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.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Tanzania (particularly Zanzibar), Kenya (110,614), Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Congo|
|Islam (Sunni, Shia, Sufism)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mijikenda, Pokomo, Comorians, Bajunis, Shirazi, other Bantu peoples|
The Swahili people originate from Bantu inhabitants of the coast of Southeast Africa, in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. These Bantu-speaking agriculturalists settled the coast at the outset of the first millennium. Archaeological finds at Fukuchani, on the north-west coast of Zanzibar, indicate a settled agricultural and fishing community from the 6th century CE at the latest. The considerable amount of daub found indicates timber buildings, and shell beads, bead grinders, and iron slag have been found at the site. There is evidence for limited engagement in long-distance trade: a small amount of imported pottery has been found, less than 1% of total pottery finds, mostly from the Gulf and dated to the 5th to 8th century. The similarity to contemporary sites such at Mkokotoni and Dar es Salaam indicate a unified group of communities that developed into the first center of coastal maritime culture. The coastal towns appear to have been engaged in Indian Ocean trade at this early period, and trade rapidly increased in importance and quantity between the mid-8th and the 11th century.
Many Swahili claim a Shirazi origin. This forms the basis of the Shirazi era origin myth that proliferated along the coast at the turn of the millennium. Modern scholarship has rejected the veracity of these claims. The most likely origin for the stories about the Shirazi is from Muslim inhabitants of the Lamu archipelago who moved south in the 10th and 11th centuries. They brought with them a coinage tradition and localized form of Islam. These Africans migrants seem to have developed a concept of Shirazi origin as they moved further southwards, near Malindi and Mombasa, along the Mrima coast. The longstanding trade connections with the Persian gulf gave credence to these myths. In addition, because most Muslim societies are patrilineal, one can claim distant identities through paternal lines despite phenotypic and somatic evidence to the contrary. The so-called Shirazi tradition represents the arrival of Islam in these eras, one reason it has proven so long lasting. Extant mosques and coins demonstrate that the "Shirazi" were not Middle Eastern immigrants, but northern Swahili Muslims. They moved south, founding mosques, introducing coinage and elaborately carved inscriptions and mihrabs. They should be interpreted as indigenous African Muslims who played the politics of the Middle East to their advantage. Some still use this foundation myth a millennium later to assert their authority, even though the myth's context has long been forgotten. The Shirazi legend took on new importance in the 19th century, during the period of Omani domination. Claims of Shirazi ancestry were used to distance locals from Arab newcomers, since Persians are not viewed as Arabs but still have an exemplary Islamic pedigree. The emphasis that the Shirazi came very long ago and intermarried with indigenous locals ties this claim to the creation of convincing indigenous narratives about Swahili heritage without divorcing it from the ideals of being a maritime-centered culture.
There are two main theories about the origins of the Shirazi subgroup of the Swahili people. One thesis based on oral tradition states that immigrants from the Shiraz region in southwestern Iran directly settled various mainland ports and islands on the eastern Africa seaboard beginning in the tenth century. By the time of the Persian settlement in the area, the earlier occupants had been displaced by incoming Bantu and Nilotic populations. More people from different parts of the Persian Gulf also continued to migrate to the Swahili coast over several centuries thereafter, and these formed the modern Shirazi. The second theory on Shirazi origins also posits that they came from Persia, but first settled in the Horn of Africa. In the twelfth century, as the gold trade with the distant entrepot of Sofala on the Mozambique seaboard grew, the settlers are then said to moved southwards to various coastal towns in Kenya, Tanzania, northern Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands. By 1200 AD, they had established local sultanates and mercantile networks on the islands of Kilwa, Mafia and Comoros along the Swahili coast, and in northwestern Madagascar.
Islam established its presence on the Southeast African coast from around the 9th century, when Bantu traders settling on the coast tapped into the Indian Ocean trade networks. The Swahili people follow the Sunni denomination of Islam.
Large numbers of Swahili undertake the Hajj and Umrah from Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. Traditional Islamic dress such as the jilbab and thob are also popular among the Swahili. The Swahili also are known for their use of divination, which has adopted some syncretic features from underlying traditional indigenous beliefs, they believe in djinn and many men wear protective amulets with verses from the Qu'ran.
