Swahili Poetry’s Digital Geographies: WhatsApp and the Forming of Cultural Space

Meg Arenberg


As the availability of web-enabled mobile devices and internet access have sky-rocketed in East Africa in the last decade and a half, so too have digital media played an increasing role in the composition, circulation, and consumption of literary texts. One striking example is the burgeoning Majagina wa Ushairi poetry group on the digital messaging platform WhatsApp. Considering the strict formal rules established by the group’s administrators, and attending closely to a few of the poems and poetic dialogues circulated within the group in the last two years, I argue that the use of group messaging features by members of the Majagina wa Ushairi group serves not only to establish or augment a network of poets writing in Swahili across East Africa and the diaspora, but to form (and defend) a new space for an idealized Swahili cultural identity grounded in poetic dialogue. While poetic discourse on the platform reveals utopic post-territorial aspirations among the members, the group also evinces competing and gendered geographies of literary production and performance, revealing an entanglement between the boundaries of poetic form and the boundaries of social and cultural space.


WhatsApp; digital poetry; Swahili poetry; Swahili cultural identity

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