I have always been fascinated by the cultural and linguistic interaction between Arabic speakers and Bantu speakers in Eastern Africa up to Southern Somalia as well as by the Islamic influences and their impact along the East African coast. These interests motivated my choice of studying Classical Arabic and Swahili languages and literatures as well as Somali. I am particularly interested in African languages literatures, in the role of texts and performative practices in forging Swahili Islamic networks and in literary adaptations, textual traditions and criticisms across Muslim lands of the Indian Ocean and the African continent.
My research has started taking Swahili literature in the history of criticism as a main perspective once I have been working with the Swahili adaptation of one of the most widely- travelled stories of mankind (the Islamic Story of Joseph, Qiṣat Yūsuf). This has allowed me to deal with Swahili manuscripts of the 18th and 19th century and to start inquiring on intertextual relations between texts, authorship and authorial interventions – which are particularly moot points in Swahili classical compositions drawing from Muslim tradition in Arabic. Beyond this, I have started analyzing contemporary forms of adaptation and extended my focus on contemporary poetry and practices of composing and performing poetry. A question that recurs throughout my research is the multi-layerdness of a text and its afterlives: How texts relate to prior ones and why they get copied and readapted in other forms (written, recorded on CDs, or performed on stage in poetry competitions). Similar approach brings my attention to look at texts not as entities per se, but as travelling artworks entangled with their context and network of artists. I am also currently interested at investigating on intellectual practices from the Kenyan coast. My focus is on the polyhedral living figure of Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulkadir, an imam and poet from Lamu island. The “literature of ideas” contained in his private library which has shaped his religious affiliation, education, knowledge and current role in the community which he represents and talks on behalf of, have been the questions of my investigation so far. Since the begin of my research and work at the University of Bayreuth the co-organization and participation to annually workshops aiming at the book edition of 18th century songs and dialogue poetry by a political broker and poet Zahid Mngumi and his companions, has allowed me to deepen my research on Swahili lyric ge nres from the Northern Swahili coast particularly, which do relate very much to oral performances and unfold an highly dialogic register.
I pursued my graduated studies at the University of Naples L’ Orientale (Italy). I hold a BA in Languages and cultures of Asia and Africa (curriculum Africa) and defended the thesis on Swahili manuscripts in Arabic script from Carl G. Büttner. (Final grade: summa cum laude - 110/110 e lode). After having completed my Swahili studies at INALCO in Paris, I pursued a MA in Science of Languages, History and Cultures of Mediterranean and Islamic Countries and in 2013 defended my thesis on The Swahili poem of Yūsuf in ‘ajamī script: transliteration and translation of a selection of stanzas with critical apparatus (Final grade: summa cum laude - 110/110 e lode). The multidisciplinary of my studies – completely focused on the Africa continent already at that time – has definitely shaped my view on Africa. Indeed, along with courses on language, literature and philology, I have been opened to the study of anthropology, ethnography as well as philosophy of Islam, geography of the Indian Ocean and history of sub-Saharan Africa. In the frame of a cotutelle between the University of Naples L’ Orientale (Italy) and the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (Germany), I started a Ph.D program in African Languages and Literatures and submitted my thesis in March 2017. The doctoral examination procedure was completed in January 2018 with the overall German result of 3.0 (summa cum laude).
From April 2017 until February 2019 I was wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin at the University of Bayreuth working as a specialist of Swahili Language and Literature at the Faculty of Languages and Literatures – Literatures in African languages. Beyond Swahili language for beginners and advanced levels, I have taught a number of Swahili literature survey courses, ranging from Swahili classical literature to modern, including Swahili literary geographies and Swahili literature for development. In the latter course, I have set Swahili literature in dialogue with three main discourses: politics and ideologies, intellectual practices and knowledge production. I have always tried to promote a classroom environment to develop a critical thought. Some of my most satisfying experiences as a teacher have come from the performance of Hebrahim Hussein’s Swahili play Kinjeketile performed by the students at the end of a course focused on the art of Swahili theatre. I have also co-thaugh a course on Swahili in Arabic Script focusing on the oldest writing traditions in Africa, dating back to precolonial times (e.g. Barnāwī, Harari, Chimiini and Harari and Swahili) and a course on Literature in Africa and the Diaspora in Context clustered on important traditions of composing Islamic poetry, for instance, in praise of the Prophet, to commemorate Islamic history or as personal prayers, in African languages, like Wolof, Fulfulde, Hausa, Swahili and Somali.
Since March 2019 I have a joint appointment in the position of University Lecturer at the LUCAS department of the Faculty of Humanities and at the Interfaculty Institute of African Studies Centre (ASC) at Leiden University. I teach in the BA Afrikaanse Talen en Culturen van Afrika (i.a. African Literature, Oral and written literature in Africa) as well as in the MA African Studies.
Grants and awards
Kulturpreis Bayern 2018 – Bayernwerk Kunst und Wissenschaft in Bayern, Germany.
Premio Università - Paolo Iannotti 2015 “Laureati Eccellenti”, Naples Italy.
Raia, Annachiara, 2017. A Mosaic of Scripts: Arabic Script in Africa from a comparative perspective. In Quaderni di studi arabi QSA n.s. 12: 207-218 Istituto per l’Oriente C.A. Nallino, Roma.
Raia, Annachiara 2016. Innesti culturali. La riscrittura creativa della storia di Yusuf in poesia Swahili. In Enrico D’Angelo: Smerilliana luogo di civiltà poetiche. Vol. 19: 425-454. The Writer Edizioni, Marano Principato.
Raia, Annachiara 2014. Remarks on Swahili - manuscripts in Arabic script: layout and orthography of the Utendi wa Yusuf. In Szlenk, L. K. and B. Wòjtowicz (ed.): Current Researches in African Studies, pp. 313-330. Warsaw: Dom. Wydawniczy Elipsa.
Raia, Annachiara (in print). A network of copies. The Utendi wa Yusuf manuscripts traditions from the J. W. T. Allen Collection. In Vierke, C. & Samsom, R. (Eds.) Journal of Manuscript Cultures One Text-many copies, pp. 1-26.
Raia, Annachiara (in print). Angaliya baharini, mai yaliyoko pwani. The Presence of the Ocean in Mahmoud Ahmed Abdulakadir’s Poetry. In Aiello, F. & Gaudioso, R. Festschrift (Eds.) Lugha na Fasihi in honour of Elena Bertoncini-Zubkova, pp. 1-28. Napoli: DAAM, Series Minor.
Raia, Annachiara (forthcoming). Āya na ubeti. Qur'ānic quotations in Muhamadi Kijuma’s Swahili utendi manuscripts: citation aspects and the authorial intervention". In A. Brita, G. Ciotti, F. De Simini e A. Roselli, (Eds.) Textual and Material Craftsmanship: What Does Copying a Manuscript Mean, Napoli: DAAM, Series Minor.
Raia, Annachiara (forthcoming). Swahili Palimpsests and the “haunted presence”: The Muslim stories beneath Swahili compositions. In Reuster-Jahn Uta and Talento, Serena (Eds.) Swahili Forum Special Issue Translation of literature from and into Swahili .
University Lecturer African literature
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- Raia A. (2020), Texts, voices and tapes: mediating poetry on the Swahili Muslim Coast in the 21st century, Matatu 51(1): 139-168.
- Vierke C. & Raia A. (2020), Travelling texts beyond the West : introduction, Asian journal of African studies 48: 1-29.
- Raia A. (2018), Swahili palimpsests : the Muslim stories beneath Swahili compositions, Swahili-Forum (25): 16-41.
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