Swahili coast

The Swahili coast is a coastal area in Southeast Africa inhabited by the Swahili people. It mainly consists of littoral Kenya, Tanzania, and northern Mozambique. The term may also include some of the Indian Ocean islands, such as Zanzibar, Pate and Comoros, which lie off the Swahili coast. The Swahili coast has a distinct culture, demography, religion and geography, and as a result - along with other factors, including economic - has witnessed rising secessionism.[1]


Swahili coast
The Swahili coast

The major ports along the Swahili coast include:

Off-shore island groups associated with this coastal region:

Associated coastal and island people through Swahili culture include:


Empire of Oman
The Omani Empire at its peak under Saif bin Sultan

Parts of the area that are today considered Swahili coast were known as Azania or Zingion in the Greco-Roman era, and as Zanj or Zinj in Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian literature from the 7th to the 14th century.[2][3] Archaeological evidences of small Hindu settlements from India have been found from 2nd century CE mainly in the Swahili coast of Zanzibar, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Madagascar [4][5]. Historical documents including the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and works by Ibn Battuta describe the society, culture, and economy of the Swahili coast at various points in its history.

The rise of the Swahili coast city-states can be largely attributed to the region's extensive participation in a trade network that spanned the Indian Ocean.[6][7] Some Swahili coast exports included sorghums, millets, sesame, coconut oil, vinegar, copra, dried fish, hardwoods, ebony, mangrove boats, sisal, coir, rubber, rock crystal, tobacco, carved doors and chests, forged iron, incense, myrrh, gums and resins, gold, copper, iron, domestic and field slaves, and concubines. Some of the imports received from Asia and Europe include cottons, silks, woolens, glass and stone beads, metal wire, jewelry, sandalwood, cosmetics, fragrances, kohl, rice, spices, coffee, tea, other foods and flavorings, teak, iron and brass fittings, sailcloth, pottery, porcelain, silver, brass, glass, paper, paints, ink, carved wood, books, carved chests, arms, ammunition, gunpowder, swords and daggers, gold, silver, brass, bronze, religious specialists, and craftsmen.[6] Evidence for Indian Ocean trade includes the presence of pot sherds on coastal archaeological sites that can be traced back to China and India.[8]

A product of the multi-cultured environment of the Swahili coast was the development of the Swahili language, a fundamentally Bantu language that contains a number of Arabic [9] and Hindu [10] loanwords due to the significant trade with Arab and India [5].

One of the things that was traded along the Swahili coast was gold. Gold was mined in Zimbabwe and transported through other parts of the Swahili coast.[11] In the 13th century, the city of Kilwa, an island off the coast, took control of the gold trade from Banadir.[12] Kilwa became very powerful [13] and wealthy [14] because of its control of the gold trade, thriving until the Portuguese arrived on the Eastern coast of Africa. In order to take control of the gold trade the Portuguese attacked settlements on the Swahili coast [15], including Kilwa in 1505.[16] The city is in ruins to this day.

The kingdoms on the Swahili coast rose because of the trade networks in which they were involved, but they began to decline, possibly in part because of colonization by the Portuguese, [17] who were interested in controlling the trade markets on the Swahili coast.[17] Since the Portuguese took over the trade markets the kingdoms were not able to trade as much as before and as a result began to decline.

See also


  1. ^ "Contagion of discontent: Muslim extremism spreads down east Africa coastline," The Economist (3 November 2012)
  2. ^ Felix A. Chami, "Kaole and the Swahili World," in Southern Africa and the Swahili World (2002), 6.
  3. ^ A. Lodhi (2000), Oriental influences in Swahili: a study in language and culture contacts, ISBN 978-9173463775, pp. 72-84
  4. ^ A. Lodhi (2000), Oriental influences in Swahili: a study in language and culture contacts, ISBN 978-9173463775, pp. 72-84
  5. ^ a b Constance Jones and James D. Ryan, Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ISBN 978-0816073368, pp. 10-12
  6. ^ a b Horton, Mark; Middleton, John (2000). The Swahili: The social landscape of a mercantile society. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 063118919X.
  7. ^ Philippe Beaujard "East Africa, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar before the sixteenth century, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa" (2007)
  8. ^ BBC Kilwa Pot Sherds http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/transcripts/episode60/
  9. ^ Nurse, Derek; Spear, Thomas (1985). The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800-1500. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  10. ^ A. Lodhi (2000), Oriental influences in Swahili: a study in language and culture contacts, ISBN 978-9173463775, pp. 72-84
  11. ^ "Historic Sites of Kilwa". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  12. ^ "The Story of Africa| BBC World Service". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  13. ^ "The Story of Africa| BBC World Service". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  14. ^ "Historic Sites of Kilwa". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  15. ^ "The Story of Africa| BBC World Service". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  16. ^ "The Story of Africa| BBC World Service". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  17. ^ a b Kusimba, Chapurkha M. (1999). The Rise and Fall of Swahili States. Altamira Press.

