This proverb collection began with the work of Albert Scheven who published his first collection of Swahili proverbs as Swahili Proverbs:  Nia zikiwa moja, kilicho mbali huja with University Press of America, 1981. When he published this collection, he included the following acknowledgements:

The African Studies Program of the University of Illinois has borne all production costs associated with this volume. Therefore, I am particularly indebted to Dr. Victor Uchendu, who initiated this support, and to Professor C. C. Stewart, who continued it and saw the book to its completion. I am grateful for the cooperation of Fred Kanali and Mahammad Abasheikh, both graduate students at the University of Illinois, and residents of East Africa. Notwithstanding his heavy load of doctoral studies in linguistics, Abasheikh was always ready to help me in solving difficulties I encountered. I received much help from Maryam Marshad, a native of Lamu, who fortunately was in Urbana during much of the early work on this collection. She saw all the proverbs and gave precious advice on their use, variations, etc. Her initials, MM, appear as a source on almost every page. Hassan Marshad also generously enlightened many enigmas. Professor Eyamba Bokamba of the Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois, likewise offered assistance throughout. My wife Yvette constantly discovered new sources of proverbs, and compiled the bibliography. A very special thank you to Cleota Cord, who did the photoperfect typing from a not always perfect copy. Finally, I thank my Swahili students, who not only were keen to receive any and all proverbs, but returned them to me knowingly and playfully.

Urbana, Illinois
May, 1981

Albert Scheven continued to build on his collection of proverbs through the 1990s, demonstrating his love of words, wisdoms, and his engagement with the Swahili language.  His proverb collection grew to 4860 entries, available under website’s “Listing” heading. His list is more extensive, in fact, as many entries include related proverbs referenced entries.

In expanding the collection, Yvette Scheven provided on-going bibliographic expertise and editorial support.  She also brought to the project her insights as an African studies bibliographer and University of Illinois professor emerita of library administration. She and Albert discussed ultimately seeing the collection online for the widest use possible. After Albert passed away in 2000, she discussed seeing the collection being put online with staff at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Yvette continued to provide guidance and vision in seeing Albert’s proverb collection to its current form. Approaching the tenth anniversary since Albert’s passing, Yvette noted her pleasure in seeing his collection online.

In compiling this listing and this website and building further on the work of Albert Scheven, the work of several people has been  fundamental. Several directors at the Center for African Studies provided advice and needed financial support for the building of the website, including Prof. Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Prof. Jean M. Allman, and Prof. Merle L. Bowen. Dr. Peter Otiato Ojiambo, Department of Linguistics, played a key role developing additional pedagogical content to complement Albert Scheven’s listing. His wealth of experience as an educator led to the inclusion of a subset of proverbs that teachers might use as well as audio materials that learners can benefit from.  He also provided needed cultural context to the use of proverbs on kangas and in East African society.

Peter Muhati, Yaa Oforiwa Cuguano, Tage Biswalo and Eunhyun Kim played essential roles in building the website and sharing their ideas. Peter processed the listings that Albert and Yvette Scheven had compiled. Yaa made substantial contributions, enabling the first incarnation of this website and providing audio files and samples of kangas. Eunhyun handled much of the troubleshooting and formatting to get Albert’s proverb collection online. As dedicated students and graduate assistants with the Center for African Studies, their work is much appreciated.

This website was designed by Studio 2D in Champaign, Illinois.

The U.S. Department of Education provided financial support to the Center for African Studies, through its Title VI grants for National Resource Centers.

Jamie McGowan
Associate Director, Programming, Outreach and Administration
Center for African Studies
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
April 16, 2010