Divination is practiced through Qur'anic readings. Often the diviner incorporates verses from the Qur'an into treatments for certain diseases. On occasion, he instructs a patient to soak a piece of paper containing verses of the Qur'an 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.
The Swahili speak as their native tongue the Swahili language, which is a member of the Bantu subgroup of the Niger-Congo family. Its closest relatives include Comorian spoken on the Comoros Islands, and the Mijikenda language of the Mijikenda people in Kenya.
With its original speech community centered on Zanzibar and the coastal parts of Kenya and Tanzania, a seaboard referred to as the Swahili Coast, Swahili became the tongue of the urban class in the African Great Lakes region, and eventually went on to serve as a lingua franca during the post-colonial period.
For centuries the Swahili depended greatly on trade from the Indian Ocean. The Swahili have played a vital role as middle man between southeast, central and South Africa, and the outside world. Trade contacts have been noted as early as 100 AD by early Roman writers who visited the Southeast African coast in the 1st century. Trade routes extended from Kenya to Tanzania into modern day Congo, along which goods were brought to the coasts and were sold to Arab, Indian, and Portuguese traders. Historical and archaeological records attest to Swahilis being prolific maritime merchants and sailors who sailed the Southeast African coastline to lands as far away as Arabia, Persia, Madagascar,:110 India and even China. Chinese pottery and Arabian beads have been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. During the apogee of the Middle Ages, ivory and slaves became a substantial source of revenue. Many captives of the Portuguese 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.
Although most Swahili live with living standards far below that of upper hierarchy of the wealthiest nations, the Swahili are generally considered a relatively economically powerful group due to their history of trade. They are comparatively well-off; According to the United Nations, Zanzibar has a 25% higher per capita GDP than the rest of Tanzania. This economic influence has led to the continued spread of their culture and language throughout East Africa.
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 and an exchange of ideas. 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 "Kilwa is a very fine and substantially built town, and all its buildings are of wood" (his description of Mombasa was essentially the same). 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 ruithere are fish peppelns (the lost city of Gede/Gedi).
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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.Bao (game)
Bao is a traditional mancala board game played in most of East Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Malawi, as well as some areas of DR Congo and Burundi. It is most popular among the Swahili people of Tanzania and Kenya; the name itself "Bao" is the Swahili word for "board" or "board game". In Tanzania, and especially Zanzibar, a "bao master" (called bingwa, "master"; but also fundi, "artist") is held in high respect. In Malawi, a close variant of the game is known as Bawo, which is the Yao equivalent of the Swahili name.
Bao is well known to be a prominent mancala in terms of complexity and strategical depth, and it has raised interest in scholars of several disciplines, including game theory, complexity theory, and psychology. Official tournaments are held in Tanzania, Zanzibar, Lamu (Kenya), and Malawi, and both mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar have their Bao societies, such as the Chama cha Bao founded in 1966.
In Zanzibar and Tanzania there are two versions of Bao. The main version, which is also the most complex and most appreciated, is called Bao la kiswahili ("Bao of the Swahili people"). The simplified version is called Bao la kujifunza ("Bao for beginners"). There are a variety of other mancalas across East Africa (and part of the Middle East) that are related to Bao. One of them is the Hawalis game of Oman; it is also known in Zanzibar, where it goes by the name "Bao la kiarabu" ("Bao of the Arabs"). Another major relative of Bao is Omweso (played in Uganda), which employs an equipment similar to Bao, and has some similar rules.Chakacha
Chakacha is a traditional music and dance style (a ngoma) of the Swahili people of coastal Kenya and Tanzania, originally associated with weddings and performed and watched by women. In the late 20th century, musical groups such as Mombasa Roots, Safari Sound Band and Them Mushrooms have adapted this style to afropop music. The women dress in very light, transparent clothing and have a belt around their waists for ease of movement. Tanzanian ladies, especially around the coastal areas, are very good at this dance.
It is also somewhat associated with Taarab, another type of music style adapted in the coast and mainly performed by women.
