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Swahili

Swahili

PRONUNCIATION: swah-HEE-lee

ALTERNATE NAMES: Waswahili

LOCATION: Eastern Africa from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique

POPULATION: About 500,000

LANGUAGE: KiSwahili; English

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim); spirit cults

1 INTRODUCTION

For at least a thousand years, Swahili people, who call themselves Waswahili, have occupied a narrow strip of coastal land extending from the north coast of Kenya to Dar es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania). They also occupy several nearby Indian Ocean islands, including Zanzibar, Lamu, and Pate. Over the past few hundred years, the coastal area has been conquered and colonized several timesby Portuguese in the sixteenth century, by Middle Eastern Arabs who ran a slave trade in the nineteenth century, and by the British in the twentieth century. Thus, Swahili people are accustomed to living with strangers in their midst, and they have frequently acted as middlemen in trade relations. In addition, they have incorporated many people and practices into their vibrant social world.

Swahili are all Muslims. They became Muslim through the influence of people coming from the north and also from across the Indian Ocean. They have forged extensive economic, political, and social ties with Middle Eastern Muslims.

During the colonial period and since independence in the early 1960s, Swahili people have been a minority Muslim population in the secular states of Kenya and Tanzania.

2 LOCATION

The deep harbors along the east African coast have long sustained a profitable fishing and shipping economy. The lush coastal plain provides a fertile environment for growing coconut palms, fruit trees, spices, and mangrove in swamp areas. Today, Swahili people live primarily in the urban areas of Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Tanga (mainland Tanzania), the island of Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam.

Hundreds of Swahili people left for the Middle East after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. Over the past several decades, thousands have migrated to the Middle East, Europe, and North America largely for economic reasons. The Swahili population is about half a million.

3 LANGUAGE

KiSwahili, the Swahili language, is widely spoken across East Africa. For most Kenyans and Tanzanians, KiSwahili is learned as a second language. Swahili people speak KiSwahili as their "mother tongue," and it reflects their mixed origins and complex history. The language includes many words borrowed from Arabic (and other languages), yet its grammar and syntax place it in the Bantu language family, which has roots on the African continent. Like many Kenyans, Swahili people also use English in their daily interactions, particularly in schools, government offices, and the tourist industry.

4 FOLKLORE

Myths and heroes are generally from Islamic sources. For example, many people tell short, moralistic tales based on the Prophet Muhammad's life.

5 RELIGION

Being Swahili is inextricably connected to being Muslim. Swahili Muslims recognize the five pillars of faith that are basic to Islamic practice worldwide: 1) belief in Allah as the Supreme Being and in Muhammad as the most important prophet; 2) praying five times a day; 3) fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan; 4) giving charity; and 5) making a pilgrimage (hajj) to the holy city of Mecca, if feasible. For Swahili people, Islam encompasses more than just spiritual beliefs and practices; Islam is a way of life.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Swahili people celebrate the nation's secular (nonreligious) public holidays. These include, in Kenya, Jamhuri Day and Madaraka Day, which mark the steps toward Kenya's Independence in the early 1960s. In Tanzania, secular holidays are Labor Day (May 1), Zanzibar Revolution Day (January 12); Nane Nane (formerly Saba Saba Farmer's Day, in August); Independence Day (December 9); and Union Day (April 26), which commemorates the unification of Zanzibar and the mainland.

For Muslims, the most important holidays are religious. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. Eid al-Hajj celebrates the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. Each Eid is celebrated by praying, visiting relatives and neighbors, and eating special foods and sweets. During the month of Ramadan, Swahili (along with all other) Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Maulidi, or the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, is widely celebrated by Muslims.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

There are no specific rites of passage for children or teens. Birthday parties, increasingly popular, include eating cake, disco dancing, and opening presents. Graduation ceremonies mark a young person's educational progress.

Marriage marks the transition to adulthood. Marriages are usually arranged by parents. A young woman cannot get married without her father's permission, but she has the right to refuse someone chosen for her. Weddings can include several days of separate celebrations for men and women. Only men attend the actual marriage vows, which take place in a mosque. A male relative represents the bride.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

Swahili people are as likely to greet one another with the Arabic greeting Asalaam Aleikhum as they are to say Jambo, the common KiSwahili greeting. People who know each other exchange a string of greetings inquiring about the health of family members and the latest news. Children greet an elder with respect by kissing his or her hand.

Swahili people greatly value modest behavior. Men and women are not permitted to mix freely. Dating is generally non-existent. Most people pursue their daily activities with others of the same gender. Women are encouraged to congregate at home, while men spend time in public places.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

Houses vary depending on a family's means and the type of town in which they reside. "Stone towns," like Lamu and Mombasa, are characterized by large stone houses, some divided into apartments. Some Swahili people living in "country towns" still occupy houses made of hardened mud and stones, although these are less common than houses of stone or coral. Most homes have electricity, indoor plumbing, several bedrooms, and a living room furnished with a couch and chairs. Access to water is critical for Muslims who must wash before prayers. In comparison with many people in Kenya, Swahili people enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

10 FAMILY LIFE

Under Islam, husbands and fathers have authority in the home. They can make decisions for wives and daughters and compel them to behave properly to preserve the family's honor. But Swahili women also wield considerable power in the daily life of the family.

The average number of children in each family has declined from as many as fourteen children early in the twentieth century to three or four children by the late 1990s. Women who have been educated and/or work outside the home tend to limit births. Residents of an individual household might include many people beyond the immediate family, such as grandparents, nieces and nephews, and in-laws.

11 CLOTHING

In the early twentieth century, women generally wore brightly colored cotton cloths (kanga or leso ). These were wrapped around their waists and upper bodies and draped over their shoulders and heads. Men wore a striped cloth (kikoi ) around the waist that hung to the knees. As a mark of being Muslim some men sported small white caps with elaborate tan embroidery.

Dressing well but modestly is highly valued. Women wear Western-style dresses in many colors, patterns, and fabrics. Outside the house, women wear a black, floor-length cloak with an attached veil, called a buibui. Men wear Western-style trousers and shirts. On Fridays (the Muslim day of rest), or other religious occasions, they wear long, white caftans. Shorts are worn only by children.

Recipe

Sweet Tea with Milk

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons loose, black tea
  • 1 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) sugar
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground cardamon

Directions

  1. Combine tea, milk, and water in a saucepan. Heat until the mixture is just beginning to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Increase the heat and bring the mixture just to the boiling point again. Stir in sugar (at least 2 teaspoons) and the ginger and cardamon.
  3. To serve, pour tea through a strainer into cups.

