TALES OF ABUNUWAS AND OTHER STORIES

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by Suzi Lewis-Barned

Tales of Abunuwas and Other Stories are translations of Hadithi za Abunuwasi na Hadithi Nyingine, from Swahili into English by John Lewis-Barned and retold here by his daughter Suzi Lewis-Barned. The stories were first published in 1935. Whilst the Abunuwasi tales are available in English translations from the Arabic originals, these translations into English from an early Swahili edition add a new and interesting dimension to them.

Abunuwas (or Abu Nawas) tales are loved by young and old readers alike throughout the world and on the East African coast which has had centuries old contacts with Arab traders and Islamic scholars. Hadithi za Abunuwasi have become an integral part of Swahili literature. Abu Nawas, the nickname of their author, lived in Baghdad, Iraq, during the reign of Harun Al Rashid (763-809) and was considered the most accomplished Arab poet of his age. His tales spread far and wide in the Arab countries around the Mediterranean Sea but also in Turkey, Uzbekistan and beyond. Many of the tales appear also in the classic One Thousand and One Nights in which Harun Al Rashid is at the centre as the wise and just Sultan.

In addition to the Abunuwas tales, there are other stories, which come from the Swahili story telling tradition. The entertaining stories are full of gems of wisdom, ideas on justice and morality in day-to-day relations between people and animals, and between animals and animals in a world in which brute force is pitted against cleverness and wits, which always triumphs.

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