Siria's Reviews > Three Swahili Women: Life Histories from Mombasa, Kenya

Three Swahili Women by Sarah Mirza
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Apr 10, 11

bookshelves: african-history, biography, nonfiction, womens-history
Read on April 10, 2011

In Three Swahili Women, Sarah Mirza and Margaret Strobel have brought together the life stories of three women who together represent a cross-section of the Swahili people living in Mombasa during the early and middle parts of the twentieth century. Bi Kaje wa Mwenye Matano was born around 1890 to an impoverished Muslim man from Mombasa and his slave concubine. Her reminiscences occupy the majority of the text. Mishi wa Abdala (b. ca. 1900) was the descendant of slaves originally brought to Mombasa from Mozambique. Though her parents converted to Christianity when they were emancipated, Ma Mishi was raised as a Muslim. Shamsha Muhamad Muhashamy (b. 1919) was the daughter of a family of mixed Omani and Hadrami Arab lineage.

Despite their differing family backgrounds and economic statuses, all three women identified as Swahili, and the interviews conducted with them offer some fascinating insights into the varying experiences lived by Swahili women in the region. However, that the interviews were originally conducted on an informal basis and not intended for publication does show—at times the text is rambling and confusing (Bi Kaje's narrative especially can be contradictory), while in other places one can't help but wonder if the interviewer's interests shape the stories told a little too much.
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