Secondary school education in Kenya was considered incomplete if one did not read Kiswahili (fasihi) books famously known as ‘Set books’.
They played a key role and a section of Kenyans have reminisced on the impact they had on their lives, as we mark World Kiswahili Language day.
These books were meant to among other things enrich students’ knowledge and grasp of the Kiswahili language as well as enhance creativity.
Some of the set books Kenyans will most remember are Kifo Kisimani, Utengano, Kidagaa Kimemwozea, and Mayai Waziri wa Maradhi, among others.
The books were read mostly by people now in their late 20s, early 30s and mid-30s.
Kifo Kisimani, a Swahili play, was introduced for Form Three and Form Four students countrywide in 2005, enjoying a seven-year examinable coverage. It was authored by Kithaka wa Mberia, a linguistics and languages professor at the University of Nairobi.
Utengano on the other hand is a novel, that widely addresses social issues like divorce, the plight of women in society, male chauvinism, politics and forgiveness. The author, Said A. Mohamed illustrates how Kazija, a mistress to the rich politician and businessman, Bwana Maksuudi, plots to antagonize Maksuudi and his son, Mussa. She succeeds when she invites both father and son in the house. Maksuudi and Mussa fight, leading to their separation. Kazija does these to avenge her friend's daughter, Biti Sururu, Bi. Farashuu's daughter. Maksuudi had once married her daughter, battered and divorced her later, making her end up poor and helpless, a drunkard and later dies.
Mayai Waziri wa Maradhi na Hadithi Nyingine is a compilation of short stories and Nouvelles inspired by events from communities within East Africa, especially along the Kenyan and Tanzania Coast. It was written by K W Wamitila and portrayed what they go through from jealousy, pride, drug abuse, greed for power and other issues still at play and relevant today.
Other set books read in secondary schools before the 2010s were Siku Njema, Shamba la Wanyama, Visiki, Amezidi, and others.