The Swahili Tribe

The Swahili tribe is found along the coastal areas of Kenya, as well as Tanzania and Mozambique. They make up less than 1% of the total Kenyan population. Today, the largest populations of Swahili can be found in Zanzibar and Mombassa.

History of the Swahili

Given their territory along the coast, it's not surprising that they were primarily traders and had a great deal of contact with people from other lands, for many hundreds of years. Being so involved in trade between the Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Europeans traders much of their history is blended with others.

Swahili oral tradition doesn't give any origins of their people other than along the coast of Africa. It's not known if they migrated to this area from other parts of Africa. Much history begins after 800 CE, but there are references to these coastal people dated earlier.

Some anthropologists feels that the Swahili are a cultural tribe, brought together by modern environment rather than a tribe created by distant biological lineage. That is to say that people in the Swahili tribe are just descendants of all those who lived on the coast during the trading times a thousand years ago.

Trading between the foreigners and upland Africans, meant that the Swahili language spread much farther than most African languages. This is still seen today with many different tribes all speaking Swahili.

The Swahili Language

The language of the Swahili tribe is same Swahili that is spoken all through eastern Africa. It's a Bantu language. Both Swahili and English are the official languages of Kenya. The grammar and syntax of Swahili is Bantu, but the vocabulary shows the constant communication with Arabs with a great number of Arabic words.

It's usually only a first language among the Swahili people themselves. It is learned as a second language elsewhere, and growing in popularity as a common tongue in a number of countries. Because of its geographic spread, there are quite a number of Swahili dialects.

With so many different people speaking Swahili, it can be difficult to determine who are of the Swahili people or are just people who speak their language.

Swahili Culture and Lifestyle

There is no solid record of what Swahili culture or family life was like before the coming of the overseas traders, and once these people had regular contact with so many outsiders, they quickly adapted many of their ways in everyday life. Much of their customs stem from their Muslim beliefs.

The Swahili are a very urban tribe, living mainly in cities and embracing a completely modern lifestyle. Their ways are very diverse, reflecting the mix of cultures that have been brought here.

Swahili Religion

Just like the Somali, who also had extensive contact with Arab traders, the Swahili tribe have also adopted the Muslim religion. Though there are some small populations of Swahili Christians, Islam is the main religion. They practice it much as any other Muslims around the world do.

Related pages:

Tribes in Kenya - Main page
List of Kenya tribes with short descriptions

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