12 FOOD

Swahili cuisine, which is highly spiced, has African, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences. Rice, the staple, is cooked with coconut milk and served with tomato-based meat, bean, or vegetable stews. Meals incorporate locally-available vegetables (egg-plant, okra, and spinach), fruits (mangoes, coconuts, pineapples), and spices (cloves, cardamon, hot pepper). Fish is also central to the diet. Chicken and goat meat are popular for holiday meals. Sweet tea with milk (see accompanyig recipe) is served several times a day.

Swahili, like all Muslims, are prohibited from eating pork or drinking alcohol. The members of one clan from northern Kenya observe a taboo on eating fish.

13 EDUCATION

Through Islam, literacy (the ability to read and write) came to the East African coast much earlier than to most other parts of the continent. Knowing how to read the Koran (Islam's holy book) is important. Some people are literate in Arabic as well as KiSwahili. Those who have been to secular school are literate in English as well.

Young people today tend to finish primary school, and some go on to secondary school. Most parents, particularly in urban areas, recognize the value of education in preparing their children for employment. Families vary as to whether they believe that girls should be educated as extensively as boys.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Taarab music, which has distinctly Arabic origins, is performed at weddings and concerts. Band members play keyboards, flutes, brass instruments, and drums to accompany singers. Many KiSwahili lyrics are double entendres (having double meanings) that hint at romantic love.

Several women's dance groups perform at weddings for all-female audiences. They dance chakacha, which resembles belly dancing, and also lelemama, a very subtle dance with tiny hand movements.

KiSwahili oral literature includes songs, sayings, stories, and riddles. The main written form is poetry. KiSwahili poems include long epics, prayers, and meditations on many subjects.

15 EMPLOYMENT

Some Swahili still fish, farm, and trade as they did in previous generations. However, the difficult local economy has meant that many people are unemployed or dependent on the unpredictable tourist industry. Educated men and women enter the civil service (government administration) and work in offices, shops, and schools. Although husbands are obligated to provide for their families, many wives earn money through cooking food, sewing, or trading from their homes.

16 SPORTS

Few adults play sports. Many boys join soccer teams and play in hotly contested competitions. Soccer matches involving Kenyan regional teams or local boys' clubs provide rare, exciting entertainment, mostly for men. In school, girls play sports such as net-ball (similar to basketball) and track. Children are sometimes taken to swim at the ocean.

17 RECREATION

Weddings and holiday celebrations are the most important forms of entertainment. Traveling to and from weddings, people sing songs and celebrate with vigor.

Watching videos is a favorite pastime, especially for women and young people. Action films from Japan, romances from India, Islamic epics, and detective stories from the United States are popular. If a video contains love scenes, an adult might fast-forward to protect the modesty of those present. Local and foreign soap operas, news, and sports are popular on television. On the weekends, young people sometimes go to discos, and women enjoy walking on the beach or going for a picnic.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Artisans on the island of Lamu are famous for their intricately carved wooden furniture and doors. They also construct miniature, painted replicas of the boats (dhows ) used for fishing. Young boys play with these at the shore. Women use brown colored henna to paint complex flower designs on their hands and feet (up to the knees) as preparation for attending a wedding. The color, which stains the skin and nails, lasts for several weeks.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Swahili view the declining economy and erosion of their culture by tourism as significant social problems. Tourists who walk around in immodest clothing (such as shorts and bikinis), drink alcohol in public, and encourage loose behavior among young people have threatened the proper Islamic life that many Swahili people struggle to maintain.

Swahili face some discrimination by Kenyans who have resented their connection to the slave trade and their ties to Middle Eastern wealth. Their role in Kenyan politics, though marginal, is increasing as Kenya moves forward in multiparty democracy.

A worrisome problem is the growing prevalence of marijuana use among young men, which is condemned as antisocial. However, chewing miraa, a plant grown locally that contains a mild stimulant, is regarded as an acceptable social activity.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, James de Vere. Swahili Origins. London, England: James Currey, 1993.

Bakari, Mtoro bin Mwinyi. The Customs of the Swahili People. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Caplan, Patricia. African Voices, African Lives: Personal Narratives From a Swahili Village. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Kaula, Edna Mason. The Land and People of Tanzania. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.

Knappert, Jan. Four Centuries of Swahili Verse: A Literary History and Anthology. London, England: Heinemann, 1979.

Margolies, Barbara A. Rehema's Journey. New York: Scholastic, 1990.

WEBSITES

Interknowledge Corp. Tanzania. [Online] Available http://www.geographia.com/tanzania/, 1998.

Internet Africa Ltd. Tanzania. [Online] Available http://www.africanet.com/africanet/country/tanzania/, 1998.

Southern African Development Community. [Online] Available http://www.sadc-usa.net/members/tanzania/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Tanzania. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/tz/gen.html, 1998.

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Swahili

Swahili

ETHNONYMS: none

Orientation

The people known as Swahili (sing. Mswahili, pl. Wa Swahili) live along the narrow East African coastline and the adjacent islands (Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia) between southern Somalia and northern Mozambique; they also live in the Aomoro Islands and northwestern Madagascar, and there are Swahili settlements in the far African interior near Lake Tanganyika. On the coast, they live in distinct settlements within approximately 2 kilometers of the seas, placed on creeks and on the leeward sides of the many small islets that are protected from the Indian Ocean. Their language, KiSwahili, with its many dialects, belongs to the Sam Family of North-eastern Bantu and has many loanwords from Arabic. It has long been used in a debased form as a lingua franca throughout eastern Africa. It was traditionally written in Arabic script but today Roman script is mostly used. The name "Swahili" comes from the Arabic swahili ("coast" or "margin"). The term was first used to refer to the eighteenth-century coast dwellers by the colonial rulers of the time, the Omani of the sultanate of Zanzibar; they prefer to use the names of their local settlements, such as Mvita (Mombasa), Unguja Zanzibar, or Amu (Lamu). "Swahili" is essentially the name others have given them. They number between 200,000 and 400,000, censuses being unreliable because self-designations have varied from one period to another.

