Haji Gora Haji, the revered Swahili poet from Zanzibar, has passed on, reports The Star News. He died on June 11, 2021 at age 88.
Born in 1933, Haji Gora started out writing in the 1950s in pre-independence Zanzibar (later Tanzania after unification with Tanganyinka). He self-taught from an early age as a result of being denied formal education due to his family’s poverty. Trained as a fisherman by his uncles, Haji Gora worked briefly as a porter before his composition of hundreds of Taarab lyrics for grand orchestras gained popularity all over the island. He attained mainstream fame after his collection of his poems Kimbunga: Tungo za Visiwani (The Hurricane) was published in 1994. He equally wrote children’s books in the early 2000s and oversaw initiatives to aid young East African poets. He is credited with heralding the crop of East African creatives that came after him.
Since news of his passing was made public, tributes have poured in from across the continent by younger authors who knew and were inspired by his life and legacies, most notably Caine Prize-winning author Yvonne Owour. She wrote on Facebook:
“You are looking for a map?” He laughs, “The sea is the map.” One of the most luminous of our poets, the East African summoner of sea-breezes slipped away today. The national gadfly, the word alchemist has left us (News just in). He was one of the first to welcome me into Zanzibar, into Tumbatu, into the portals of the waters and then allowed me to also call these home. My beloved Vieil Homme des Mers Swahili left today, and I was not able to wish him a safe voyage home, and bless and thank him for all that he was, everything he had done, every word he had breathed, every territory of our waters he had helped us reclaim by offering them a grammar of being. Mzee Haji Gora Haji, Inna Lillaahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’oun. Thank you for the inspiration, for the soul, for our seas. Rest well. Safari Njema.”
May his soul Rest In Peace.
If you’re interested to know more about Haji Gora’s life and work, read this profile by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein.
Watch this video of Haji Gora presenting a poem from his collection titled Shuwari.
Listen to this moving and melodious tribute to Haji Gora by Bagamoyo-based musician Maembe Vitali.
Image by AMANDA LEIGH LICHTENSTEIN via Contrary Magazine.