Afro-Arabs are people of mixed Arab and African descent as well as groups from Sub-Saharan Africa who have adopted Arab culture. Most Afro-Arabs inhabit North Africa and the Swahili Coast in the African Great Lakes region.

Economic history of the Arab world

Economic history of the Arab world addresses the history of economic activity in the Arabic-speaking countries and the stretching of my Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean in the southeast from the time of its origins in the Arabian peninsula and spread in the 7th century CE Muslim conquests and since.

The regions conquered in the Muslim conquest included rich farming regions in the Maghreb, the Nile Valley and the Fertile Crescent. As is true of the world as a whole, agriculture dominated the economy until the modern period, with livestock grazing playing a particularly large role in the Arab world. Significant trade routes included the Silk Road, the spice trade, and the trade in gold, salt, slaves and luxury goods including ivory and feathers out of sub-Saharan Africa.

Important pre-modern industries included tanning, pottery, and metalwork.

Hadhrami people

The Hadhrami (Arabic: حضرمي‎, sing.) or Hadharem (الحضارم, pl.) are people inhabiting the Hadhramaut region in Yemen and their descendants in diaspora communities around the world. They speak Hadhrami Arabic, which belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.

Among the two million inhabitants of Hadhramaut, there are 1,300 distinct tribes.

Hinduism in Tanzania

The earliest evidence of Hinduism in Tanzania is from the 1st millennium AD when there was trade between East Africa and Indian subcontinent. Most of these traders came from Gujarat, Deccan (now Maharashtra) and Tamil Chola empire. Archaeological evidence of small Hindu settlements have been found in Zanzibar and parts of Swahili coast, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.Pew Research Center estimates there were about 50,000 Hindus in Tanzania in 2010.

Islam in Kenya

Islam is the religion of approximately 9.7 to 11.1 percent of the Kenyan population, or approximately 4.3 million people. The Kenyan coast is mostly populated by Muslims. Nairobi has several mosques and a notable Muslim population.

The vast majority of Muslims in Kenya follow the Sunni Islam of Shafi school of jurisprudence. There are also sizeable populations of Shia and Ahmadi adherents. In large part, Shias are Ismailis descended from or influenced by oceanic traders from the Middle East and India. These Shia Muslims include the Dawoodi Bohra, who number some 6,000-8,000 in the country.

Kilwa Kisiwani

Kilwa Kisiwani is a community on an Indian Ocean island off the southern coast of present-day Tanzania in eastern Africa. Historically, it was the center of the Kilwa Sultanate, a medieval sultanate whose authority at its height in the 13th-15th centuries CE stretched the entire length of the Swahili Coast. Kilwa Kisiwani has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the nearby stonetown Songo Mnara.

Liwa (music)

Līwa (Arabic: ليوه‎ / ALA-LC: laywah) is a traditional dance of African origin performed in Eastern Arabia (Arab states of the Persian Gulf), mainly within communities of descendants of people from the Swahili Coast (Tanzania and Zanzibar). It is also performed by the African-descended Sheedi community, as well as the Baloch of Pakistan's Makran Coast and Karachi area.


Mandazi, also known as the dabo or Dahir (Swahili: Mandazi, Maandazi), is a form of fried bread that originated on the Swahili Coast. It is one of the principal dishes in the cuisine of the Swahili people who inhabit the African Great Lakes. The dish is popular in the region, as it is convenient to make, can be eaten with almost any food or dips or just as a snack by itself, and can be saved and reheated for later consumption.