The hip-swaying dance movements of Chakacha also bear some resemblance with both Congolese soukous dances and Middle Eastern belly dances.Farouk Topan
Farouk Mohamedhusein Tharia Topan (born 1940) is the director of the Swahili Centre at the Aga Khan University. He is a specialist in the language and literature of the Swahili people. He has taught at the University of Dar es Salaam, the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and the School of Oriental and African Studies.Fort Jesus
Fort Jesus (Portuguese: Forte Jesus de Mombaça) is a fort located on Mombasa Island. Designed by Italian Giovanni Battista Cairati, it was built between 1593 and 1596, by order of King Philip II of Spain and I of Portugal, , to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. Fort Jesus was the only fort maintained by the Portuguese on the Swahili Coast, and is recognised as a testament to the first successful attempt by a Western power to establish influence over the Indian Ocean trade.Cairato, the designer of the fort, was inspired by Italian architect Pietro Cataneo, while the master builder was Gaspar Rodrigues. The fort was Cairato's last overseas work. Although the design of Fort Jesus is an example of Renaissance architecture, the masonry techniques, building materials and labour are believed to have been provided by the local Swahili people. The fort was built in the shape of a man (viewed from the air) and is roughly square, with four bulwarks at its corners. The fort is considered a masterpiece of late Renaissance military fortification.
Fort Jesus was captured and recaptured at least nine times between 1631, when the Portuguese lost it to the Sultan Yusuf ibn al-Hasan of Mombasa, and 1895 when it fell under British rule and was converted into a prison. After the Portuguese recaptured it from the Sultan in 1632, they refurbished it and built more fortifications, subsequently making it harder for the fort to fall. The fort was subject to an epic two-year siege from 1696-98 by the Omani Arabs, led by Saif bin Sultan. The capture of the fort marked the end of Portuguese presence on the coast, although they briefly captured and re-occupied it between 1728 and 1729 with the help of the Swahili city-states. The fort fell under local rule from 1741 to 1837, when it was again captured by the Omanis and used as a barracks, before its occupation by the British in 1895, after the declaration of the Protectorate of Kenya.
Fort Jesus was declared a national park in 1958, and in 2011, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and highlighted as one of the most outstanding and well-preserved examples of 16th-century Portuguese military fortifications. The fort is Mombasa's most visited tourist attraction.Fumo Liyongo
Fumo Liyongo or Liongo was a Swahili writer and chieftain on the northern part of the coast of East Africa somewhere between the 9th and 13th centuries. He is celebrated as a hero, warrior and poet in traditional poems, stories and songs of the Swahili people, many associated with wedding rituals and gungu dances. Liongo himself is credited with many such songs and poems. Oral tradition is generally coherent in describing Liongo as a king or prince of Pate Island. Several towns on the Tanzanian coast contend as Liongo's birthplace. He is supposed to be buried at Ozi.LGBT rights in Tanzania
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Tanzania face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality in Tanzania is a socially taboo topic, and same-sex sexual acts (even in private and consensual) are criminal offences, punishable with life imprisonment. The law also punishes heterosexuals who engage in oral sex, anal intercourse and masturbation.
According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 95 percent of Tanzanian residents believed that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept, which was the seventh-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed. Prior to colonisation and the spread of Christianity and Islam in Tanzania, homosexuality and same-sex sexual acts were accepted and commonplace among numerous modern-day Tanzanians ethnic groups, including the Swahili people, the Maasai people, and the Kuria people, among others.
In recent years, Tanzania has become particularly hostile to LGBT people. In October 2017, it deported several HIV/AIDS groups on the basis of "promoting homosexuality" (Tanzania has a high HIV/AIDS rate and reportedly one million people are infected). The Government has also increasingly resorted to homophobic rhetoric, believing that homosexuality is "un-African". In 2018, a so-called "witch hunt" was declared against gay people in Dar es Salaam, where gay people were forced to endure anal examinations and torture. Tanzania has a bad human rights record. Government respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is declining.Mandazi
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.Mombasa
Mombasa () is a coastal city of Kenya along the Indian Ocean. It is the country's oldest (circa 900 AD) and second-largest city (after the capital Nairobi), with an estimated population of about 1.5 million people in 2017. Its metropolitan region is the second largest in the country and has a population of approximately 3 million people. Administratively, Mombasa is the county seat of Mombasa County.