History and Cultural Relations

Pre-Swahili settlements are reported from the first century onward, mainly in Arabic and Chinese medieval records, and later in those of the Portuguese and other Europeans. Many Swahili claim Arabic and other Asian origins, but these claims, rather than having a historical basis, reflect ambitions to deny African origins (i.e., those of their slaves). They suffered under Portuguese rule from 1498 until 1729, when they were forcibly incorporated into the sultanate of Zanzibar. In the nineteenth century they came under the rule of Britain and Germany, and in the 1960s they were incorporated into the independent states of Kenya and Tanzania, not always with their approval. As Muslims, the Swahili have felt themselves distinct from the non-Muslim majorities of these countries, which have rarely supported the social and political wishes of the Swahili, who are remembered as slave traders and owners.


Economy

The basis of Swahili economy has been the long-distance commerce between the interior of Africa and the countries of the northern Indian Ocean, in which they played the role of middlemen merchants. Their settlements, strung along the coastline, have been urbansome closely built-up places and others more like large villagesbut all are known by the same Swahili term, mji. The commerce, now virtually extinguished, lasted for almost two thousand years. Raw and unprocessed items from Africa (e.g., ivory, slaves, gold, grain, mangrove poles) were exchanged for processed commodities from Asia (e.g., textiles, beads, weapons, porcelain). The oceangoing sailing vessels from Asia and the foot caravans from the interior met at the coast, where the Swahili merchants provided safe harbors and the many complex skills and facilities needed for mercantile exchange.

"Stone-towns"permanent houses built with "stone" (coral block), set in narrow streets, and often surrounded by wallsprovided these services. Interspersed with these are the "Country-towns," large villagelike places of impermanent housing that have provided the Stone-towns with foodstuffs and labor but have not themselves taken direct part in the long-distance commerce. The whole has formed a single oikumene, never a single polity, but a congeries of towns with a single underlying structure. Country-towns grow foodstuffs in gardens and fields; Stone-towns once had large plantations worked by slave labor for the growing of export grains, their own food coming mainly from the Country-towns.

The staple foods are rice and sorghums; the most important of the many other crops and trees are the coconut, banana, tamarind, mango, and clove (the last grown mainly in large plantations formerly owned by Omani Arabs). Fishing is important everywhere, and few livestock are kept.

Labor has been provided from three sources: the family and kin group, slaves, and hired laborers. In the Country-towns, men and women are, in most respects, considered equal and their respective labor as being complementary: men have the heavier workas contract laborers on clove plantations and in the largest towns such as Mombasa, Zanzibar City, and Dar es Salaam. In the Stone-towns, domestic and agricultural work was carried out by slaves until the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, it has been done in most towns by hired and "squatter" labor from the Country-towns and by non-Swahili immigrants. Shortage of seasonal labor has always been a serious problem in all the Swahili settlements; this remains true today.


Kinship, Marriage, and Family

There is a wide variation in forms of descent and kin group among the Swahili settlements. Country-towns are divided into moieties, and these into wards or quarters. The wards, composed of clusters of cognatically related kin, are the corporate and landholding units. Marriage is preferred between cross and parallel cousins; it is seen largely as a way to retain rights over land within the small kin group. Authority is held by senior men and women, and all local groups are regarded as equal in rank.

Within the Stone-towns, the main social groups are in most cases patrilineal subclans and lineages. The clans are distributed among the coastal towns and even in southern Arabia, from which immigrant origin is often claimed. These towns are likewise divided into moieties and constituent wards, the former once providing indigenous forms of government; their structural opposition is expressed in fighting at certain rituals, football matches, and poetry competitions. The corporate groups are the lineages, segments of subclans, that, in the past, acted as business houses and owned the large permanent houses that are so marked a feature of these towns. The subclans are ranked, position depending largely on antiquity of claimed immigration and settlement, as well as on commercial wealth and standing. Members of these mercantile lineages are known as "patricians."

Marriages are centrally important and weddings the most elaborate rituals. In the Stone-towns, the preferred marriage forms vary. For firstborn daughters, they should be between close paternal parallel cousins. Bride-wealth and dowry are both transferred, as are residential rights (not full ownership, which is vested in the lineage) for the daughter in her lineage house, marriage thus being uxorilocal. Marriages of later-born daughters are more usually with cross cousins, often in neighboring Stone-towns so as to make and retain useful commercial ties. Stone-town weddings are traditionally elaborate and costly, the bride needing to show her virginity and so her purity, which reflects upon the honor and reputation of her husband. Country-town weddings are basically similar but less elaborate and less ritualized.

Divorce is permitted under Islamic law: it is easy for husbands but extremely difficult for wives. The marriages of firstborn patrician daughters are monogamous (although concubinage was frequent), and divorce has been rare; all other marriages have often been polygynous, and divorce has been and is extremely common, as high as 90 percent in some areas.

Today Swahili women undergo initiation (without physical operation) at puberty, in order to be permitted to marry. Boys nowadays are not initiated but are circumcised in infancy; in the past there was more elaborate male initiation. Both boys' and girls' socialization after infancy takes the form of Islamic education in the Quranic schools attached to mosques, and consists largely of moral and theological learning based on knowledge of the Quran, although instruction in poetry and music has been an important part of their training to become pious Muslims. Today most children also attend nonreligious schools in order to acquire "Western" education, but religious education retains its central place, and overtly Christian schools are totally avoided.

Sociopolitical Organization

Swahili towns have traditionally been autonomous, many at one time being ruled by kings and queens. (Lamu Town, ruled by an oligarchy, was an exception.) Country-town local government remains largely in the hands of small, indigenous government organs, known as "the Four Men" and similar titles, representing constituent wards.

The Swahili patricians kept and traded in slaves; the Country-towns did neither. Slaves, numbering between 25 percent and 50 percent of the total population, were obtained from the interior from indigenous rulers and used as trade commodities, for house- and fieldwork, and as concubines. Slavery was abolished under the British in 1897 in Zanzibar and Tanganyika and in 1907 in Kenya. Its abolition brought the traditional mercantile economy largely to an end.

Open conflict has beenand remainsunusual among the Swahili, and institutions such as the feud are not known; however, fitina, intrigue and backbiting, is a well-recognized aspect of Swahili domestic and social life. Nevertheless, the towns have frequently waged war against one another, as part of wider processes of colonial subordination. The Omani sultanate of Zanzibar extended its sway along the coast during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by attacking towns in turn, using other towns as allies; local opposition to Zanzibar hegemony was soon put down by the sultans' forces of mercenary troops from outside eastern Africa. The Swahili also revolted against German rule in Tanganyika in the early years of the twentieth century and were put down with great brutality by German-led troops. The Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 removed the Omani colonial administration, and there have since been many small clashes, often couched in religious terms, with the forces of independent Kenya.


