Haji Gora Haji is a poet, a writer and a minstrel whose art remained largely unknown to a wider Swahili public until the publication of his brief anthology Kimbunga (The Hurricane) in 1994. For forty years he has been active in a broad spectrum of Swalili literature. He is a word artist in the true Swahili tradition.
He has worked in every genre of Swahili literature, from songs, stories and lengthy epics to three-line riddles, from folk tales handed down by oral tradition to a full-length novel. He is the third child in a familiy of six. His twin brother and a sister, part of another twin, died in childhood. He has 11 half-brothers and half-sisters. He himself has two legal wives and 14 children from these and former marriages. He moved from Tumbatu, a small island just off the island of Unguja, to the city of Zanzibar when he was five. At seven he went to Koran school, his family being too poor to pay for a public primary school. His uncles trained him to be a fisherman, and he has since earned a living from the sea, as a sailor on small sail-driven cargo boats, as a clove shipper, as a porter on the docks. Haji Gora remembers his first song, which he wrote in 1955 as a member of the song and dance groups competing for honour in Tumbatu. After this came numerous compositions, few of which were ever written down. He composes his work in Ki-Tumbatu, the dialect of his native island, as well as Ki-Unguja, the Swahili of Zanzibar, on which standard Swahili is based. Haji Gora Haji is a frequent contributor to literary programmes on Tanzanian radio, and is a distinguished member of Swahili language committees.
[Haji Gora Haji took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 1999. This text was written on that occasion.]