book takes off from this lineage background to
trace the growth, education and working career
of “Shihab”, as he was fondly known to
family and friends.
gives the reader a vivid and detailed insight
into the growth and acceptance of western
education among the Arab-Swahili community in
the period after the Second World War, leading
to the emergence of the first graduates within
the community among whom was Shihab.
graduated with honors from Makerere University
College in Kampala in 1955, after which he
dedicated his life to teaching and researching
in Kiswahili and publishing his writings in
the form of articles and textbooks.
the book is fundamentally a biography of
author draws a sympathetic picture of her
father’s as she knew him and as he was seen
by those close to him – family members,
relatives, friends and former pupils and
reviewer, having been privileged to study at
the same schools as Shihab and, to later,
share with him the experience of teaching at
one of these schools (Arab Secondary School,
now known as Khamis Secondary School) is
amazed by the degree of accuracy of the
portrait of the man and the socio-cultural
environment he grew up and worked in, given
that she was only aged about fifteen when he
died on 27th April 1976.
is testimony to the admirable research she was
able to carry out among members of the family,
the community and former colleagues of her
was indeed a Swahili icon, highly respected by
fellow scholars in the field of Kiswahili, as
shown by his publications and by his
membership of various Kiswahili committees
active not only in Kenya, but also in other
East African countries.
also played a major role at home, in Mombasa
in sensitizing, reviving and promoting Swahili
Cultural events and traditions such as Twari
la Ndia, Diriji, Kibunzi, etc.
cultural festivities were at their height
during his active days.
with time, they were allowed to decline in the
face of socio– economic and political
changes that took place on the Kenyan Swahili
predominant theme of the book is of course,
Shihab as a teacher.
taught in three different schools, the first
being Arab Secondary School in Tudor area of
teaching career and its achievements for him,
almost equals his pursuits of research and
writings on Kiswahili.
details given on his work as teacher and a
mentor of his pupils is amazing.
was not your ordinary or average teacher.
is not a subjective view of an adoring
daughter or admiring colleague.
author has collected an impressive amount of
data and tributes from scores of former pupils
and colleagues of Shihab, which taken,
together, present a portrait of an
extraordinary teacher who enlightened,
“saved” and inspired so many young men and
women who sat in his classrooms.
reviewer found himself figuratively nodding in
agreement with the assessment of these former
pupils of Shihab, many of whom ended up as
teachers, doctors, scientists, and some as
ambassadors of this country.
went beyond the confines of the classroom to
teach and guide his “wards”.
remember several trips he arranged for us as
fellow teachers to visit villages to the north
of Mombasa to speak to parents about their
children’s education, long before the notion
of parents-teachers association was mooted.
“naughty” pupils who would otherwise have
been expelled for their misbehavior were
targeted by him for “reform”; some of them
ended up becoming civic leaders or successful
in other ways, thanks to his intervention and
is clear from this book that Shihab lived a
full, indeed an intense life, doing what he
liked or wanted best to do: teach, inspire,
guide, help, research, write and leave behind
enlightenment and knowledge.
that he has succeeded admirably.
quote Sasha Azevedo, who is quoted by the
you love people and have the desire to make a
profound impact upon the world, then you have
accomplished the meaning to live.”
of this wise saying or not, Shihab did
accomplish the meaning to live.
has left an impact and a legacy behind to
inspire others, including this reviewer.
life, alas, was cut short by a heart condition
discovered as early as his years as a student
at Makerere in 1955.
he achieved a lot between then and April 27th,
1976 when he passed on, while undergoing heart
surgery in London.
has succeeded in giving us an inspirational
story of her father’s life journey.
recommend this book highly to those interested
in Arab-Swahili history and culture; to those
interested in the history of the emergence and
growth of western education on the Coast; to
those wishing to know about the growth of a
western- educated elite or intelligentsia from
among whom coastal leaders, both civic and
national, emerged, as well as those who became
the first Arab-Swahili doctors, dentists,
scientists, university dons, media
personalities and ambassadors for Kenya in
the book is a little gem. If
it is to be reprinted, it can do with some
polishing and more meticulous editing to
improve it for that reprinting.