Religion and Expressive Culture

The Swahili are Sunni Muslims; even though their former Omani rulers of the sultanate of Zanzibar were Ibadhi, the Swahili were shown religious tolerance. The first mosques on the coast date from about the mid-tenth century, the identity of Swahili as Muslims dating also from that period. The central building of every town is its mosque, typically placed in a space between the two moieties; the male population assembles there on Fridays (women are not permitted to attend). In most towns, a Muslim school is built next to the mosque. There may be many mosques in a large town, built and administered privately and entailed for charitable purposes. Swahili religion is comprised of two aspects: orthodox Islam, or dini, and the set of local beliefs and practices known as mila, which are perhaps almost always originally pre-Islamic. It is often held that the dini is Arabian and associated with men, whereas the mila is African and associated with women. Both men and women, however, see themselves as orthodox Muslims, and in fact almost all observe the practices of the mila. An important part of the mila is spirit possession, which is largely practiced and controlled by women, even though they stress their Islamic purity. Women who are possessed typically join associations, even though these are in most case controlled by men, and most such associations have members of both free and of slave ancestry.

The Swahili recognize as crucial to the maintenance of their identity the concepts of ustaarabu ("civilization") and utamaduni ("urbanity"), both linked to Islam and contrasted to what they see as the ushenzi ("barbarism") of the other, non-Muslim peoples of eastern Africa. Important rites that maintain these concepts include the originally pre-Islamic "New Year," Mwaka or Nauroz, at which the towns are symbolically purified, and the regular Islamic ceremonies of Id-al-Fitr and other occasions, along with the regular public reading known as maulidi, that deal with the life and deeds of the Prophet.

Closely linked to religious beliefs and practice are forms of medical healing. Herbal medicines and possession by "doctors" are employed, as well as prayer and ritual purification. In the latter, the main practitioners are members of the clans known as Sharifu, composed of people who claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet and who live scattered in the coastal towns. All Swahili believe in the existence of many categories of both evil and good spirits, and also in that of witches and sorcerers, whose activities can be controlled by recourse to "doctors" who use both pre-Islamic and Islamic means.

The Swahili practice certain forms of visual artthe carving of elaborate wooden doors and furniture, the making of gold and silver jewelrybut the art most highly regarded is poetry. Swahili poetry is complex and of many kinds; like Islamic scholarship and knowledge, it is open to both women and men (and formerly, also to slaves). Poetry is used for both devotional and historical writings, the latter taking the form of the "chronicles" that relate the founding of the various towns and other key historical events. Today poetry is composed for both domestic and town occasions, such as weddings and competitions at New Year, and also for political purposes on radio and television.


Bibliography

Cooper, Frederick (1977). Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Middleton, John (1992). The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Pouwels, Randall L. (1987). Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sheriff, A. M. H. (1987). Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar. Athens: Ohio University Press.

JOHN MIDDLETON

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SWAHILI

SWAHILI, also Kiswahili, KiSwahili. A BANTU language spoken as a mother tongue or a second language in the East African mainland and islands, from Lamu Island in KENYA in the north to the southern border of TANZANIA, and west to Congo. It may have arisen from a Bantu language pidginized through contact with ARABIC. As a language of trade, it spread inland from the coast during the 19c. It is the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and a LINGUA FRANCA in UGANDA and Grgo (Zaire). Arabic has provided many LOANWORDS, and the earliest Swahili literature, from the 18c, is in Arabic script. The British colonial administration in the 1930s encouraged the development of STANDARD Swahili. Swahili nouns are divided into classes according to the grammatical prefixes they take. Such PREFIXES also bring verbs, adjectives, demonstratives, and possessives into concord with the subject of a sentence: for example, in Watu wetu wale wakubwa wamekuja (Those big people of ours have come), watu is the plural of mtu (person), and other words harmonize by beginning with wa. Comparably, mbenzi is a rich person (who owns a Mercedes-Benz), plural wabenzi. Swahili is one of the few indigenous African rivals to English. Because it is used over such a wide area, it tends to be ethnically neutral. See AFRICAN ENGLISH, EAST AFRICAN ENGLISH, WORD.

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Swahili language

Swahili language, member of the Bantu group of African languages (see African languages and Bantu languages). Swahili is spoken by 30 million people, chiefly in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo (Kinshasa), Burundi, and Uganda, and serves as a lingua franca for additional millions in E Africa, including Europeans, Arabs, and Indians as well as Africans. It is also now the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and has the largest number of speakers of the Bantu group of languages. Although grammatically a Bantu tongue, Swahili has been greatly influenced by Arabic, from which it has borrowed many words. It is the vehicle of a noteworthy literature that goes back to the beginning of the 18th cent. and is written in a form of the Arabic alphabet. In the second half of the 19th cent., missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet for recording Swahili. Since then writing has flourished, and some native authors of distinction have appeared.

See E. C. Polomé, Swahili Language Handbook (1967); E. N. Myachina,The Swahili Language (1981).

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Swahili

Swa·hi·li / swäˈhēlē/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a Bantu language widely used as a lingua franca in East Africa and having official status in several countries. Also called Kiswahili. 2. a member of a people of Zanzibar and nearby coastal regions, descendants of the original speakers of Swahili. • adj. of or relating to this language or to the people who are its native speakers.

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Swahili

Swahili (swähē´lē) [Arab.,=coast people], name for some of the inhabitants of the Kenya, Tanzania, Somali, and Mozambique coasts, Zanzibar, and E Congo. Descendants of black Africans and Arab traders (who came to the E African coast about AD 500), the Swahili do not form a cohesive ethnic group but are loosely united by common economic pursuits (especially trade), by cultural traditions, and particularly by the use of the Swahili language.

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Swahili

Swahili Bantu language of the Niger-Congo family of African languages. It developed as a lingua franca and trading language in most of e Africa, becoming the official language of Tanzania in 1967, and of Kenya in 1973. It is also in use in parts of central Africa. It has a large body of literature.

