LETTERS

ANOTHER COLONIAL MYTH?
I was intrigued and puzzled by the reference in Dr Thomas’ book review (Bulletin No 40) to Kiswahili being ‘still’ devalued in the last part of British rule. I would question the ‘still’, and indeed was not aware of it being devalued at all. At the time Kiswahili was the normal medium of instruction in primary schools; it was the language of the local and district courts, the language in which local bye-laws were framed (and subsequently translated into English for the benefit of a non-Swahili – speaking Judiciary and Legal Department), and was the language of the District Council debating chamber. It was incumbent on the expatriate officer to learn and use Kiswahili, not on the indigenous population to learn English.

This is not to say that there may not have been occasions on which pupils were punished for not speaking English. But this would have been for the purpose of improving English rather than devaluing Kiswahili in schools where English had become or was in the process of becoming – the medium of instruction, and, of course, the key to higher education. There was certainly no official policy of downgrading Kiswahili. We seem to have another ‘colonial myth’.

Dr Thomas also compared the teaching of Kiswahili with the teaching of Welsh. By way of comment may I add the following quotation from ‘The Age of Empire’ by E. J. Hobsbawm: ‘ The prohibition of the use of Welsh, or some local language or patois in the classroom, which left such traumatic traces in the memories of local scholars and intellectuals was due, not to some kind of totalitarian claims by the dominant state-nation, but almost certainly in the sincere belief that no education was possible except in the state language, and that the person who remained a monoglot would inevitably be handicapped as a citizen and in his or her professional prospects.
Donald Barton

AN OASIS
… The Bulletin remains an oasis of information in the middle of a British media desert.
Odhiambo Anacleti

USEFUL AND ORNAMENTAL PLANTS
I much enjoyed the article in Bulletin No 39 by R. O. Williams Jnr. especially as I was privileged to be working alongside ‘RO’ in 48/49 in Zanzibar. Ever since those days my copy of his book has always been near at hand for reference. ‘Useful and Ornamental Plants of Zanzibar and Pemba’ certainly merits a new edition because in many ways it provides a model layout which is especially helpful to the amateur. It opens with a very readable section on the structure and function of the different parts of plants and then goes on to list the ‘Useful Plants’ under headings which vary, for example, from the Cereals, Salads, Spices, Fruit, Nuts, Timbers, Medicinal plants, Fish poisons, Perfumes and Dyes to Water containers and Witchcraft plants. The next section provides a cleverly devised simplified flora or systematic guide to the reader in the identification of Ornamental Trees and Plants and this leads on to the main body of the book which, in alphabetical order (by botanical name) provides a description of each species that includes most interesting observations on where they occur and, when appropriate, their local usage.

The book is profusely illustrated with excellent line drawings and photographs. Above all, it succeeds in giving the reader that rare feeling of being given a real insight into the economic and ornamental botany of the Spice Islands and the teamwork, both national and expatriate that went into its 497 pages of compelling reading.
Geoffrey Wilkinson

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