Young Swahili-speakers in Oman and the ‘Zanzibar Diaspora’

Lecture by Franziska Fay

What does it mean to be a ‘young’ (below the age of 35) Swahili-speaker in Oman? How do young people make sense of their Omani identities while also speaking Swahili? What are the implications of also speaking Swahili in a majority Arabic-speaking state? Where do these young people positions themselves on the spectrum of the so-called Zanzibar Diaspora?

In this presentation I reflect on some findings that emerged from preliminary fieldwork with young people between Zanzibar and Oman in 2018 and 2019. I develop some of the insights gained here to approach the aforementioned questions in a way that can hopefully offer a more nuanced understanding of contemporary and translocal Omani/Zanzibari identity formation. I argue that foregrounding young Swahili-speaking Omani’s perspectives in the transnational process of identity formation – both as youth and as citizens – can offer new insights on what it means to be ‘young’, ‘Omani’, a ‘Swahili-speaker’, and a second or third generation (post-)diasporan.

Franziska Fay is a visiting research fellow at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) with the Oman Research Grant and a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Centre Normative Orders at the University of Frankfurt. Her research focuses on children and young people, politics, and belonging in Swahili-speaking contexts. Her first book “Disputing Discipline: Child Protection, Punishment and Piety in Zanzibar Schools” will be published by Rutgers University Press in April 2021. She has recently started to work on a new book project, “Living with Absence: Youth Identity and Belonging and the ‘Zanzibar Diaspora’” that foregrounds second and third generation Zanzibari diasporans’ contemporary translocal identity formation. At ZMO, and in the context of this project, she is currently focusing on “Young Omani Swahili-speakers and the Zanzibar Diaspora” to better understand their notions of citizenship, absence and belonging on the diasporic spectrum between the Swahili Coast and Oman.

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