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Li, Jinjian (2024) Translation as Decolonization: Nyerere, the Bible and Shakespeare. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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As the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere has enormously influenced the politics, economy, and culture of the country. Beside his well-known identity as a politician and poet, he was also an important literary translator. The subject of this study is Nyerere’s Swahili Bible and Shakespearean Translations. This study offers critical reflections on what translation does through an examination of Nyerere’s Bible, comparatively with missionary translations, and Shakespeare, comparatively with Chinese translations, within the context of the most recent theory and praxis of prismatic translation. The central argument is that translation is decolonization as well as modernization. The main body of this study consists of five chapters. Chapter Two provides the contexts of this study, including a brief history of Swahili and Chinese translations from the middle nineteenth to middle twentieth centuries and a review of the previous studies on Nyerere’s Swahili translations of the Bible and Shakespeare. Chapter Three compares Nyerere’s Bible translation with those of the missionaries and argues that Nyerere’s translation was a practice of decolonization: it aimed at disempowering the colonial legacy in Swahili language and literature. By introducing the traditional poetic form into his translation of the Bible, Nyerere created a literary synthesis which combines the Biblical content and Swahili literary form, extended the boundary of traditional literature, and challenged the norms of colonial translations. Chapter Four brings the Chinese translation of The Merchant of Venice into the discussion of Nyerere. Both Chinese and Swahili translations emerged during a vernacular movement in both countries, in which the old literary forms were challenged, and vernacular literature was promoted and experimented. This chapter looks at the dynamic interactions of Nyerere and his Chinese counterpart Zhu’s literary translations with Swahili and Chinese literary traditions respectively and shows how the former participated in the decolonization as well as modernization of the latter. Chapter Five compares the adaptations and reception of Julius Caesar in the Swahili and Chinese translations by Nyerere, the Swahili critics and their Chinese counterparts, and sees Nyerere’s translation as an imagining of a new state. Chapter Six compares the adaptations and reception of The Merchant of Venice by Nyerere, the Swahili Critics and their Chinese counterparts, and explores Nyerere’s translation as an imagining of a new society. A comparative analysis of missionary and Nyerere’s translations of the Bible, and Chinese and Swahili translations of Shakespeare shows the uniqueness of Nyerere’s Swahili translations in that they create a new literary tradition, imagine a new state, and ii look forward to a new society. The comparison also reveals that literary translations from English, considered a colonial language in both Chinese and Swahili contexts during the period covered by the study (the first half of the twentieth century), shared a common decolonial impulse. This study concludes that post-colonial translation studies, in addition to examining literary translation as a form of European domination and distortion of the colonies, would benefit from seeing translation as the site and means of decolonization as well as modernization in the colonies.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Wen-Chin Ouyang
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2024 16:11
Funders: Other

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