Philosophising in Mombasa

Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam and Intellectual Practice on the Swahili Coast

KAI KRESSE
J. D. Y. Peel
Suzette Heald
Deborah James
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r281h
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  • Book Info
    Philosophising in Mombasa
    Book Description:

    Philosophising in Mombasa provides an approach to the anthropological study of philosophical discourses in the Swahili context of Mombasa, Kenya.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3173-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
    Kai Kresse
  4. SOURCES
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. PROLOGUE APPROACHING PHILOSOPHICAL DISCOURSE IN A SWAHILI CONTEXT
    (pp. 1-8)

    In teaching me this folk wisdom, Ahmad Nassir’s point was, I take it, to state several things: that the real value of knowledge lies in its being sought; that someone who truly values knowledge also questions and doubts it; that being conscious of one’s own limits of knowledge is already a step beyond these limits; that there is a circle of knowledge and questioning, in which questioning is the starting point for knowledge and knowledge is only the basis for further questioning. In the end, the message seems to be that, as human beings, all we can know is that...

  8. Part I Coordinates – theory, ethnography, history
    • 1 TOWARDS AN ‘ANTHROPOLOGY OF PHILOSOPHY’: THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF CRITICAL DISCOURSE AND INTELLECTUAL PRACTICE IN AFRICA
      (pp. 11-35)

      An anthropological investigation into philosophy provides us with insights and information about traditions of knowledge and intellectual practice elsewhere in the world, in social contexts very different from our own. The project needs to engage with – and first of all be able to identify – philosophy as part of social discourse, and as a social practice, within any given region. Here, I am carving out one particular approach about how this could work in relation to the Swahili context and against the background of discussions in African philosophy. Philosophy, as socialised discourse and practice, overlaps with other (more established) areas of...

    • 2 THE SWAHILI CONTEXT MOMBASA, THE OLD TOWN AND KIBOKONI
      (pp. 36-69)

      What are commonly known as ‘the Swahili’ are the urban Muslim communities that emerged along the East African coast around 800 CE (Horton and Middleton 2000), roughly in parallel with the emergence of the Swahili language (Nurse and Spear 1985). Their life-world has been described as essentially of mercantile character, and directed at and suspended between two radically different cultural worlds, the Bantu-African and the Arabic-Islamic, whose influences and people were integrated into Swahili life and society (Middleton 1992). Rooted in and partly economically reliant on the coastal hinterland (Berg 1971; Willis 1993), they were also integrated into the larger...

    • 3 A NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THINKERS KNOWLEDGE, DISCOURSE AND EAST AFRICAN ISLAM
      (pp. 70-102)

      I have already clarified above why I think that philosophical discourse exists in a wide variety of places around the world, and that it is not a specific feature or achievement of European (or Western) cultural history alone. In what follows, the intellectual climate of Mombasa today is sketched, and also the recent intellectual history of the region, including some of its most significant scholars. They are constant reference points for discussions taking place among common people in the streets, or among scholars in their speeches or religious booklets. In describing local discourses and intellectual debates, I also provide evidence...

  9. Part II Contextual portrayals of local intellectuals
    • 4 AHMED SHEIKH NABHANY SWAHILI POETRY AND THE CONSERVATION OF CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE
      (pp. 105-138)

      One evening in the sunset, the awards ceremony of the annual football tournament for youth teams of the Old Town was taking place at the foot of Fort Jesus, just next to the creek that surrounds Mombasa Island and links the town’s Old Port to the sea. A local celebrity, the retired TV actor commonly known as Mzee Mombasa (literally, ‘Old Man Mombasa’), a popular character in the Old Town known for his wit, was reciting a poem which he had been asked to compose for the occasion. He could hardly be heard as he tried to raise his voice...

    • 5 AHMAD NASSIR’S POETICAL MORAL THEORY UTU – HOW HUMAN BEINGS OUGHT TO BEHAVE
      (pp. 139-175)

      This chapter concerns itself with the classic philosophical questions of what is humanity (signifying the field of philosophical anthropology) and what is goodness (characterising moral theory). Here I provide illustrations from Swahili social discourse, using sayings and the expressed convictions of ordinary people. There is a shared common body of knowledge about what it means to be ‘human’ or ‘good’ within the wider Swahili-speaking community. I sketch this out by documenting how a selected handful of young men in Kibokoni whom I knew quite well would elaborate on these issues. A discussion of their overlapping and contrasting statements will then...

    • 6 THE RAMADHAN LECTURES OF SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR: THE SOCIAL CRITIQUE OF A POLITICALLY MINDED ISLAMIC SCHOLAR
      (pp. 176-208)

      In December 1998, there was a heated argument between different Muslim factions in Mombasa about the exact determination of the beginning of Ramadhan. As a consequence, Muslims started their fast on two different days, the nineteenth and the twentieth of December. This, of course, should not have happened, and people were very upset. The beginning of the long awaited holy month was now marked by disunity. Ramadhan, the fourth pillar of Islam and the month of peace, reconciliation and Muslim unity, started off on the wrong foot, and it left many feeling uncomfortable. After all, if Muslims in one town...

  10. Part III Reconsidering ethnography, reconsidering theory
    • 7 COUNTERPOINTS AND CONTINUITIES: THE YOUNGER GENERATION INTERGENERATIONAL IDIOMS – EXPERIENCE AND PERSPECTIVES
      (pp. 211-230)

      As we look back at the contextual portrayals of Ahmed Sheikh Nabhany, Ahmad Nassir Juma Bhalo and Sheikh Abdilahi Nassir, it is evident that these diverse Swahili intellectuals have produced a corresponding range of texts, some of which are explicitly critical in character. Nabhany’s poetry is, from various standpoints, concerned to assemble and display practically useful information to the audience, in the tradition of didactic Swahili poetry. Whether in regard to religion, forms of handicraft, art or history, his texts are verbal recollections, and sometimes almost instructions, mainly meant to convey culturally specific (and partly specialist) knowledge of the Swahili...

  11. EPILOGUE APPROACH AND FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND PERSPECTIVES
    (pp. 231-239)

    In the preceding chapters, I have shown in detail how philosophical discourse can be approached cross-culturally, from an anthropological perspective that takes philosophy seriously. Apart from documenting local philosophical discourse, an anthropology of philosophy offers the potential to develop a critical perspective on philosophy itself, suggesting ways in which philosophy can expand its self-understanding by integrating self-reflexive intellectual discourses from outside the academic Euro-American centre into mainstream discourse. The point here is also about philosophising as social practice. If philosophy as an academic discipline is to achieve a fuller understanding of the internal dynamics of philosophical reflection, it must not...

  12. APPENDIX 1 AHMED SHEIKH NABHANY
    (pp. 240-246)
  13. APPENDIX 2 SHEIKH ABDILAHI NASSIR: RAMADHAN LECTURE, 26 TH DECEMBER 1998 – MOMBASA: FLORINGI EDUCATIONAL HALL
    (pp. 247-250)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 251-266)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 267-282)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 283-288)