Shaaban bin ("son of") Robert was born January 1, 1909, in the tiny village of Vibamba south of the town of Tanga in northeastern Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in East Africa. Not much is known of his parents or of the actual details of his early life. It has been asserted that his parents came from a clan of Yao witchdoctors, but this has been disputed. The surname Robert is most likely a name his father was given when he went to primary school. Shaaban himself for a time wrote it Roberts rather than Robert. Whatever his parental origin, Shaaban Robert never referred to himself as Yao and was one of the earliest to call himself a Swahili person.