African text in biographical context

African text in biographical context – the life and times of Burhan Mkelle (1884-1949) in Zanzibar.

Burhan Mkelle was an Islamic scholar, a Sufi, a teacher, a bibliophile, a poet and an author who lived in the British Protectorate of Zanzibar. In his lifetime, he was one of the most prominent public intellectuals on the coast. His family was of Comorian origin, his father, like many other Comorians, having immigrated to Zanzibar during the heydays of Bu Saidi (Omani) rule. Widely known in his lifetime for his poetry (more so than for his prose texts), Burhan Mkelle is today mainly remembered among Zanzibaris of Comorian origin, his texts still circulating in photocopy versions. His reputation was not that of a great saint, thus his memory is not kept alive by mawlids or rituals that has kept alive the memory of some of his contemporaries. However, as an active member of his community, he is one of the individuals about home we have the most complete biographical information.
This talk will present a preliminary biography of Burhan Mkelle, and discuss how his life world was understood, how discourse was practiced (global or regional or otherwise), and how collective memory (also known as history) was formed by a translocal perception of authority. Finally, this talk will discuss the potential value of a biographical approach to authors and intellectuals beyond the European tradition, and discuss the methodological implications of such an approach.

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