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Swahili

Swahilicampanile, dele, eely, Ely, fusilli, Gigli, Ismaili, Keeley, Keneally, KwaNdebele, Lely, Matabele, mealie, mealy, Ndebele, sapele, Sindebele, steely, Swahili, wheelie •biweekly, weakly, weekly •seemly •cleanly, queenly •beastly, Priestley, priestly •Keighley • measly

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Swahili

Swahili

PRONUNCIATION: swah-HEE-lee
LOCATION: Eastern Africa from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique
POPULATION: 772, 642
LANGUAGE: KiSwahili
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim); spirit cults
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Kenyans; Tanzanians

INTRODUCTION

For at least a thousand years, Swahili people, who call themselves Waswahili, have occupied a narrow strip of coastal land extending from the north coast of Kenya to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and also several nearby Indian Ocean islands (e.g., Zanzibar, Lamu, Pate). Legends claim that Swahili people migrated from a place in northeast Africa called Shungwaya; however, archeological studies and epic poems locate the earliest settlements on Kenya's north coast. Over the past few hundred years, the coastal area has been the site of extraordinary movements of people and goods and has been conquered and colonized several times: by Portuguese who captured Mombasa in the 16th century, by Middle Eastern Arabs who ran a slave trade in the 19th century, and by British colonizers in the 20th century. Thus, Swahili people are accustomed to living with strangers in their midst, and they have frequently acted as “middlemen” in trade relations. In addition, they have incorporated many people and practices into their vibrant social world.

Waswahili are all Muslims. They became Muslim through the influence of people coming from the north and also from across the Indian Ocean. They have forged extensive economic, political, and social ties with Middle Eastern Muslims. Since at least the 18th century, Muslim men from Oman and Saudi Arabia have married Swahili women. Waswahili are known for bringing people into their ethnic group, including slaves brought from the interior of Africa in the 19th century and members of nearby ethnic groups (e.g., Giriama). Scholars have long debated whether, given their tendency to embrace new people, Waswahili even constitute an ethnic group, like the Zulu or the Ashanti, but Swahili people themselves have no doubts that they are a culturally distinct group of Muslims with a mixed African and Arab ancestry.

In the early 19th century the Sultan of Oman moved his capital to the island of Zanzibar and, from there, governed the coastal region. Swahili people competed with Arabs for political and economic power, yet they were a strong community by the end of the last century. During the colonial period and since independence in the early 1960s, Swahili people have been a minority Muslim population in the secular states of Kenya and Tanzania.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

Given the shifting nature of Swahili ethnicity, it is difficult to substantiate the general belief that Swahili people number about a half a million.

The deep harbors along the coast have long sustained a profitable fishing and shipping economy. The extensive coral reef several miles off the coast keeps these waters calm. The lush coastal plain provides a fertile environment for growing coconut palms, fruit trees, spices, and mangrove in swamp areas. Today, Swahili people live primarily in the urban areas of Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Tanga (mainland Tanzania), the island of Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam.

Hundreds of Swahili people left for the Middle East after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. Over the past several decades, thousands have migrated to the Middle East, Europe, and North America largely for economic reasons.

LANGUAGE

Kiswahili, the Swahili language, is widely spoken across East Africa. For most Kenyans and Tanzanians, Kiswahili is learned as a second language. Swahili people speak Kiswahili as their “mother tongue,” and it reflects their mixed origins and complex history. The language includes many words borrowed from Arabic (and other languages), yet its grammar and syntax place it in the Bantu language family, which has roots on the African continent. Like many Kenyans, Swahili people also use English in their daily interactions, particularly in schools, government offices, and the tourist industry.

As in other Bantu languages, all Kiswahili nouns are organized into classes. A noun's class governs the formation of plurals and the agreement among subjects, verbs, and adjectives. The “person” class includes mtu (person) and mwalimu (teacher). The “n” class includes many words that begin with the letter “n,” such as ndoa (marriage) and also many borrowed words, for example, televisheni and komputa. Kwanzaa, the African American holiday, incorporates many Kiswahili terms from the “u” class of abstract nouns, including ujamaa (pulling together) and umoja (unity).

Most names are Arabic in origin and indicate a person's Muslim identity by linking him or her with a prophet or with a Muslim ideal. Common names for girls are Amina and Fatuma; for boys, Mohammed and Moussa. A person's first name is followed by their father's name: Mohammed bin (son of) Moussa or Amina binti (daughter of) Moussa. Clan names added to these reflect the relations among larger groups of people. Shortened forms of standard names (e.g., Tuma for Fatuma) are popular as nicknames.

Kiswahili has a wide population of speakers with records of as many as 50 million. Currently, it is the official language in Tanzania. In Kenya and Uganda, it is a national language, since official communication and the medium of instruction in the two countries is English. The language is also spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and South Africa.

FOLKLORE

Myths and heroes are generally from Islamic sources. For example, many people tell short, moralistic tales based on the Prophet Mohammed's life.

RELIGION

Being Swahili is inextricably connected to being Muslim. Excavations of mosques provide evidence that Islam flourished from at least the 12th century. Swahili Muslims recognize the five pillars of faith that are basic to Islamic practice worldwide: 1) belief in Allah as the Supreme Being and in Mohammed as the most important prophet; 2) praying five times a day; 3) fasting during the month of Ramadan; 4) giving charity; and 5) making a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, if feasible. For Swahili people, Islam encompasses more than just spiritual beliefs and practices; Islam is a way of life. The times for prayer organize each day, and Muslims pray at home or at mosques. On Friday, the holiest day of the week, men pray together. Both men and women attend religious lectures on Fridays and other days.

Like most African Muslims, Swahili people claim allegiance to the Sunni sect of Islam, yet their practices are distinctive in several ways. Some communities revere local religious figures from times past, paying them homage as “saints” on special holy days. Islam includes the belief in spirits (jini, singular; majini, plural). These beings are capable of possessing individuals for good or evil purposes. Those who are afflicted by bad spirits and, as well, people skilled in controlling them, participate in groups where, through prayers, trance, and ceremonies, spirits are called forth to account for their acts. Dangerous spirits can be driven away by a skillful practitioner of Islamic spiritual medicine. Such local practices are criticized as old fashioned by some who promote either more “modern” religion or a purer version of Islam. Although some young men in the cities are involved in political parties organized to promote Muslim causes, the influence of fundamentalism is low compared with other African contexts (e.g., Algeria, Sudan).

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Along with all other Kenyans, Swahili people celebrate the nation's secular public holidays, including Jamhuri Day and Madaraka Day, which mark the steps toward Kenya's Independence in the early 1960s.

