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Swahili coast

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


The Swahili coast

The major ports along the Swahili coast include:

Offshore island groups associated with this coastal region:

Associated coastal and island people through Swahili culture include:


The Omani Empire at its peak under Saif bin Sultan

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 Historical documents including the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and works by Ibn Battuta describe the society, culture, and economy of the Swahili coast at various points in its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

The rise of the Swahili coast city-states can be largely attributed to the region's extensive participation in a trade network that spanned the Indian Ocean.[5][6] Some Swahili coast exports included sorghums, millets, sesame, coconut oil, vinegar, copra, dried fish, hardwoods, ebony, mangrove boats, sisal, coir, rubber, rock crystal, tobacco, carved doors and chests, forged iron, incense, myrrh, gums and resins, gold, copper, iron, domestic and field slaves, and concubines. Some of the imports received from Asia and Europe include cottons, silks, woolens, glass and stone beads, metal wire, jewelry, sandalwood, cosmetics, fragrances, kohl, rice, spices, coffee, tea, other foods and flavorings, teak, iron and brass fittings, sailcloth, pottery, porcelain, silver, brass, glass, paper, paints, ink, carved wood, books, carved chests, arms, ammunition, gunpowder, swords and daggers, gold, silver, brass, bronze, religious specialists, and craftsmen.[5] Evidence for Indian Ocean trade includes the presence of pot sherds on coastal archaeological sites that can be traced back to China and India.[7]

A product of the multi-cultured environment of the Swahili coast was the development of the Swahili language, a fundamentally Bantu language that contains a number of Arabic [8] and Hindu [9] loanwords due to the significant trade with Arabia and India [4].

One of the things that was traded along the Swahili coast was gold. Gold was mined in Zimbabwe and transported through other parts of the Swahili coast.[10] In the 13th century, the city of Kilwa, an island off the coast, took control of the gold trade from Banadir.[11] Kilwa became very powerful[11] and wealthy [12] because of its control of the gold trade, thriving until the Portuguese arrived on the Eastern coast of Africa. In order to take control of the gold trade the Portuguese attacked settlements on the Swahili coast[11], including Kilwa in 1505.[11] The city is in ruins to this day.

The kingdoms on the Swahili coast rose because of the trade networks in which they were involved, but they began to decline, possibly in part because of colonization by the Portuguese, [13] who were interested in controlling the trade markets on the Swahili coast.[13] Since the Portuguese took over the trade markets the kingdoms were not able to trade as much as before and as a result began to decline.

See alsoEdit


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