The Swahili people and culture is made up of around 500,000 people who also go by the name of Waswahili as well. This culture has been around for thousands of years living, dating back to at least 100 AD when a Greek traveler wrote about the inhabitants and culture he found when he visited a place in East Africa.
Swahili can be found in a small coastal strip in Kenya down to Dar es Salaam. They can also be found in several Indian Ocean islands, Lamu, Tanzania, Mobasa and even in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
12 Notable Facts about Swahili People, Language and Culture
Language of the Swahili People
The language that is primarily spoke by the Swahili is called KiSwahili or Bantu. This language has orgins from the Arabic language but is considered Bantu because of the suffixes and roots of the language. Only five million people speak this language as their first language but around 140 million people use the language to communicate. Many Swahili people use their original language as a second language and use English as a first to communicate with others in school, work or other industries.
Religion of Swahili People
Almost all Swahili people are Muslim and practice the Islamic religion. Swahili Muslims practice the five pillars of faith that are universal to the Islamic religion worldwide 1. Belief that Allah is the Supreme Being 2. Prayer five times a day 3. Fasting during the month of Ramadan 4. Giving to charity and 5. Making a pilgrimage to the holy city. There are also Swahili people that believe in spirits; men wear amulets around their necks to protect them from these spirits. Prophets and teachers of the religion are the only ones within the culture to become a medicine man. Children are expected to attend religious classes called Madrassa where they learn the Arabic language, study Korean and learn about their religion.
For a couple thousand years the Swahili people have acted as a third party between Africa and the other parts of the world. In the 1900s they played a huge role in the trade of ivory and slavery people. These days many people still rely on the trading industry as well as the fishing and farming industries.
Although there are still jobs within the trade, farming and fishing industries, many people cannot rely on these jobs to provide a reliable amount of income for themselves and for their families. Without an education many Swahili people are forced to work in the tourist industry. Those with an education can find jobs within the school or government system or even work in local businesses or shops. Wives earn income by cooking, sewing or selling other things from their home.
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Since this culture is made up of mainly Muslims, their political system is less formal and written out than many other cultures. They tend to rely on the expertise and power of the elder male members of the community.
Swahili people participate in all the nation’s public holidays including Madaraka Day (Independence Day for Kenya), Farmers Day, and Union day to name a few. The most important holidays that they participate in are the religious holidays including Eid al-Fitr.
Relationships are similar to those of other Muslim cultures. There is typically no dating and no mix between men and women of the Swahili culture. Women are encouraged to spend time with each other at home while men are encouraged to spend time with others in public places. The repect of elders is huge within the Swahili culture.
Family life is also similar to other Muslim cultures; the husband and fathers have the authority within the house. Swahili women do have some power within the family and decisions as well. There are also many households that house grandparents, in laws, aunts and uncles and other family within one household.
Weddings are the biggest form of entertainment for this culture. Women spend hours hand painting each other’s skin with henna on their feet and hands solely for the purpose of attending a wedding. Movies are also a very popular way of spending free time.
Past Times/ Hobbies
Craftsmanship and other artistic things are very common within the culture. Men spend time creating hand carved furniture, such as doors and tables, and women hand paint intricate designs on these crafts as well.
The Swahili culture is very modest, so a big issue that comes up is with tourists or travelers that come into their communities. Many drink alcohol and dress inappropriately and this has caused some issues within the culture. Many men have taken up smoking pot, which has also been a recent issue the culture has had to address.