For Muslims, the most important holidays are religious. Idd il Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. Idd il Hajj celebrates the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. Each Idd is celebrated by praying at a mosque or at home, visiting relatives and neighbors, eating special foods and sweets, and, on Idd il Hajj, slaughtering a goat and sharing the meat with family and neighbors. During the month of Ramadan, Swahili Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though Swahili people endure the hardships of going without food, water, or cigarettes for about 14 hours each day, Ramadan is a very festive time. After breaking the fast at the end of each day by eating a date and drinking strong coffee, families enjoy a meal of many different delicious foods. Then the evening and most of the night is spent visiting friends, watching videos, praying, playing cards, or, as Idd nears, going shopping at the stores, which stay open late. The last meal is eaten shortly before dawn. Maulidi, or the Prophet's Birthday, is widely celebrated by Muslims; however, the largest celebration in all of East Africa is hosted by the island of Lamu. Thousands of Swahili and other Muslims come for the occasion that lasts several days and includes large gatherings for prayers at the main mosque and many cultural events. Older men dazzle the crowds with the subtle beauty of their “cane dance,” which they perform by holding canes as they sway slowly from side to side. Young people wander the island, and groups of religious school students march in a parade.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Prior to giving birth most women return to their parents' homes to receive help from their female relatives. Once the newborn is washed, a relative whispers “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) into each ear to call him or her into the Muslim faith. Seven days after birth, males are circumcised in a ceremony attended by family members. Newborns wear a string around the waist with charms, and black ink is painted on the forehead to ward off bad spirits. A new mother rests at her parents' home for 40 days after giving birth. As she regains her strength, relatives help her to care for the new baby.

There are no specific rites of passage for children or teens. Birthday parties are increasingly popular, and these celebrations include eating cake, disco dancing, and opening presents. Ceremonies associated with secular and religious school, such as graduations, are occasions for marking a young person's educational progress. For example, most religious and secular schools hold yearly performances where students recite lectures and poems.

Marriage marks a person's transition to adulthood. Marriages are usually arranged by parents who try to find a kind, responsible, and appealing spouse for their child. A young woman cannot get married without her father's permission, and at the same time she has the right to refuse someone chosen for her. Prior to the wedding, a female relative or family friend counsels the bride about her duties as a wife. Weddings can include several days of separate celebrations for men and women, such as dancing and drumming, musical performances, viewing the bride in all her finery, and eating lavish meals. Only men attend the actual marriage vows, which take place in a mosque. A male relative represents the bride. One of the women's events, attended by only close relatives, is a purification rite during which the bride's skin and hair are beautified with herbs.

Muslims are buried within 24 hours of dying. They are wrapped in a white cloth and carried to the graveyard by men who offer prayers. The female relatives of the deceased stay at the house wailing to express their sorrow. Women friends and family gather to comfort the bereaved and to pray. Relatives sponsor remembrance prayers forty days after the burial and again after one year.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Swahili people are as likely to greet one another with the Arabic greeting “Asalaam Aleikhum” as they are to say “Jambo,” which is the common Kiswahili greeting in East Africa. People who know each other exchange a string of greetings enquiring about the health of family members and the latest news. Greetings can reflect the time of day (“Habari za asubuhi?”—“What's new this morning?”) or the length of time since a previous encounter (“Habari tangu jana?”—“What's new since yesterday?”). Upon entering a Swahili house, a guest greets everyone present, shaking each person's hand. From a very young age children are taught to greet an elder with respect by kissing his or her hand. Friends who have not seen each other for a long time grasp hands warmly and kiss on both cheeks.

Swahili people greatly value modest behavior. To guard against romantic relationships developing outside of marriage, men and women are not permitted to mix freely. Most people pursue their daily activities with others of the same gender. Close relatives interact across gender lines, although women are encouraged to congregate at home, while men spend time in public places.

As in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, the right hand is considered “clean” and the left “dirty.” Accordingly, most gestures between people—shaking hands, eating communally, or even handing something to someone—are done with the right hand. A polite way to accept a gift is to place the left hand under the upturned right palm. To indicate that something (e.g., a bus, a room, a cup) is full (of people, water, etc.) the left fist is clapped against the right palm striking the base of the thumb in several quick movements. It is considered rude to call someone over by using the index finger. Instead, the right hand is extended and the straight fingers bent to the palm in a sharp inward gesture repeated several times.

Because coastal culture is marked by frequent coming and going, visiting is a well-established custom. Visitors call out “Hodi!” to announce their arrival, and the response “Karibu!” welcomes them in. Many women either go visiting or receive visitors daily, usually in the late afternoon. Friends and relatives coming from far away are welcomed to spend the night.

Because marriages are usually arranged by family members, dating between men and women of any age is frowned on and generally non-existent. Also, gender segregation makes it difficult for people of the opposite sex to meet openly. But young people (and some older ones too) do manage to meet each other in school, at social events like weddings or parades, or even when traveling on the bus. They routinely succeed in striking up friendships and sometimes fall in love. Secret phone calls to boyfriends or girlfriends are a favorite pastime of young people brave enough to risk severe reprimands from disapproving parents.

LIVING CONDITIONS

Swahili people suffer the diseases of developing countries, such as malaria, yellow fever, and polio, and, because they eat a diet high in fat, they also experience the diseases of industrialized countries, such as cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Most people have access to rudimentary medical care in government and private hospitals, although treatment is sometimes expensive. Traditional Swahili medicine includes herbal remedies, massage, and bloodletting. Also, some practitioners treat emotional troubles through prayer, protective charms, or exorcising evil spirits.

As the longtime middlemen in a mercantile economy, Swahili people are avid consumers who, depending on their means, seek out new products. Radios, TVs, VCRs, watches, and cameras are obtained from relatives or friends returning from travel outside Kenya where such goods are cheaper. Women save to buy imported clothes and jewelry for themselves and their children. Teens have limited cash, but they try to keep up with the latest fashions, such as running shoes and track suits for boys and beaded veils from the Middle East for girls.

Houses vary depending on a family's means and the type of town in which they reside. “Stone towns,” like Lamu and Mombasa, are characterized by large stone houses, some divided into apartments. Some Swahili people living in “country towns” still occupy houses made of hardened mud and stones, although these are less common than houses of stone or coral.

Most homes have electricity, indoor plumbing, several bedrooms, and a living room furnished with a couch and chairs. Access to water is critical for Muslims who must wash before prayers.

In comparison with many people in Kenya, Swahili people enjoy a relatively high standard of living. They are firmly in the cash economy, even though they are more likely to have limited commercial ventures rather than big businesses. Some own their own property.

