Hope for Bajuni Language as First Native Books Published.


There is a ray of hope for the Bajuni language in Lamu County and the Coast at large with the launch of books in Kibajuni.

This is the first time books in the Bajuni dialect have been published.

The books are meant to safeguard the cultural heritage of the Bajuni, oral traditions, and poetry.

The Bajuni language (Kibajuni), also known as Tikulu (Tikuu), is a Bantu language related to Kiswahili.

It is spoken mainly by the Bajuni people who inhabit the tiny Bajuni Islands in the northern part of Kenya’s Coast and Southern Somalia around Kismayu.

The launch was at the Mwana Arafa Hotel on Lamu Island. It was attended by renowned authors, officials from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Unesco, British Council officials, and Lamu elders.

The new books are part of a cultural heritage documentation project on the Bajuni language, oral traditions, and poetry.

It is being implemented by Twaweza Communications Centre in partnership with the Shungwaya Welfare Association and Swahili Resource Centre.

The project is funded by the British Council Cultural Protection Fund and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.

It is the first time the language viewed as a dialect of Swahili has been the object of such books.

Twaweza Communications lead partner Prof Kimani Njogu said the documentation “will result in new records about the language and the history of the community”.

It will also lead to the creation of a vital resource for current and future generations, he said.

“I am happy to be part and parcel of this event to launch Bajuni language books. The Bajuni language is important because it is the root of Bajuni identity, history, and knowledge system. It defines who they are and should be protected and promoted,” Njogu said.

Shungwaya Welfare Association Secretary General Omar Lali said since the language is not taught in school, many Bajuni youth today cannot write it.

Lali challenged the Bajuni youth to value their language and speak it without feeling inferior.

“Your language tells the history of your people. It is your cultural resource,” Lali said.

Among the newly launched books is the Chusomeni Kibajuni for Grades 1, 2, and 3.

The book is expected to greatly promote literacy.

Mohamed Lali, the chairperson of the Shungwaya Welfare Association, hopes that a Bajuni Resource Centre will be built to increase learning and preserve the cultural heritage of the community.

“It will also contribute to more research and cultural tourism,” Mohamed said.

Other books launched are Mashairi a Kibajuni, an anthology of more than 100 poems in Kibajuni edited by Omar Lali, and Omar Maulana and assisted by Prof Kimani Njogu.

Shivulani ni Shaulani is a narrative poem in six parts by spoken word poet Mohamed Kombo, and a collection of essays Bajuni Land, Language and Orature edited by Kimani Njogu and Athman Lali Omar.  

These learners’ books are accompanied by teacher’s guides to ensure that skills are imparted according to the Competency-Based Curriculum guidelines.

The project also involved building a Bajuni cultural heritage website and training youth on how to document cultural heritage.

The project also contributes to the implementation of the Constitution of Kenya, which recognizes the importance of the languages of the people of Kenya.

Unesco regional adviser on culture Nagaoka Masanori said the Bajuni books launch is a crucial step towards the continued preservation and protection of culture and promotion of Lamu as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Lamu Old Town 2001 was named a Unesco World Heritage site due to its historical significance as an epicenter for trade in the East Africa Region.

Masanori called it the “living embodiment of Swahili cultural heritage”.

“The Bajuni language is part and parcel of the cultural heritage of this place. I am, therefore, happy to preside over this historic event to launch Bajuni language books,” Masanori said.

In attendance were British Council country director and East Africa lead Tom Porter, assistant director of the Kenya National Commission for Unesco Emily Njeru, implementing partners, Lamu county government representatives, and community members.

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