Swahili culture


Swahili culture

Thousands of years ago the eastern coast of Africa was seen as highly valuable commercial land. Therefore many Muslims and Bantu-speaking people migrated and settled along the African coast. Due to this combination of peoples, a unique language and culture arose on the eastern coast. The Swahili civilization spread down the coast until it reached Zanzibar ["Swahili Culture". 2006. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 8/31/06. ] .

Some of the main Swahili city-states included Gede, Pate, Malindi, Zanzibar, and Kilwa. Many of these city-states were Muslim and very cosmopolitan. Each of these states were politically independent of each other ["Swahili Information". Art & Life in Africa. 1998. The University of Iowa. 8/31/06. http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/people/Swahili.html] . They all competed against one another for the best of the African trade business. The chief export of these cultures was ebony, gold, ivory, and sandalwood. These city-states began to diminish toward the sixteenth century. Therefore, the Swahili trading centers went out of business [Hooker, Richard. "Kingdoms in Africa". Civilizations in Africa. 1997. Washington State University. 8/30/06. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CIVAFRCA/SWAHILI.HTM] .

Even though the trade centers went obsolete hundreds of years ago, the Swahili culture is still a very big part of the African way of life. The aspects of the Swahili culture are diverse due to its many origins when it was first created. For example, in Swahili cuisine you will find influences from Indian, Arabic, and European cultures. There are also alterations to certain dishes due to religious reasons. For instance pork is seldom used in food because most of the Swahili are MuslimMwambo.com. 8/30/06. http://www.mwambao.com/dishes.htm] . Some food that is common in the everyday lives of the Swahili is fish, tropical fruits, and exotic spices.

Arts and crafts

Another cultural aspect of the Swahili culture is their use of arts and crafts, which the Swahili find significance in. When creating art they express themselves through creativity as well as shape and function. Some of multicultural influences can be seen in Swahili art, furniture, and architecture. They do not often use designs with images of living beings due to their Muslim heritage, instead Swahili designs are primarily geometric. There are any important clothes that are part of their arts and crafts such as the Kanga. The Kanga is not only a rectangular piece of cloth but is an artifact of the Swahili culture. The cloth should be made with extreme care. If the cloth doesn’t match the season then it doesn’t deserve to be a Kanga and can be used as a baby diaper or an apron for the kitchen. Even though the Kanga is quite cheap it is still a main part of the Swahili culture. The Kanga is made in Kenya and is mostly appealing to woman rather than men but men are not restricted to using it. The cloth is used as a sling to carry babies, melons on their heads and can also be used to use as a kitchen apron.

Music

An additional part of Swahili culture is their music. Tarabu is the main type of music that the Swahili listen to. It is a combination of Swahili tunes sung in rhythmic poem mixed in with Arabic or even Indian melodies [Clarke, Donald. "Tarabu". MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 2005. Musicweb International. 8/30/06. ] . It was traditionally performed at weddings and gatherings. Over the years Tarabu has grown to not only included ethnic instruments, but also the fiddle, tambourine, guitar, keyboard, and drums. Even though the instruments have changed, the basic singing style is still the same as always.

References


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