A week from today, two authors (poem and fiction categories) from Tanzania, Dotto Rangimoto, 32, and Ally Hilal, 29, will be awarded as the winners of Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature.
The awards will take place on February 13 in Kenya. Chair of the Board of Trustees, Abdilatif Abdalla, announced the 2017 winners on January 15 this year. He says Rangimoto won through his poetry work titled “Mwanangu Rudi Nyumbani” while Hilal competing in the fiction category won through his work titled “Mmeza Fupa”.
The prize, which was founded in 2014 by Dr Lizzy Attree (Caine Prize Director) and Prof Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Cornell University) has the express goal of recognising writings in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages.
Success had a one on one with the authors where they got to talk about their journey in the literary world.
Rangimoto’s poetry ability manifested itself in 2001 while at Morogoro Secondary School. At that time, school management allowed students to use notice boards within the school to advertise their art work. Rangimoto however didn’t use the opportunity until later in 2004 when he completed Form Four.
“I used to write a lot of poems in my exercise books but never wanted to share them on the notice board. My first poem was about the death of my mother which happened in 2000. I wrote from how she fell sick until her death,” says Rangimoto.
After completing his Secondary education, Rangimoto did small businesses as a way of generating income. He would still write short poems whenever he got the chance. These too where not displayed or published anywhere. In 2009 he joined facebook and started to use the social media platform to write short poems for his readers. “People on facebook like very short poems,” he says. He writes on different topics including politics, social issues, love etc. His page has 25,000 followers. He recalls on the day of the tragic Lucky Vincent school bus accident when he wrote a poem attributing to the claimed lives of pupils in the accident. The poem resonated with many people and it has since been read by more than 1.5 million people and has received more than 11,000 comments.
His first ever competition to be a part of was organized by the Mayor of Dar es Salaam in 2016. The competition required two poems; one was about Dar es Salaam and the other one was just about any topic. Rangimoto was named the winner of the competition and it was his poem “Mwanangu Rudi Nyumbani’’ that got him the victory.
About the poem
“The poem was about the challenges youth go through when they come to Dar es Salaam thinking that they easily get a job, instead they end up facing a lot of struggles. The poem concluded by suggesting that youth might be better off looking for a living at home instead of coming to face the tough reality in Dar es Salaam.
It’s the same poem (Mwanangu Rudi Nyumbani) that emerged victorious at the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature. For the victory, Rangimoto will win a cashprize of $5,000 as part of the award.
Three judges went through the manuscripts, in recognising the long Kiswahili literary tradition, Rangimoto was rated as someone who discusses weighty and serious matters in an appealing form.
“In Mwanangu Rudi Nyumbani one encounters seductive metaphors and imagery, effectively and successfully used in diverse Kiswahili poetic forms and styles while articulating concerns that have direct bearing to the human condition. Rangimoto discusses weighty matters but in a manner that doesn’t burden the reader. Instead he encourages one to keep on reading. He is a master of the craft. The volume is a great contribution to contemporary Kiswahili poetry,” reads part of the press release.
Rangimoto says that poetry in Tanzania is not taken as a serious form of art. This consequently makes it hard for poets to shine due to lack of enough support.
The proud poet says that he is happy that his work will be published by Mkuki na Nyota and will later be translated in English for foreign readers understand it as well.
The other award recipient, Hilal, holds a degree from the Institute of Finance Management (IFM) where he graduated with a Bachelor in Science and Social Protection. He started writing poems when he was in grade VI and VII. Hilal never took his talent seriously until he started posting his stories and poems in 2011, soon after graduating with a degree
”My first fiction story was called “Wimbi la Utata” posted on Facebook in 2011. After seeing so many comments on the post I decided to create a special page for my work. People suggested I print my own books. By then I had about four fiction stories written, as well as 20 poems. I thus decided to seek for advice from Prof Said Ahmed, a successful author who’s written books such as “Kivuli Kinaishi’’, “Tatu za Asumini’’, “Harusi ya Buldozer’’ and “Asali Chungu’’. He is the man behind my success,” Hilal reveals.
The award-winning author has written poems for 10 years and fiction for 7 years.
One of his fiction stories has been published by Blue Publishing, a company based in France and the books are already distributed globally. With poem he has produced a joint book called “Diwani ya Kurasa Mpya’’ with other five authors also available in Amazon.
Hilal learned about the Kiswahili Prize in 2015. I wanted to bring both fiction and poems, however, I only had time to submit my fiction work called “Mmeza Fupa” and it was shortlisted but I didn’t emerge the winner. I was disappointed, however, it challenged me to work more on the story,” he says, adding;
“I am so happy that I finally made it. With the aim of our work to educate, inform, entertain, and caution our society, readers get a lot of productive lessons from our work. Writing is an art and winning this award has motivated me so much such that I’ve started to work on other literary works such “Wimbi la Utata”, ‘Tanuru ka Usuuba’, ‘Ngome Saba’’, and ‘‘Chimbuko’’.
“Mmeza Fupa’’ has been praised for its artistic language. “Rarely does one encounter a Kiswahili novel whose writer has exhibited the nuanced mastery of artistic language which naturally flows and without traces of artificiality.
In “Mmeza Fupa’’ the various characters (main and otherwise) convey and represent the different social strata, with their attendant historical, political, psychological, cultural, rural and urban environments and concomitant contradictions. Although set on an imaginary island, the political novel is clearly speaking to what ails the African continent.
Mmeza Fupa has opened a new door in this particular genre in Kiswahili Literature,” a press release review said.
Other works which were shortlisted are Mbaruk Ally – “Hali Halisi’’ (poetry), Hassan Omar “Mambosasa – Nsungi’’ (fiction), Mwendas Mbatiah – “Kibweta cha Almasi’’ (fiction) and Richard Atuti Nyabuya – “Umalenga wa Nyanda za Juu’’(poetry) .