Travel among the coastal towns is an important part of Swahili life, and many Swahili men work in the transportation industry. Buses, vans, and a small number of private cars are the main means of transport.

FAMILY LIFE

In family matters, Swahili women are the partners of men, yet their partnership is unequal. Under Islam, husbands and fathers have authority in the home; they can make decisions for wives and daughters and compel them to behave properly to preserve the family's honor. But, Swahili women also wield considerable power in the daily life of the family, as they take charge of meals, marriage arrangements, and holiday celebrations.

The average number of children in each family has declined from 10–14 early in the 20th century to 5–8 at mid-century to 3–4 for young couples today. Women who have been educated and/or work outside the home tend to limit births. Entrusting a friend or relative to raise one's child is a common practice that draws the parents and caregivers closer together. Residents of an individual household might include many people beyond the immediate family, such as grandparents, nieces and nephews, and in-laws.

Marriages are generally arranged by family members, with preference made for marrying cousins. Most newlyweds are not well acquainted with one another; however, Waswahili believe that love grows as the marriage endures. Men are permitted to marry up to four wives, but the expectation that they must support each one equally means that most marriages are monogamous. Divorce is frequent, especially among young people who decide that the arranged choice is not working and among older couples if the husband marries another wife.

Arab heritage emphasizes relations through the father's family (patrilineal descent) as the primary form of kinship, but Swahili people also recognize close ties through their mother's relatives. Each Swahili family also identifies with a clan.

Cats live in many Swahili households, and, although children sometimes play with them, they are valued less as pets than for their service in warding off mice. Dogs are thought of as dirty and not allowed near homes.

CLOTHING

In the early 20th century in Swahili fishing villages, women wore brightly colored cotton cloths (kanga or leso) wrapped around their waists and upper bodies and draped over their shoulders and heads. Some women adorned themselves with plug earrings of up to an inch in diameter. Family status determined how a woman veiled. For example, wealthy women in Zanzibar Town walked unseen behind a cloth enclosure carried by servants. Men wore a striped cloth (kikoi) wrapped around the waist and hanging to the knees. As a mark of being Muslim some men sported small white caps with elaborate tan embroidery. Both men and women wore leather sandals, and wealthy families used wooden platform shoes when they entered the bathroom. Islam forbids men to wear precious metals, but women own gold necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Gold, which many women receive at the time of marriage, is both an adornment and an investment that they might cash in if times become financially tough.

Clothing reflects a Swahili family's status and also an individual's personal style. Dressing well and dressing modestly are both highly valued. Women wear “Western style” dresses in many colors, patterns, and fabrics. At home, a woman might wrap a kanga around her waist, like an apron. Outside the house, she wears a long, wide, black, floor-length cloak with an attached veil, called a buibui. She pulls the veil tight against her cheeks and secures the fabric under her chin, leaving her face exposed. Women veil to show that they are proper Muslims from respectable families. Men wear Western-style trousers and shirts. On Fridays, or other religious occasions, they wear long, white caftans. Shorts are worn only by children.

FOOD

Swahili cuisine, which is highly spiced, has African, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences. Rice, the staple, is cooked with coconut milk and served with tomato-based meat, bean, or vegetable stews. Meals incorporate locally-available vegetables (eggplant, okra, and spinach), fruits (mangoes, coconuts, pineapples), and spices (cloves, cardamom, hot pepper). Fish—fried, grilled, or stewed in coconut sauce—is also central to the diet. Sweet tea with milk is served several times a day. It is prepared by placing loose, black tea (2 teaspoons) in a small saucepan with milk (1 cup) and water (1 cup). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil again and cook longer if a creamier tea is desired. Stir in sugar (at least 2 teaspoons) and a pinch each of powdered ginger and powdered cardamom. Strain to serve.

Rice cooked with meat and spices (pilau) and served with a tart tomato and onion salad is a favorite dish for special occasions. Chicken and goat meat are popular for holiday meals. Special sweets include moist, rice flour cake flavored with coconut and kaimati, which resemble doughnut holes, and are soaked in rose water syrup. When Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, tasted kaimati for the first time, he enjoyed them so much that he asked the joking question: “Can I get the seeds that Waswahili use to grow these?”

Although increasingly people eat at tables, they often spread straw mats on the floor and sit around a large, metal tray on which is piled the rice to be shared. They pass bowls of stew, vegetables and fruit and eat either with their right hand or a spoon. Before the meal begins, food is protected from insects by brightly painted straw covers. Several utensils are needed to process coconut, which is a frequent addition to rice and stews. First, the coconut is cracked in half with a sharp blow from an iron bar. Then, the cook grates each half on a serrated blade attached to a low stool. The gratings are placed in a long straw tube, which is then soaked in water to release a thick white milk.

Waswahili, like all Muslims, are prohibited from eating pork or drinking alcohol. The members of one clan from northern Kenya observe a taboo on eating fish.

Guests are always offered something to eat or drink, and it is polite to accept. Gifts of meat or special sweets are routinely exchanged among neighbors and relatives. Even children are encouraged to share food.

A light breakfast of tea and bread is eaten early in the morning. Many people have more tea and snacks mid-morning, and the main meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Supper includes tea and leftovers or light fare, such as an omelette.

EDUCATION

Through Islam, literacy came to the East African coast much earlier than to most other parts of the continent. Knowing how to read the Koran is religiously important, thus Swahili people have a high rate of literacy. Some people are literate in Arabic as well as Kiswahili. Those who have been to secular school are literate in English as well.

Many adults over fifty have had no secular education. Some adults in their forties had limited primary education, and only a very small number, mostly men, went on to secondary schools. Adults in their thirties tend to have at least several years of primary education. Young people today tend to finish primary school, and some go on to secondary school. Most Swahili young people attend religious school at least several times a week where they learn to read Arabic and to recite passages from the Koran.

Most parents, particularly those in urban areas, recognize the value of education in preparing their children for employment. Families vary as to whether they believe that girls should be educated as extensively as boys. The availability of single sex schools can affect this decision.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Taarab music, which has distinctly Arabic origins, is performed at weddings and concerts. Band members play keyboards, flutes, brass instruments, and drums to accompany singers. Many of the Kiswahili lyrics are double entendres that hint at romantic love.

Several women's dance groups perform at weddings for all-female audiences. They dance chakacha, which resembles belly dancing, and also lelemama, a very subtle dance with tiny hand movements. These groups used to engage in competitions, and they wore elaborate costumes, including military uniforms.

