Swahili people

Swahili people

ethnic group

popplace=Dar-Es-Salaam (Tanzania), Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Comoros
langs=Swahili, Portuguese, English, French
related=Kikuyu, Makonde, Shirazi [http://www.africa.upenn.edu/NEH/neh.html]

The Swahili are a people and culture found on the coast of East Africa, mainly the coastal regions and the islands of Kenya and Tanzania, and north Mozambique. According to JoshuaProject, ethnic Swahili number in at around 1,328,000. [ [http://www.joshuaproject.net/peoples.php?rop3=109644 Swahili people listing] - JoshuaProject, Retrieved on 2007-08-28] The number of Swahili speakers, on the other hand, numbers at around 90 million people. The name "Swahili" is derived from the Arabic word "Sawahil", meaning "coastal dwellers", and they speak the Swahili language. Tanzania's official language is Swahili. Thus those who live in this country need not learn an additional language. However, those who live elsewhere in East Africa also speak the official languages of their respective countries: English in Kenya, Portuguese in Mozambique, and French in Comoros. Note that only a small fraction of those who use Swahili are first language speakers and even fewer are ethnic Swahilis. This point is often obscured by the Swahili linguistic tradition in which those who speak the language are often called Swahili (Waswahili) regardless of their actual ethnic origins. In otherwords, the terms 'Swahili' can mean 'those who speak Swahili' or it can mean 'ethnic Swahili people'.


The Swahili are unique Bantu inhabitants of the East African Coast mainly from Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. They are mainly united by culture and under the mother tongue of Kiswahili, a Bantu language. [http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/people/Swahili.html Swahili People ] ] This also extends to Arab, Persian, and other migrants who reached the coast some believe as early as the 7th-8th c. CE, and mixed with the local people there, providing considerable cultural infusion and numerous loan words from Arabic and Persian. [Gilbert. [http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ht/36.1/gilbert.html Coastal East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean] ] Archaeologist, Felix Chami notes the presence of Bantu settlements straddling the East African coast as early as the beginning of the 1st millennium. They evolved gradually from the 6th century onward to accommodate for an increase in trade (mainly with Arab merchants), population growth, and further centralized urbanization; developing into what would later become known as the Swahili City-States. [African Archaeological Review, Volume 15, Number 3, September 1998 , pp. 199-218(20)]


Islam established its presence in the East African coast from around 1012 AD, when the traders from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula continued to journey to these parts during monsoon seasons and to interact with the local people through trade, intermarriage, and an exchange of ideas. Because of this interaction, most of the Swahili today are Muslim. The unifying force of Islam consolidated into an amalgam of otherwise different ethnicities and provided an enduring common identity for many of the people in coastal East Africa. The Swahili follow a very strict and orthodox form of Islam. They believe in jinns and most men wear protective amulets around their necks, which contain verses from the Koran. Divination is practiced through Koranic readings. Often the diviner incorporates verses from the Qu'ran into treatments for certain diseases. On occasion, he instructs a patient to soak a piece of paper containing verses of the Qu'ran in water. With this ink infused water, literally containing the word of Allah, the patient will then wash his body or drink it to cure himself of his affliction. It is only prophets and teachers of Islam who are permitted to become medicine men among the Swahili.


For centuries the Swahili depended greatly on trade from the Indian Ocean. The Swahili have played a vital role as middle man between east, central and south Africa, and the outside world. Trade contacts have been noted as early as 100 A.D. by early Roman writers who visited the East African coast in the first century. Trade routes extended across Tanzania into modern day Zaire, along which goods were brought to the coasts and were sold to Arab, Indian, and Portuguese traders. Materials attributed to this network of trade were also found at Great Zimbabwe. During the apogee of the middle ages, ivory and slaves became a substantial source of revenue. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil, which was then a Portuguese colony. Swahili fishermen of today still rely on the ocean to supply their primary source of income. Fish is sold to their inland neighbors in exchange for products of the interior.


Previously thought by many scholars to be essentially of Arabic or Persian style and origin; archaeological, written, linguistic, and cultural evidence instead suggests a predominantly African genesis and sustainment. This would be accompanied later by an enduring Arabic and Islamic influence in the form of trade, inter-marriage, and an exchange of ideas. [ [http://www.urban-research.net/consultants.jkimaryo.2000paper1.html East African Coastal Historical Towns: Asiatic or African?] - by Jacob L. Kimaryo (2000)] [Mark Horton, Shanga: a Muslim Trading Community on the East African Coast (Nairobi: 1996)] Upon visiting Kilwa in 1331, the great Berber explorer Ibn Battuta was impressed by the substantial beauty that he encountered there. He describes its inhabitants as "Zanj, jet-black in colour, and with tattoo marks on their faces", and notes that "Kulwa is a very fine and substantially built town, and all its buildings are of wood" (his description of Mombasa was essentially the same). [ [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1354-ibnbattuta.html Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354] - Medieval Sourcebook, Retrieved on 2007-08-28.] Kimaryo points out that the distinctive tattoo marks are common among the Makonde. Architecture included arches, courtyards, isolated women's quarters, the mihrab, towers, and decorative elements on the buildings themselves. Many ruins may still be observed near the southern Kenyan port of Malindi in the Gede ruins ("the lost city of Gede/Gedi"). [ [http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/conMediaFile.4163/Ruins-of-the-walled-city-of-Gedi-Kenya.html Ruins of the walled city of Gedi, Kenya] ]


ee also

* Swahili language
* Swahililand
* Swahili architecture
* Taqiyah (cap)

External links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/index_section5.shtml The Story of Africa: The Swahili] — BBC World Service
* [http://www.swahilionline.com/index.html Swahili Culture]

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