Swahili: diwani

Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

Senior Member
English - U.S.
I've encountered the word "diwani" in the titles of a number of Swahili books of poetry, for example "Diwani ya Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy" (Muyaka was a 19th-century poet from Mombasa). If "diwani" is translated at all, it's rendered as "poems" or "Swahili poems", but a very comprehensive English-Swahili dictionary I have translates "poem" as "shairi" (plural "mashairi") and makes no mention of "diwani". In addition, all the online dictionary/translation sites translate "diwani" as English "mayor" or "councilor", which is of no help.

I'm guessing that "diwani" in these titles refers to a specific type or register of poetry, or maybe is an archaic term. It occurred to me that it might be an Arabic loan, but Arabic "diwani" appears to refer to a style of calligraphy, not poetry. OTOH, since older Swahili poetry was in fact recorded and passed down in Arabic script, perhaps this term was transferred from the manuscripts to the poetry itself.

Does anyone know more?
  • One of the many meaning of the word diwan ديوان in Arabic is "a collection of poems written by one author" (Hans Wehr dictionary). It's till in use today in modern standard Arabic.
    Extra information - I believe dīwān is etymologically Persian, so the word would've traveled in this order: Persian > Arabic > Swahili.