The John W. T. Allen Collection includes the correspondence and working papers of J.W.T. Allen, including writings on Swahili poetry, culture and customs together with of Allen's extensive collection of Swahili poetic manuscripts held by the University of Dar es Salaam.
J.W.T. Allen was born in Chalfont-St-Giles, Buckinghamshire, in 1904. He was the son of Roland Allen, a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in North China, as well as being a radical critic of the Church. J.W.T. Allen was educated at Westminster School and then proceeded to study Classics at St John's College, Oxford.
In 1927, he was sent to Sudan to work on the Gezia Cotton Scheme Project for the Sudan Plantations Syndicate as Assistant Inspector of a cotton plantation. While there, he began to learn Arabic and developed an interest in Islamic culture and the Islamic world. In 1929, he returned to England and entered the Colonial Service as Superintendent of Schools in Tanganyika and he became increasingly interested in the Swahili language. In 1932, he gained distance learning's Diploma in Swahili from the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Between 1947 and 1952, J.W.T. Allen became Political officer and then Deputy British Agent in the Western Aden Protectorate. In 1953, Allen returned to Tanganyika, but in 1958 he decided to leave the Colonial Service, and by 1959 he was the Secretary of the Inter-territorial Swahili Language Committee. Since then he focused on the study of the Swahili language and he began collecting and editing Swahili and Arabic manuscripts from the most outstanding Swahili writers, the most notable being Shabaan Robert. He was helped by his wife Winifred 'Winkie' Ethel Emma Brooke who he had married in 1930.
Overall, Allen made extensive collections on the East African coast in connection with his academic post of Research fellow at the University College, Dar es Salaam, and in conjunction with the East African Swahili Committee. Finally, between 1968 and 1970, he became Director of the newly established Institute of Swahili Research at the University of Dar es Salaam, and after he retired he set up the special Swahili language programme at the Danish Volunteer Training Centre in Tengeru, near Arusha, with the help of his wife.
J.W.T. Allen died in 1979.
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