Mombasa is a regional cultural and economic hub; it has an extra-large port and an international airport, and is an important regional tourism center. Located on the east coast of Kenya, it also is the home of one of the State House (Kenya), and is considered by some as a second capital in all but name. In Mombasa County and the former Coast Province, Mombasa's situation on the Indian Ocean made it a historical trading center, and it has been controlled by many countries because of its strategic location.Mtepe
The mtepe is a boat associated with the Swahili people (the word "boat" in the Bantu Swahili language being mtepe). The mtepe's planks are held together by wooden pegs and coir, so it is a sewn boat designed to be flexible in contrast to the rigid vessels of western technique.Ngalawa
The ngalawa or ungalawa is a traditional, double-outrigger canoe of the Swahili people living in Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast. It is usually 5–6 m long and has two outriggers, a centrally-placed mast (often inclining slightly towards the prow) and a single triangular sail. It is used for short distance transport of goods or people, as well as a coastal fishing boat. It can be classified as a variation of another common type of swahili canoe known as mtumbwi.
The name and the outrigger technology was adapted from the outrigger lakana of the Austronesian Malagasy people of Madagascar.Swahili
Swahili may refer to:
Swahili people, an ethnic group in East Africa
Swahili culture, the culture of the Swahili people
Swahili language, a Bantu language official in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and widely spoken in the African Great Lakes
Swahili coast, a littoral region in East AfricaSwahili 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.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 language
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili (translation: language of the Swahili people), is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Comorian, spoken in the Comoros Islands is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Swahili, though other authorities consider it a distinct language.The exact number of Swahili speakers, be it native or second-language speakers, is unknown and a matter of debate. Various estimates have been put forward and they vary widely, ranging from 50 million to 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of four nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the DRC. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognised as a lingua franca of the East African Community. In 2018 South Africa legalized the teaching of Swahili in South African schools as an optional subject to begin in 2020.A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary derives from Arabic, in part conveyed by Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants. For example, the Swahili word for "book" is kitabu, traceable back to the Arabic word كتاب kitāb (from the root k-t-b "write"). However, the Swahili plural form of this word ("books") is vitabu, rather than the Arabic plural form كتب kutub, following the Bantu grammar in which ki- is reanalysed as a nominal class prefix, whose plural is vi-.Swahili literature
Swahili literature is, generally speaking, literature written in the Swahili language, particularly by Swahili people of the East African coast and the neighboring islands. It may also refer to literature written by people who write in the Swahili language. It is an offshoot of the Bantu culture.
The first literary works date back to the beginning of the 18th century, when all Swahili literature was written in the Arabic script. Jan Knappert considered the translation of the Arabic poem Hamziya from the year 1652 to be the earliest Swahili written text. Starting in the 19th century, missionaries and orientalists introduced the Latin script for writing the Swahili language.Swahilization
Swahilization refers to one of two practices:
the cultural assimilation of local peoples in Southeast Africa into the Swahili people and their culture.
the post-independence promotion of the Swahili language by the governments of Southeast African former colonies as a national and official language, alongside a greater cultural assimilation policy of Africanization (see Julius Nyerere and Ujamaa).Zanj Empire
The Zanj Empire was a 19th-century political formation established by the Omani sultanate on the Swahili Coast. Known for its slave-trading activities in conjunction with the local Swahili people, at its peak the polity's reach stretched as far as Eastern Congo. Eventually, the "Empire" collapsed when the British, intent on ending the slave trade, overtook it and incorporated it into the British Empire in 1896.Zaramo people
The Zaramo people, also referred to as Dzalamo or Saramo, are an East African ethnic group found along the coast of Tanzania, particularly in its Pwani Region. They are the largest ethnic group in and around Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Estimated to be about 0.7 million, over 98% of them are Muslims, more specifically the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam.