In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir
Zamo kuwa dark skin haikuwa usupuu,
hata ka kulikuwa na mablack beauty hatukutambua;
Lakini siku hizi kushika rangi ni urembo mtupu
From Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Sheng translation mine)
Shakespeare Week came and went in March. This year, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, events were held around the world, to honour the playwright and his work. During the week I revisited a project that I had announced on Twitter last year. I have resumed work in earnest on the pet project that I first conceived a couple of years ago.
Shakespeare in Sheng is an attempt to translate Shakespeare’s entire literary corpus into Sheng , the lingua franca of much of urban Kenya.
I first broached the idea on Twitter a couple of years ago. It was evident many liked it. I started by translating simple popular phrases from the work of the beloved Bard and tweeting them. (I intend to do more of this. Follow @ShakespeareInSheng on Twitter.)
Time hasn’t been on my side lately though. But I have attempted to create as much time as I can for the project. I intend to allocate at least an hour of my time each day to it.
The translation of such a large and complex body of literature is a huge undertaking. The depth and breadth of Shakespeare’s literary work is immense. Over his lifetime he wrote close to 40 plays. There are a total of 44,000 words used in his works. His range and lexicon is mind boggling.
Many challenges abound outside of the sheer scale of the task.
Some have observed that translating a literary work makes one about as much of an author as most. The translation of Julius Caesar into Swahili, marked the entry of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere into the literary scene for instance. Juliasi Kaisari made Mwalimu Nyerere a bona fide literary giant.
“What’s in a name?”, asks Shakespeare’s Juliet . Would a rose by any other name in any other language smell as sweet? Is it possible to translate a classic work of literature into a modern contemporary language without losing its essence? Is the brilliance or authenticity of Shakespeare’s