By: M.M. Mulokozi May 21, 2010 By: M.M. Mulokozi May 21, 2010
The following are excerpts from the preface of the first winning title of the Burt Award for African Literature, Treeland: the Land of Laughter by Mkama Mwijarubi. The preface was written by Professor Mulokozi, Institute of Kiswahili Studies, University of Dar es Salaam and it provides a strong rationale for the Burt Award to support English literature for youth written and published in Tanzania. Tanzanian writing in English is neither extensive nor well-known. In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of budding writers, such as Gabriel Ruhumbika (Village in Uhuru, 1969), Peter Pallangyo (Dying in the Sun, 1969), Ismael Mbise (Blood on Our Land, 1974), Hamza Sokko (The Gathering Storm, 1977), and William Mkufya (The Wicked Walk, 1977), did produce some promising works in English. But most of these authors later opted to write in Kiswahili instead of English, probably because Kiswahili literature appeared to have better prospects in the Tanzanian context at the time. Since the 1980s more writers in English have come on the scene. They include Tanzanian writers in the Diaspora, such as M.G. Vassanji and Abdulrazak Gurnah, who have since become world famous. There are several other interesting Tanzanian authors writing in English today; the most notable are S.N. Ngunguru (several novels) and Eliesha Lema (Parched Earth, 2001); the latter writes also in Kiswahili.
One factor unites these pioneering authors – they all write for an adult or general audience. They do not write for young people. There is, thus, a serious earth of juvenile literature, written and published in Tanzania, and intended for the youth.
In addition to motivating local authorship, the [Burt Award for African Literature] competition aims at enhancing English language reading skills among Tanzanian secondary school students through provision of contextually suitable, interesting and well-written English readers for students, school libraries and youth at large. The organizers recognized the fundamental language problem facing Tanzanian secondary schools; the fact that students in public schools have to make an abrupt transition from Kiswahili-medium to English medium education without the requisite English language mastery. It was recognized that this problem cannot be simply addressed through teaching the language, for mastery of a foreign language which is not widely spoken outside the classroom calls for more creative pedagogical techniques, including intensive and extensive reading; this in turn demands access to many and varied books and other reading materials commensurate with the learner’s language level.
Wide reading not only improves the students’ language skills, it also broadens their horizon, and equips them with the linguistic and analytical tools for accessing knowledge in other subjects. The end product is a cultured, confident, knowledgeable and informed school leaver with the potential to contribute meaningfully to the development of a knowledge society as a lifelong reader, potential writer, and informed critic.