Shaaban Robert – Biography, Work, Legacy, Bibliography and More

Shaaban Robert – Biography, Work, Legacy, Bibliography and More

Shaaban ibn Robert, alias Shaaban Robert (born 1 January 1909, died 20 June 1962), was an author, poet, and essayist in Tanzania who promoted the preservation of the country’s traditions. Robert was among the greatest Swahili writers, thinkers, and intellectuals in East Africa (EA) and has been labeled Swahili’s poet laureate or the “father of Swahili.” Roberts is also celebrated as a national poet.

Biography

Shaaban Robert’s birth was in Vibamaba, a sleepy village south of Tanga Town in Tanzania (known by then as the German EA). A British imperialist officer asked his parents to give him the name Robert after him. So, Robert was a second name (neither a surname nor a last name), Shaaban was his first name.

Shaaban Robert sometimes wrote ‘Roberts’ instead of ‘Robert’. Between 1922 to 1926, Robert received education in Dar es Salaam, for his School Leaving Certificate of the British educational system by then in Tanganyika he came second of 11 in class.

Shaaban Robert Career

Following the event of getting his school certificate, Shaaban Robert worked in different positions as a civil servant in the colonial government. Between 1926 to 1944, he was a customs officer at various locations all over the territory. Between 1944 to 1946, Shaaban Robert was employed by the game department. Between 1946 to 1952, Tanga District Office employed him, and between 1952 to 1960, the Survey Office employed him.

Shaaban Robert worked closely with Julius Nyerere and the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Much of his experiences in the civil service are felt in his writings. While still alive, he was awarded the Margaret Wrong Prize and Medal for African Literature including an honor from the British government to become a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.).

Julius Kambarage Nyerere
Julius Kambarage Nyerere

Shaaban Robert’s Professional Work

Shaaban Robert helped in the promotion of Swahili language and the struggle for the respect of humanity. He was an accomplished humanist. He promoted gender equality and freedom and was not in favor of religious and racial segregation in Tanzania. Julius Nyerere, the first Tanzania president, admired the late, and very much promoted and valued his intellectual work.

Shaaban Robert equally respected Christians and Muslims. his two unique names (Shaaban is a Muslim name while Robert is a Christian name) reflect this. [Robert was among of his father’s various names, the rest including Ufukwe and Selemani]

Sheikh Shaaban Robert managed to write books, essays, prose, and poems with some of his writings included in the school curricula as well as reading for higher education. Some of the books he wrote are Kusadikika, Wasifu wa Siti Binti Saad and Maisha Yangu na Baada ya Miaka Hamsini. Discoveries and publications of his works are still going on. His known works today are 24.

The Legacy of Shaaban Robert

Eponyms

The Shaaban Robert Secondary School in the city of Dar es Salaam
The street of Shaaban Robert, a street in the Dar es Salaam city

Shaaban Robert Secondary School
Shaaban Robert Secondary School

Shaaban Robert Bibliography

Shaaban Robert (translation): Omar Khayyam Kwa Kiswahili London: Macmillan, 1952, (Swahili translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translator’s pref. (in Swahili) dated Tanga, 1948.)
Shaaban Robert: Utubora Mkulima (Diwani Ya Shaaban 8) Nelson, London, year 1968
Shaaban Robert: Koja La Lugha Oxford Univ, Nairobi, year 1969

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