• Subscribe to our e-letters

  • Facebook_icon

The Stephen Spender Prize 2017 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2017 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Wardsan Zubeir Masabo

You will get Wealth from the Farm

A father came back from a long journey
His thighs were all swollen
And his body was shivering
His children came
To know how he was faring
And they wanted a word of wisdom from him…

He said he was very sick
Even if he was given medicine
The fever wouldn't get better
He knew he was dying
"So tell me what you want me to say,
So that you can use it in life."

The children said,
"We need words of wisdom,
Our beloved father.
We want wealth.
Show us the wealth that you have,
So that we can have a good life."

The father, who was on his death bed,
Answered that question:
"Even If I die poor,
Listen to these words of wisdom:
If you want wealth
You'll get that from the farm."

They asked him further,
This father who had high fever:
"Why don't you tell us
The meaning of this riddle.
We are not intelligent enough
To solve this proverb.
How do we get the wealth?"

"First you should write
Work in the fields,
Then you will be rich
I'm now departing,
Death is taking me away.
If you want wealth
You'll get it from the farm."

As soon as he finished his words of wisdom
Death took his soul
And the children together
Remembered his words:
"If you want wealth,
You'll get it from the farm."

They thought of the proverb.
Both children decided after two days
To start a farm in the thickest forest -
For if you want wealth
You'll get it from the farm.

They sowed various seeds
From coffee to rice.
When it rained, the seeds sprouted.
If you want wealth,
You'll get it from the farm.

They weeded without a problem.
They had a good crop.
They had a lot of food.
They remembered their father's words -
"If you want wealth,
You'll get it from the farm."

They bought cows and bulls
They bought utensils, machines and bicycles.
They didn't want alcohol -
Because alcohol is not wealth.
If you want wealth,
You'll get it from the farm.

They increased production
And built more houses.
They preached about wealth
And they had a big signpost:


Translated from the Swahili by Wardsan Zubeir Masabo

Kama mnataka mali mtazipata shambani

1. Karudi baba mmoja,
toka safari ya mbali,
Kavimba yote mapaja,
na kutetemeka mwili,
Watoto wake wakaja,
ili kumtaka hali,
Wakataka na kauli iwafae maishani.

2. Akatamka mgonjwa,
ninaumwa kwelikweli,
Hata kama nikichanjwa,
haitoki homa kali,
Roho naona yachinjwa,
kifo kimenikabili,
Semeni niseme nini,
kiwafae maishani.

3. Yakawatoka kinywani,
maneno yenye akili,
Baba yetu wa thamani,
sisi tunataka mali,
Urithi tunatamani,
mali yetu ya halali,
Sema iko wapi mali,
itufae maishani

4. Baba aliye kufani,
akajibu lile swali,
Ninakufa maskini,
baba yenu sina hali,
Neno moja lishikeni,
kama mnataka mali,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

5. Wakazidi kumchimba,
baba mwenye homa kali,
Baba yetu watufumba,
hatujui fumbo hili,
akili zetu nyembamba,
hazijajua methali,
Kama tunataka mali,
tutapataje shambani?

6. Kwanza shirikianeni,
nawapa hiyo kauli,
Fanyeni kazi shambani,
mwisho mtapata mali,
haya sasa buriani,
kifo kimeniwasili,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

7. Alipokwisha kutaja,
fumbo hili la akili,
Mauti nayo yakaja,
roho ikaacha mwili,
Na watoto kwa umoja,
wakakumbuka kauli,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

8. Fumbo wakatafakari,
watoto wale wawili,
wakakata na shauri,
baada ya siku mbili,
wote wakawa tayari,
pori nene kukabili,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

9. Wakazipanda shambani,
mbegu nyingi mbalimbali,
tangu zile za mibuni,
hadi zitupazo wali,
na mvua ikaja chini,
wakaona na dalili,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

10. Shamba wakapalilia,
bila kupata ajali,
Mavuno yakawajia,
wakafaidi ugali,
Wote wakashangilia,
wakakumbuka kauli,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

11. Wakanunua na ng'ombe,
majike kwa mafahali,
wakapata na vikombe,
mashine na baiskeli,
Hawakuitaka pombe,
sababu pombe si mali,
Kama mnataka mali,
mtayapata shambani.

12. Wakaongeza mazao,
na nyumba za matofali,
Pale penye shamba lao,
wakaihubiri mali,
Wakakiweka kibao,
wakaandika kauli...



Translation commentary

I was born in England but brought up in Tanzania until I was five and so Swahili was the first language I spoke. When I moved back to England I quickly forgot how to speak to Swahili – I could understand it but couldn't reply when anyone spoke to me. My mum then said she would only speak to me in Swahili, and that is why I can now read and speak it quite well. My mum and dad often send me books of African literature like 'Poems from East Africa' and the 'Song of Lawino' by Okot P'Bitek. They want me to stay in touch with my Swahili background.

However it was my grandma who sent me this traditional poem to translate. When I first looked at it I found the simple vocabulary easy, though words like 'fever' and other unfamiliar things were difficult as they weren't known to me. It was a very long job to translate, though it became easier as the poem is very repetitive, especially the chorus and also what the daughters and sons of the old man say. I wanted to keep the poem in English as close as possible to the original and that is how I went about getting my version.

Wardsan Zubeir Masabo