Kiswahili oral literature includes songs, sayings, stories, and riddles. The main written form is poetry. Kiswahili poems, which include long epics, prayers, and meditations on many subjects, conform to a complex rhyme and meter.

WORK

Some Swahili still fish, farm, and trade as they did in previous generations. But the difficult local economy has meant that many people are unemployed or dependent on the unpredictable tourist industry. Educated men and women enter the civil service and work in offices, shops, and schools. Although husbands are obligated to provide for their families, many wives earn money for their families through cooking food, sewing, or trading from their homes.

SPORTS

Few adults play sports. Many boys join soccer teams and play in hotly contested competitions. Soccer matches involving Kenyan regional teams or local boys' clubs provide rare, though exciting entertainment, mostly for men. In school, girls play sports such as netball and track. Children are sometimes taken to swim at the ocean.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Weddings and holiday celebrations are the most important forms of entertainment. The main guests at weddings are adults; however, young people enjoy weddings too, especially the musical concerts at night. Groups of young women, using their veils as camouflage, watch the wedding festivities from the sidelines. Traveling to and from weddings, people sing songs and celebrate with vigor.

There are only a few theaters in the urban areas, and young men are the most likely to attend films. Watching videos is a favorite pastime, especially for women and young people. Although not every household has a television and VCR, people tend to know friends or relatives with whom they can watch videos, such as action films from Japan, romances from India, Islamic epics, and detective stories from the United States. If a video contains love scenes, an adult might fast-forward to protect the modesty of those present. Local and foreign soap operas, news, and sports are also popular. Young people enjoy music tapes and music videos from the United States, Europe, India, and the Middle East. Several local bands are also popular, although men are much more likely than women to see them perform. On the weekends, young people sometimes go to discos, and women enjoy walking on the beach or going for a picnic.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Artisans on the island of Lamu are famous for their intricately carved wooden furniture and doors. They also construct miniature, painted replicas of the boats (dhows) used for fishing. Young boys play with these at the shore. Women use brown colored henna to paint complex flower designs on their hands and feet (up to the knees) as preparation for attending a wedding. The color, which stains the skin and nails, lasts for several weeks.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Waswahili view the declining economy and erosion of their culture by tourism as significant social problems. Tourists who walk around in immodest clothing (e.g., shorts and bikinis), drink alcohol in public, and encourage loose behavior among young people have threatened the proper Islamic life that many Swahili people struggle to maintain.

Waswahili face some discrimination by Kenyans who have resented their connection to the slave trade and their ties to Middle Eastern wealth. Their role in Kenyan politics, though marginal, is increasing as Kenya moves forward in multiparty democracy.

Although some individuals drink alcohol, even to excess, the Islamic prohibition mentioned above guards against widespread alcoholism. A more worrisome problem is the growing prevalence of drug use (marijuana) among young men, which is condemned as anti-social. However, chewing miraa, a plant grown locally that contains a mild stimulant, is regarded as an acceptable social activity in which participants share stories and jokes as well as the bubble gum that must be chewed to hide miraa's bitter taste.

GENDER ISSUES

Although Swahili culture is generally a heavily patriarchal system, women did once play vital roles both socially and politically. There is recorded evidence that show that Swahili women held high political positions, some of the women ruled as queens while others as chiefs. Even while male rulers predominated, some women occupied positions of authority, such as Asha Binti Muhammad, Chief of Ngumi in AD 1686; Mwana Mkishi, the first ruler of Mombasa around AD 1500; Queen of Pemba in AD 1686; and other queens such as Mwana Fatuma binti Darhash, Mwana Aisha and Mwana Mize binti Mnaba. After the 17th century, however, tilted political positions remained the exclusive domain of men.

In the traditional Swahili society, women fully participated in familial and public festivities. They were not excluded from attending mosques alongside men and even went through literacy programs just like their male counterparts. Women became literate and studied formal Islamic sciences. They even enjoyed the rights to property and inheritance just as men did. However, Swahili women slowly lost control of economic resources and were increasingly denied access to education. Despite the strides made in education in East Africa, Swahili women still occupy subordinate roles to men in religious, economic, and political spheres.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abdulaziz, Mohamed. Muyaka: 19th Century Swahili Popular Poetry. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau, 1979.

Allen, James de Vere. Swahili Origins. London: James Currey, 1993.

Askew, Kelly. Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Bakari, Mtoro bin Mwinyi The Customs of the Swahili People. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Caplan, Pat.“'But, the Coast, of Course, Is Quite Different': Academic and Local Ideas about the East African Littoral,” Journal of East African Studies, 1 (2): 305-320, 2007

———. African Voices, African Lives. Personal Narratives from a Swahili Village. London: Routledge, 1997.

Eastman, Carol. “Who Are the Waswahili?” Africa 41(3): 228236, 1971.

Fair, Laura. Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community, and Identity in Post-Abolition Zanzibar, 1890-1945. Oxford: James Currey, 2001.

Fuglesang, Minou. Veils and Videos: Female Youth Culture on the Kenyan Coast. Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology, 1994.

Glassman, Jonathan, “Sorting out the Tribes: The creation of Racial Identities in Colonial Zanzibar's Newspaper Wars,” Journal of African History 41 (2000), pages 395-428.

Hirsch, Susan F. Pronouncing and Persevering: Gender and the Discourses of Disputing in Coastal Kenyan Islamic Courts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming.

Horton, Mark. “The Swahili Corridor.” Scientific American 257:8693.

Knappert, Jan. Four Centuries of Swahili Verse: A Literary History and Anthology. London: Heinemann, 1979.

Matsuoka, Atsuko and John Sorenson, Ghosts and Shadows: Construction of Identity and Community in an African Diaspora. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Mazrui, Alamin M. and Ibrahim Noor Shariff. The Swahili: Idiom and Identity of an African People. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1994.

Middleton, John. The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Mirza, Sarah and Margaret Strobel (ed.). Th ree Swahili Women: Life Histories From Mombasa, Kenya. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Nurse, Derek and Thomas Spear, 1989.

Porter, Mary. Swahili Identity in Post-Colonial Kenya: The Reproduction of Gender in Educational Discourses. Seattle: University of Washington. Ph.D. Dissertation, 1992.

Strobel, Margaret. Muslim Women in Mombasa 18901975. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.

The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Willis, Justin. Mombasa, the Swahili, and the Making of the Mijikenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

—revised by M. Njoroge

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