Hardwork pays. That is a maxim that Kenya’s undoubtedly best Kiswahili creative writer Wallah bin Wallah lives by. Wallah eats from the sweat of his brow. And well, his brow must be a very sweaty one because he is able to rake at least 20 million shillings annually in royalty. If you happened to school in Kenya, you must know Ustadh Wallah Bin Wallah. If he wasn’t famous at your time in primary school, then you must have had one of your kids tell you to buy them either Kiswahili Mufti, Insha Mufti or Chemsha Bongo. Or better still, you must have heard Mwalimu Wallah on KBC Radio teaching and speaking in the most eloquent and admirable Swahili. ‘Maneeeeno haya’ is a popular phrase that he likes repeating at the end of his shows as he reprimands people for wrong use of the language.
When I was still in school, I believed that Wallah Bin Wallah must have been a Tanzania or Coast born Swahili speaker. But nay, he is a non-native. Wallah was born in Nyakach- Nyando, Nyanza Province in Kenya. Interestingly, today, he is revered throughout the whole of Eastern Africa as a Swahili teacher and a writer of great fame. And so we come back to the English as a Second Language writing–is it possible to write better than natives? Ask Wallah. He will tell you a big ‘yes’ and even proceed to tell you that he coined his own Ngeli which has been embraced by all today.
Other than the text books he has authored, Wallah has a collection of great creative books to his name including:
- Kifo cha Wema.
- Kitanzi Cha Utandawizi
- Zawadi ya Sanda
- Mbwa wa Majini
- Sitaki Simu
- Kicheko cha Maiti
- Tumgidie Bwege
Other than being creative, the books are also motivational and go a long way into teaching young readers on life issues.
Wallah bin Wallah was born in 1952 as Ndedah but later changed his name so as to mystify his ethnic affiliations. In 1970, he says, there were ethnic clashes and it was really difficult to move about Nairobi town with a name that betrayed your tribe. And so, since his father’s name was Wallah, Mwalimu took up the name Wallah Bin Wallah and never looked back. Wallah means son of God in Islam and Mwalimu has really seen God’s hand in his life.
Wallah comes out as a jovial and self-actualized individual. He has this infectious laughter that is enough to tell you that he is a man who eats life joys with a big spoon. The father of four boys and two girls has not forgotten to motivate others to love and speak Swahili. Wasta Kiswahili Centre at Matasia is a place where he awards the best Swahili speakers yearly on every 10th of October.
Born in Nyakach. Schooled in Tanzania since his father was working there with the East Africa Railway
Schooled at Lukungu Lower Primary School and later Bukumbu Upper Primary school. Wallah used to shave his fellow students as well as work at the school farm to pay his school fees since his father was not very supportive.
He later migrated to Kenya from Tanzania after the formation of Ujamaa Villages. He joined Ravals Secondary school in Latema. Luckily, his book ‘Malenga wa Ziwa Kuu was published while he was still a form Two student.
My take from Wallah
I have read his books, listened to him and loved his contagious passion. From Ustadh Wallah Bin Wallah, I gather this two maxims:
1. Always look forward. like the giraffe. He took this up from his stay in Tanzania. While the symbol of Kenya is a lion, Tanzania’s symbol is the giraffe. Wallah took up the giraffe since he wants to see where others would not be able to see. And when he was young, they were told that Kiswahili would take them to nowhere. But hey, he is somewhere now with his love for Swahili.
2. Be passionate about something and the money will come through. Somehow it will. Wallah prides in that all he has come from his head. Nothing else. His Swahili and creativity.
Do we still need to worry that we are English non natives?
What I want you to take from this piece is that you do not need to be a language native to write well. No, all you need to do is learn the language well, work hard without tire and you will awe even the natives with your flowery language. Wallah bin Wallah is today eating sweet fruits from a language that he is not a native of. He has beaten the Tanzanians, the Rwandese, the Coasterians and all those that might pride that Swahili is their mother tongue.
I met Wallah when crafting his wikipedia page.