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Abstract

Women’s maxims, as well as other forms of oral literature in Tanzania, are a popular genre. They are verbal arts that can be self-addressed or addressed to a fellow woman among womenfolk. This paper intends to examine the role of these maxims in imaging women in Tanzania. This study was prompted by the findings of previous studies regarding the portrayal of women in Kiswahili literature where, generally, women are depicted as inferior beings compared to men, partly due to the fact that most authors are men. Hence, we found it imperative to investigate women’s maxims that are created and uttered by women themselves. The study was also prompted by other studies worldwide on language and gender. The questions to be addressed in this paper are: What is generally portrayed in such maxims? Why do women create, use and perpetuate such maxims? How do women consider themselves in relation to men? The data of this study was collected in Dar es Salaam through interviews and observation techniques. This study is significant to literary critics, sociolinguists, gender practitioners, cultural theorists and researchers on women studies. The study revealed that women’s maxims make much contribution to group identity formation, gender relations and culture. Through these maxims women marginalize their role, empower themselves, create gender constructs and gender differences and give themselves new outlook in the modern society.

Note on the Author

Shani Omari is senior lecturer at the Institute of Kiswahili Studies, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her research interests include popular culture, oral and written Kiswahili literature, and language and gender.

Fikeni E.M.K. Senkoro is a visiting Professor at the Language Centre, University of Namibia. He holds a B.A. (Education), M.A (Kiswahili) and Ph.D. (Kiswahili) from the University of Dar es Salaam, and M.A. (Comparative Literature) from the University of Alberta, Canada. He is the former Coordinator, Centre for Literature and African Oral Traditions at the Institute of Kiswahili Studies; former Head of Kiswahili Department, and former Associate Dean for Research and Publications, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences - all at the University of Dar es Salaam. He was also a two-term member of CODESRIA’s Executive Committee. He has been guest scholar at various universities and a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Wisconsin-Madison, Boston, Harvard, Princeton and, presently, Namibia. He has published many articles and 11 books - most of them on Kiswahili and African literature and culture. His main areas of interest include theory of literature, comparative literature, children’s literature, Kiswahili folktales, teaching Kiswahili as a foreign language, and language in education.

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