And they speak Russian in Tanzania

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Great gift of fate and key to spiritual wealth


If you suddenly speak Russian on the streets of Dar-es-Salaam or any other city in Tanzania, or if you discover that you belong to Russia in any other way, one of the local residents will certainly approach you just to... speak your native language. You will be very kindly told something like this: «Hello! Are you from Russia? I studied in Volgograd...». Or in Rostov-on-Don, or in Moscow, or in Kharkov – the geography can be the widest. Even more often you can meet Russian-speaking Tanzanians in the offices of government departments, or in some manufacture.

And there is nothing surprising. In 60 years, since the country gained independence, approximately three thousand Tanzanian citizens have received higher or secondary technical education in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Among these people there are doctors and engineers, pharmacists and military personnel, architects and even candidates of philological sciences who chose intricate problems of Russian grammar and syntax as topics of their thesis about which we have heard nothing.

You can speak Russian with many famous people in Tanzania and abroad. By the way, talking to Russian-speaking Tanzanians, you can notice one amazing feature: those who studied in our country in 60-70s, remember Russian well to this day and usually speak it much better than those who returned to their homeland in 80-90s. Whether we had better teachers in those days, or whether they had tougher selection criteria for those who were sent to study in the far and powerful Soviet Union during the years of «ujamaa» (in Swahili – «brotherhood», the term that was used in the country for a special «African» socialism).

At that time, much was done to introduce the best examples of Russian and Soviet literature to the Tanzanians, and with them to all those who speak Swahili in East Africa. The publishing house «Progress (later «Raduga») has made dozens of highly artistic translations and publications of Russian and Soviet classics in Swahili that are remarkable in terms of polygraphy. Among the translated works one may find writings of Gorky, Sholokhov, Prishvin, Fadeev, Belyaev, Baklanov, and Chukovsky.

Many programs of the Moscow Radio in Swahili were devoted to our literature and its great writers. Literary translations were regularly published in the weekly newspaper «Urushi Leo» («Rossiya Segodnya») in Tanzania by the Press Agency «Novosti». It is worth recalling that the Swahili literary classics (the works of Robert Shaaban, for example) were translated into Russian and published here.

The program of the Moscow Radio in Swahili was regularly broadcast with Russian language lessons for listeners in East Africa.

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The Russian House (the Russian Center for Science and Culture) in Dar-es-Salaam has been leading the main activities for the promotion of the Russian language and literature in Tanzania for the past two decades. Russian is taught at the center by our compatriots who have a higher pedagogical education and have become certified specialists in Russian philology after passing the distance course of the Russian as the foreign language. The Russian House has a video library, which contains about a thousand videos and audio materials in Russian and English on electronic media, along with a library, which is quite full of Russian and world classics, as well as modern and children’s literature and the latest educational materials on the Russian language. Here you can find films recognized as masterpieces of Soviet and Russian cinematography, and modern Russian cinema.

Russian House’s activities in Tanzania also include the translation of Russian classics into Swahili. Nikolai Gogol’s comedy «The Government Inspector», translated and published by the Russian House in cooperation with the local publishing house Ndanda Mission Press back in 1999, and its performance on the stage of the Russian Center by the Tanzanian theater group «Nyota Academia» became a remarkable event in the spiritual life of the country. In 2000 at the Swahili Literary Publications Competition the play was awarded the first prize of the National Council for the Development of the Swahili Language in the category «Dramatic works». Later, the Russian House prepared the first translations in the history of Pushkin studies and provided the publication of such works of Alexander Pushkin as «The Shot», «The Postmaster», «The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish», «The Tale of Tsar Saltan», «The Tale of the Golden Cockerel». Russian fairy tales were translated and published by the Afanasyev processing, «Fate of Man» by M. Sholokhov, «The Overcoat» by Nikolai Gogol. The novel «White Nights» by Fyodor Dostoevsky has been translated and is being prepared for publication. The texts of these writings are regularly sound in the «Literary Readings» section of the weekly radio program of the Russian House «Tuikumbukie Urusi» («Remembering Russia»), for a multi-million audience in the countries of East Africa.

In 2005, «The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish» was staged at the Russian House by the «Parapanda Arts» theater studio and became the first real Tanzanian musical, in which Pushkin’s text translated into Swahili was organically combined with the folk songs and dances of Tanzania. The demonstration of this performance on national television is remembered in the country to this day.

Today we can say that the Russian language, as the main element of Russian culture, «has a place to be» in Tanzania and this language is spoken even there!

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Russian House in Dar-es-Salaam opened a Russian-language school of supplementary education for young Tanzanians in July 2018. Their mothers chose a symbolic name for the school – «The Gift of speech». This designation is very good, because the Russian language and accent are a great gift of fate, key to a huge spiritual wealth. And for those who will be able to speak and read Russian fluently, this gift will help a lot in the future to get a good education and choose the right path in life.

Author: Rifat Pateev

Rifat Pateev is a Russian Afrikanist, interpreter and radio journalist. He graduated from the Institute of Asian and African Countries at the Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1974, worked as a translator, announcer and editor in the Main Editorial Office of broadcasting to the African countries of Moscow Radio, as well as a representative of the Rossotrudnichestvo in Tanzania and Slovenia.