When she left the country a few years ago and moved to Dubai, Jamila Kizondo noted with dismay that more often other migrants from Africa soon forgot their culture and traditions.
She knew only too well that unless she practices her Swahili culture, the same fate could well befall her. The terrifying thought kept bothering her and later her American husband nudged her to take to social media to showcase her culture.
She liked the idea and has since been using her pages under the name JKizondo Swahili Bites to entertain, educate, and promote her culture, amassing 64,000 followers on TikTok, 30,000 on Instagram, and 7,000 on Facebook.
“Having been born and raised in Mombasa, an area where we speak Kenya’s national language, Kiswahili, I challenge myself daily to ensure I embrace and never forget my roots,” says Ms Kizondo, a mother of two.
It was while living in Japan for three years that she saw how cultural preservation was a big deal.
“The country and its people taught me the real definition of culture. They are so attached to their arts and values, this contributed to who I am today,” says Ms Kizondo.
She has always been a good cook, taught from a tender age as a rite of passage for girls aged eight years old. She introduced Swahili cuisine to Japanese mothers who were also her close friends.
“Japan is a unique country. People are attached to their culture. I challenged myself if these people could be proud of their backgrounds and be original about it, why not me? My husband encouraged me to introduce my cooking skills to the mothers and oh lord, they not only loved it but started embracing it too,” says Ms Kizondo.
As word about her cooking skills went around, she would be tasked to prepare her favourite delicacies whenever during gatherings.
“Unfortunately we had to move out of Japan to America. My husband’s work (a basketball coach) was not doing well and we thought it best to take the children to experience their motherland, where their dad was born and raised,” explains Ms Kizondo.
In America, her audience expanded. “I chose social media to be my food content area because, with the advancement in technology, this is an easy way to network and reach as many people as possible. As a person who has lived in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Japan and visited Oman, and Malaysia among others, I now have a better understanding of other peoples’ cultures and traditions,” says Ms Kizondo.
In the videos posted on her social media platforms, she dresses in Swahili attire and responds to her husband in fluent Kiswahili.
She shares her cooking secrets as she prepares Swahili delicacies such as mahamri, biriyani, and mandazi among others.
“Social media provides a platform where I get to meet many people from other cultures. I realised there was a gap when it comes to Swahili culture, history, language, and food, and this needed to be addressed hence why I started the video skits to educate people across the world. People started gaining knowledge about the beauty of Swahili culture and tradition while some got encouraged and even started their small businesses while at home,” says Ms Kizondo.
Her target audience is diverse, from old people who relocated from Africa many decades ago to the younger generation and officials who work in governments.
“For people who relocate, they need to understand and be reminded where they come from, they tend to forget that. There is beauty in each culture, if people started embracing it, then the world will be a better place,” says Ms Kizondo who also teaches Kiswahili in American schools.
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The United Nations last year announced July 7 will be World Kiswahili Day and Ms Kizondo challenges the government to aggressively promote the Swahili culture.
“The Kenyan government should embrace such a day. There is a need to introduce a syllabus in educational institutions where culture will be taught and get to learn other cultures while at a tender age,” says Ms Kizondo.
She has received positive feedback from people across the world who have expressed an interest in learning the language.
She is looking into starting a Swahili Culture Association in the future.