Mwana Kupona


Mwana Kupona binti Msham (born on Pate Island, died c. 1865) was a Swahili poetess of the 19th century, author of a poem known as Utendi wa Mwana Kupona (“the book of Mwana Kupona”), which is one of the most well-known works of early Swahili literature.

Relatively little is known about her life. Her grandson Muhammed bin Abdalla [1] reported in the 1930s that Mwana Kupona was born in Pate, and that she was the last wife of sheikh Bwana Mataka, ruler of Siu (or Siyu), with whom she had two children. Mataka died in 1856; two years later, Mwana Kupona wrote her famous poem, dedicated to her 14 year old daughter Mwana Heshima. Mwana Kupona died around 1865 of womb hemorrhaging.

Utendi wa Mwana Kupona

The poem dates to ca. 1858 (year 1275 of the islamic calendar), and is centered on the teachings and advices of Mwana Kupona to her daughter, concerning marriage and wifely duties. Despite the seemingly secular subject, the book is prominently religious and even mystical, and it has been compared to the biblical Book of Proverbs. A few lines of the poem are dedicated to the author herself:

Swahili:
Translation:
Mwenye kutunga nudhumu
Ni gharibu mwenye hamu
Na ubora wa ithimu
Rabbi tamghufiria
Ina lake mufahamu
Ni mtaraji karimu
Mwana Kupona Mshamu
Pate alikozaliwa
Tarikhiye kwa yakini
Ni alifu wa miyateni
Hamsa wa sabini
The author of this work
is a sorrowful widow
her worst sin
The Lord will forgive
her famous name
she is
Mwana Kupona Mshamu
born in Pate.
The date
of the poem
is 1275.