Neville Chittick

Dr. Neville H. Chittick (September 18, 1924 – July 27, 1984) was a British scholar and archaeologist. He specialized in the historic cultures of Northeast Africa, and also devoted various works to the Swahili Coast.


Omanis (Arabic: الشعب العماني‎) are the nationals of Oman. Omanis have inhabited the territory that is now Oman for thousands of years. In the eighteenth century, an alliance of traders and rulers transformed Muscat (Oman's capital) into the leading port of the Persian Gulf. Omani people are ethnically diverse; the Omani citizen population consists of many different ethnic groups. The majority of the population consists of Arabs, with many of these Arabs being Swahili language speakers and returnees from the Swahili Coast, particularly Zanzibar. Additionally, there are ethnic Balochis, Lurs, Persians and Mehri. There are also Omanis from South Asia like the Lawatis and others. Moreover, in Dhofar, Sur and Muscat, people of Black African origin can be found. They are the descendents of the slaves who were brought from Africa many years ago.Omani citizens make up the majority of Oman's total population. Over one and a half million other Omanis live in other areas of the Middle East and the Swahili Coast.

Pate Island

Pate (Paté) Island (Swahili pronunciation: [ˈpate]) is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya, to which it belongs. It is the largest island in the Lamu Archipelago, which lie between the towns of Lamu and Kiunga in the former Coast Province. The island is almost completely surrounded by mangroves.

Like much of the Swahili Coast, Pate's history was marked by a steady transition from agricultural communities in the early first millennium into a specialized, urban trading society around the 10th century, likely earlier. Islam spread down the coast from African Muslims in the Horn of Africa, helping to develop what would be known as the Swahili culture. Despite myths to the contrary, Pate was neither an Arab nor Persian colony, but an African town frequented by trading Arabs, Persians, Indians, and others. It was the centre of the Pate sultanate from the 13th–19th centuries. The Swahili port of Pate long vied with Lamu and Takwa (on Manda Island) for economic dominance of the area, and came into prominence around the 14th century. It was subjugated by Lamu, however, in the late 19th century.

Public transportation is provided by a few mini buses (known as matatus). The main administrative centre on the island, with the police station, is Faza.

Pemba Island

Pemba Island (Arabic: الجزيرة الخضراء‎ al-Jazīra al-khadrā, literally "The Green Island"), is an island forming part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, lying within the Swahili Coast in the Indian Ocean.

Shirazi people

The Shirazi people, also known as Mbwera, are an ethnic group inhabiting the Swahili coast and the nearby Indian ocean islands. They are particularly concentrated on the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Comoros. Their origins are linked to Shiraz and the southwestern coastal region of Persia (now Iran). The Shirazi are notable for helping spread Islam on the Swahili Coast, their role in the establishment of the local Arab-Swahili sultanates, their influence in the development of the Swahili language, and the wealth they accumulated from trading commodities and Bantu-speaking African slaves. The East African coastal area and the nearby islands served as their commercial base.


Sultan (; Arabic: سلطان‎ sulṭān, pronounced [sʊlˈtˤɑːn, solˈtˤɑːn]) is a position with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), albeit without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. The adjective form of the word is "sultanic", and the dynasty and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate (سلطنة salṭanah).

The term is distinct from king (ملك malik), despite both referring to a sovereign ruler. The use of "sultan" is restricted to Muslim countries, where the title carries religious significance, contrasting the more secular king, which is used in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

A feminine form of sultan, used by Westerners, is Sultana or Sultanah and this title has been used legally for some (not all) Muslim women monarchs and sultan's mothers and chief consorts. However, Turkish and Ottoman Turkish also uses sultan for imperial lady, as Turkish grammar—which is influenced by Persian grammar—uses the same words for both women and men. However, this styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German field marshal might be styled Frau Feldmarschall (similarly, in French, constructions of the type madame la maréchale are quite common). The female leaders in Muslim history are correctly known as "sultanas". However, the wife of the sultan in the Sultanate of Sulu is styled as the "panguian" while the sultan's chief wife in many sultanates of Indonesia and Malaysia are known as "permaisuri", "Tunku Ampuan", "Raja Perempuan", or "Tengku Ampuan". The queen consort in Brunei especially is known as Raja Isteri with the title of Pengiran Anak suffixed, should the queen consort also be a royal princess.

