Alfu Lela Ulela: The Swahili Version of the Thousand and One Nights
Alfu Lela Ulela is the Swahili name for the famous collection of stories known as the Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights in English. The stories originated in various cultures and languages, such as Arabic, Persian, Indian, and Turkish, and were compiled over many centuries. They are known for their frame narrative of Scheherazade, a clever woman who tells stories to a king every night to postpone her execution.
The Swahili version of the stories, Alfu Lela Ulela, has a long and complex history. It was first documented in the 19th century by European explorers and missionaries who encountered oral versions of some tales along the Swahili coast of East Africa. Some of these tales can be traced back to printed Arabic sources, while others may have been influenced by local traditions and folklore. The first written translation of Alfu Lela Ulela into Swahili was published in 1929 by Edward Steere, an Anglican bishop who aimed to introduce world literature to the Swahili-speaking population. His translation was based on an English edition of the stories by John Payne, which itself was derived from various Arabic manuscripts. Steere's translation was incomplete and selective, as he omitted some stories that he considered immoral or inappropriate for his audience.
In 1996, a new project of translating the Thousand and One Nights into Swahili was initiated by Said Ahmed Mohamed, a Tanzanian scholar and writer. His translation is based on the most authoritative Arabic edition of the stories by Muhsin Mahdi, which was published in 1984. Mohamed's translation is more faithful and comprehensive than Steere's, as he includes all the stories and preserves their original structure and style. He also adds annotations and explanations to clarify cultural and historical references for the Swahili readers. Mohamed's translation is still ongoing, as he has published 31 volumes so far, covering about half of the stories.
Alfu Lela Ulela is an important example of how a literary work can travel across time, space, and cultures, and how it can be adapted and transformed by different translators and audiences. It also shows how the Swahili language and literature have been enriched by contact with other traditions and sources of inspiration.
Alfu Lela Ulela is not only a literary work, but also a cultural phenomenon that has inspired many adaptations and interpretations in different media and genres. For example, there have been several films and television series based on the stories, such as the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad, the 1974 film Arabian Nights, the 1990 miniseries The Arabian Nights, and the 2000 film The Adventures of Sinbad. Some of these adaptations have added new stories or characters, or changed the setting or the tone of the original tales.
Alfu Lela Ulela has also influenced other literary works, such as novels, short stories, poems, and plays. Some examples are the 18th-century French novel Les Mille et Une Nuits by Antoine Galland, who was the first European translator of the stories; the 19th-century English novel Vathek by William Beckford, who was inspired by the oriental atmosphere and themes of the stories; the 20th-century Spanish novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, who borrowed some motifs and plots from the stories; and the 21st-century American novel The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, who retold the story of Scheherazade and the king with a young adult twist.
Alfu Lela Ulela is also a source of inspiration for many artists, musicians, composers, and performers. Some examples are the 18th-century French opera Les Indes Galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which included some scenes and characters from the stories; the 19th-century Russian ballet Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which depicted some episodes and dances from the stories; the 20th-century American musical Kismet by Robert Wright and George Forrest, which adapted some songs and stories from the stories; and the 21st-century British rock band Queen, which used some references and lyrics from the stories in their songs. 061ffe29dd