Rose Sau Lugano

Rose Lugano likes to use music in her Swahili classes at UF; when an essay is due on a Friday, students are rewarded by a chance to learn and sing songs. “Swanglish has renamed Friday as Furahiday, and furahi means ‘happy.’” The songs will stay with the students long after class, and even after the course; music “ignites memories” of the associated words and structures. Every week her students also learn one of the more than 500 Swahili proverbs—another bit of language and culture that will stay with them for a long time.

Rose Sau Lugano was born in the coastal region of Kenya, in 1958.  In her village, the everyday language was Kitaita, a Bantu language related to Swahili; like most Africans, she soon became trilingual. English was the language of instruction in the schools, which followed British models, though Kitaita was often used to clarify or supplement the other languages.  Swahili, the national language of Kenya, was taught as a separate subject. Kitaita, she notes, like some other African languages, is “endangered,” less and less useful as its speakers move away from their home base. She herself moved for high school to Mombasa, in the traditionally Swahili-speaking part of Kenya, and this stimulated her love of that language.

With teaching in mind, Rose completed a Bachelor’s degree at Kenyatta University in Nairobi with concentrations in Swahili, linguistics, and physical education (like Chris Overstreet in Germany, she needed to be able to teach two subjects! She taught for several years and then, in 1987-89, she undertook a Master’s at the University of Nairobi, as part of a professional development program for Swahili instructors. After another decade of teaching Swahili at Kenyatta University, she came to the U.S. to work on a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Penn State, with a minor in Women’s Studies. In her thesis, she discusses the portrayal of female children in some African novels written in Swahili and English.

Rose’s doctoral work was complicated by two factors: she brought her three teen-age daughters with her to Penn State, and—of course—she was a teaching assistant. (The daughters did well, eventually earning college degrees in the U.S.; two of them have returned to Kenya.) Swahili was the only African language offered at Penn, and Rose felt comfortable teaching these courses.  However, for fifteen years she had been teaching students to understand their native language, or an established second language, in Kenya. A classroom full of students who had never even heard an African language spoken required a different approach. Besides some basic guidance in general classroom techniques, she attended the summer institute at Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by the National African Language Resource Center.

In 2004, the newly minted Dr. Lugano came to UF as a lecturer, and she remains delighted with Gainesville. The climate and vegetation remind her of home.  The Center for African Studies at UF provides a satisfying sense of collegiality: not only does UF offer several years of Swahili, but Akan, Amharic, Wolof, Xhosa, and Yoruba are taught, as well as Arabic, and there is far more opportunity to teach African literatures and cultures. “We have a very strong program; I think we have the best program in the nation,” she observes. Moreover, she has found teaching support and ideas through visiting the classes of other language lecturers, including Yukari Nakamura Deacon (URL) in Japanese and Malka Dagan in Hebrew. Support also comes from beyond UF, for example through such resources as the Kiswahili kwa kompyuta website at University of Georgia.

Rose has taught beginning, intermediate, and advanced Swahili at UF, and also regularly teaches a course on African women authors from many cultures; although she begins with Mwana Kupona’s poem from about 1860, most of these authors are contemporary. In 2010, she won a Teaching Award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. When the African Languages Initiative began summer language institutes at UF, she was involved in the Swahili program. Through AFLI contacts, she undertook the creation of a workbook (soon to be published) for the classic textbook Swahili: A Foundation for Speaking, Reading & Writing, by Thomas J. Hinnebusch et al.

Rose is also developing a computer-based Swahili proficiency test for American students, which will have its first trial in the Language Learning Center this Fall.