ATrA 8. Clash of Epistemes: Knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Swahili Literary Genres


This research relates literary analysis to philosophical speculations focused on the quest for African epistemes. The study investigates the representations of HIV/AIDS by means of two ontological entities: real-life experiences as the phenomenological aspect, obtained through the contributions of research participants, and literature, so as to highlight African discourses on knowledge.

The empirical study was crafted through a combination of six months of ethnographic fieldwork research in Tanzania and a thorough textual analysis conducted on two selected genres of Swahili literature from Tanzania, namely drama and novels, that deal with the topic of HIV/AIDS. Firstly, I explore drama, both the playscript and the performance of Ushuhuda wa Mifupa (Ngozi 1990 - UDSM 2019), contextualized within a selection of other plays written between 1989 and 2014. Secondly, I analyse novelistic prose by looking at Mutembei's Kisiki Kikavu (2005) and Mauya's Firauni (2017). Finally, I focused on Mkufya's trilogy Diwani ya Maua (Ua La Faraja 2004; Kuwa Kwa Maua 2019). I argue that all literary genres reflect the reality that is influenced by multiple rationalities, epistemologies and ontologies; thus, through its characteristic narrative and style, each genre articulates its own interactions with plural epistemologies and philosophies. Therefore, I focus my comparative perspective on the divided interactions among plural epistemes in connection with the specific narrative and stylistic characteristics of each genre: theatre including drama and performance, as well as different types of novels including what I call "descriptive-reflective" novels (Mutembei and Mauya's novels) and philosophical novels (Mkufya's novels).

The objectives of this study are to demonstrate the philosophical potential of Swahili literature, which is part of the panorama of Afrophone literatures and philosophies, and to isolate both incompatible and complementary epistemologies coexisting in Swahili literature, which are articulated through multi-genre and multi-style narrative texts.

Cristina Nicolini, Ph.D.,is a researcher interested in Swahili literature and culture as well as African philosophy. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in “Oriental and African Languages and Cultures – Arabic and Swahili” cum laude ("L'Orientale", University of Naples 2013); a Master's degree in "Sciences of Languages, History and Cultures of Mediterranean and Islamic Countries" cum laude ("L'Orientale", University of Naples 2015); a II level Master's degree in "Economics and Institutions of Islamic Countries" cum laude (LUISS Guido Carlo, Rome 2017); and a PhD degree in "African Languages and Cultures" (SOAS - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 2021). She has published articles in peer reviewed journals such as: "Embe Dodo Mbivu Huishi Utamu": Epistemology of Sensuality through Nyimbo za Unyago (the Songs of Unyago) from South-East Tanzania". Ethnorema. Lingue, Popoli e Culture 17/2021; "From VVU/UKIMWI (HIV/AIDS) to UVIKO-19 (COVID-19): An Epistemological analysis of Pandemics in Tanzania through Swahili Literature". Kervan - International Journal of African and Asian Studies 25/2 (2021); and "Ritual Practices, Hypnotic Suggestions and Trance-like States in Swahili Written Literature". Kervan - International Journal of Afro-Asiatic Studies 25/1(2021).