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Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

versão On-line ISSN 2309-9070
versão impressa ISSN 0041-476X

Tydskr. letterkd. vol.45 no.1 Pretoria Jan. 2008


The use of the Arabic script in northern Mozambique



Liazzat J. K. Bonate

Liazzat J. K. Bonate is on the staff at the Centre of African Studies and teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo, Mozambique. E-mail:




Northern Mozambican Muslim population has been using the Arabic script for writing in KiSwahili and local African languages for centuries. Even today, many people continue using this script in private correspondence. Despite the abundance of the documents in this script that are housed at the Mozambique Historical Archives as well as in private hands, these documents have never been addressed or researched either from linguistic, historical, cultural or religious vantage points. For the last seven years, the Archives have been trying to draw attention of the scholars and obtain funds for the preservation and research of the documents. In this article two short letters from the collection of the Mozambique Historical Archives are transcribed and translated with the help of a local shaykh who was educated within the regional historical Islamic literacy tradition. Then, the content and the protagonists of the letters were identified and analyzed with the reference to the historical context and the events of the time. Besides serving as the evidence for historical occurrences, the letters also provide a general public with a unique opportunity of "hearing the voices" of the authors and in their own words (in first person).

Key words: Mozambique, Islam, KiSwahili, Arabic



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