In recent years, "sultan" has been gradually replaced by "king" by contemporary hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law. A notable example is Morocco, whose monarch changed his title from sultan to king in 1957.

Sultanate of Zanzibar

The Sultanate of Zanzibar (Swahili: Usultani wa Zanzibar, Arabic: سلطنة زنجبار‎, romanized: Sulṭanat Zanjībār), also known as the Zanzibar Sultanate, comprised the territories over which the Sultan of Zanzibar was the sovereign. Those territories varied over time, and at one point included all of what is now Kenya as well as the Zanzibar Archipelago of the Swahili Coast. Later, the kingdom's realm included only a ten mile wide coastal strip of Kenya and Zanzibar. Under an agreement concluded on 8 October 1963, the Sultan relinquished sovereignty over his remaining territory in Kenya. On 12 January 1964, Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah was deposed and lost sovereignty over the last of his dominions, Zanzibar.

Swahili architecture

Swahili architecture is a term used today to designate a whole range of diverse building traditions practiced or once practiced along the eastern and southeastern coasts of Africa. What is today seen as typically Swahili architecture is still very visible in the thriving urban centers of Mombasa, Lamu and Zanzibar. As archeological evidence has revealed, Swahili coast construction technologies are in many ways an extension of mainland African traditions, although structural elements, such as domes and barrel vaulting clearly connect to Persian Gulf area and South Asia building traditions as well. Exotic ornament and design elements also connected the architecture of the Swahili coast to other Islamic port cities. In fact, many of the classic mansions and palaces of the Swahili coast belonged to wealthy merchants and landowners, who played a key role in the mercantile economy of the Swahili coast. It was not the case, as British archeologists assumed during the colonial period (today some people still believe this outdated information, which is not corroborated by evidence), that Arab or Persian colonizers brought stone architecture and urban civilization to the Swahili coast. Local people--who of course also had overseas connections and relations--developed the Swahili coast built environment. Most importantly, even when a house was made to look like a house across the Indian Ocean it structured local experiences. Swahili architecture exhibits a range of influences and innovations and diverse forms and histories interlock and overlap to create densely layered structures that cannot be broken down into distinct stylistic parts. Many spectacular ruins of the so-called golden age of Swahili architecture may also still be observed near the southern Kenyan port of Malindi in the ruins of Gedi (the lost city of Gede/Gedi).

Swahili culture

Swahili culture is the culture of the Swahili people inhabiting the Swahili coast. This littoral area encompasses Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique, as well as the adjacent islands of Zanzibar and Comoros and some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi. They speak Swahili as their native language, which belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo family.

Swahili culture is the product of the history of the coastal part of the African Great Lakes region. As with the Swahili language, Swahili culture has a Bantu core that has borrowed from foreign influences.

Swahili people

The Swahili people (or Waswahili) are an ethnic and cultural group inhabiting East Africa. Members primarily reside on the Swahili coast, in an area encompassing the Zanzibar archipelago, littoral Kenya, the Tanzania seaboard, and northern Mozambique. The name Swahili is derived from Arabic: سواحل‎, romanized: Sawāhil, lit. 'coasts'. The Swahili speak the Swahili language, which belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo family.


Zanj (Arabic: زَنْج‎; adjective Arabic: زنجي‎, romanized: Zanjī, Persian: زنگی‎, romanized: Zangī, Turkish: Zencî).) was a name used by medieval Muslim geographers to refer to both a certain portion of Southeast Africa (primarily the Swahili Coast) and to its Bantu inhabitants. This word is also the origin of the place-names Zanzibar ("coast of the Zanji") and the Sea of Zanj.

The latinization Zingium serves as an archaic name for the coastal area in modern Kenya and Tanzania in southern East Africa. The architecture of these commercial urban settlements are now a subject of study for urban planning. For centuries the coastal settlements were a source of ivory, gold, and slaves, from sections of the conquered hinterland, to the Indian Ocean world.

Earth's primary regions

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.