Papers of John Willoughby Tarleton Allen

Scope and Content

The collection comprises Swahili language materials and the working papers of John Willoughby Tarleton Allen. They include his correspondence (1963-1977); papers on Swahili culture, poetry and customs; published articles.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Willoughby Tarleton Allen was born on 14 November 1904 in Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, the son of the missionary Roland Allen and his wife (Mary) Beatrice (ne Tarleton). Roland Allen worked in North China as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, resigning in 1907, and was a radical critic of the Church. JWT Allen studied at Westminster School, and later studied classics at St John's College, Oxford. In 1927, after his studies were completed, Allen travelled to the Sudan to work on the Gezia Cotton Scheme Project for the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, where he was an Assistant Inspector of a cotton plantation. Here he learned to speak Arabic, and developed an interest in Islamic culture and the Islamic world. Allen returned to England in 1929. In the same year, he entered the Colonial Service, as Superintendent of Schools in Tanganyika (later Tanzania). On 29th September 1930 he married Winifred 'Winkie' Ethel Emma Brooke. Allen became increasingly interested in the Swahili language, and in 1932 he gained a diploma in Swahili from SOAS via distance learning. Between 1947 and 1952 he worked firstly as a Political Officer and then as a Deputy British Agent in the Western Aden Protectorate. He returned to Tanganyika (Tanzania) in 1952, and left the Colonial Service in 1958. Allen was appointed as Secretary of the Inter-Territorial Swahili Language Committee in 1959, and remained so for many years, becoming a close personal friend of many East African writers, notably Shaaban Robert. Allen was appointed as Honorary Research Fellow at University College, Dar-es-Salaam in May 1965 with a Rockerfeller Foundation grant to document Swahili. His duties included collecting Swahili and Arabic manuscripts, editing and publishing them. Assisted by his wife, Allen made extensive collections on the East African coast in connection with his academic post and in conjunction with the East African Swahili Committee. The collection remained at Dar-es-Salaam but a microfilm copy was deposited at SOAS Library. The collection is described in Allen's detailed catalogue The Swahili and Arabic Manuscripts and Tapes in the Library and the University College of Dar-es-Salaam: a catalogue (Brill: Leiden. 1970). From 1968 to 1970 Allen was Director of the Institute of Swahili Research at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, and his magnum opus Tendi was published in 1971. After his retirement from the University, John and Winifred Allen spent the period 1970-1973 running the special Swahili language programme at the Danish Volunteer Training Centre in Tengeru, near Arusha. Allen continued his work during his retirement, translating and publishing Swahili texts. The Allens had four children - Hubert John Brooke (b.1931), Edith Finetta (1934-1935), Margaret Beatrice (b.1936) and Helen Mary (b.1938). John Allen died in on 6 April 1979. His wife Winifred died on 22 March 1991. Biographical details can be found in Der Swahilist John Willoughby Tarleton Allen - Biographie, Werk und Bibliothek by Friederike Wilkening (Universitt zu Koln, 1998)


The collection has been arranged into the following sections: correspondence; Swahili culture; Swahili poetry; customs of Swahili Desturi Za Waswahili; Danish Volunteer Training Centre / Britain-Tanzania Society; organisations; published articles; The Story of Old Kerebe: Traditional Customs and Mores by Aniceti Kitereza; miscellaneous; Arabic scripts. The correspondence is arranged in chronological order.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in 1982.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist

Related Material

Related Collections at SOAS: SOAS Library has copies, bound into 19 volumes, of Swahili and Arabic manuscripts deposited by Allen in the University Library at Dar-es-Salaam [MS 279888].