contemporary African literature, particularly Kiswahili literature, emphasizing gender dynamics and identity representation. At the University of Warsaw's Department of African Languages and Cultures, she also teaches about feminist theories in Africa.