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Swahili Coast

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Title: Swahili Coast  
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Swahili Coast

The Swahili Coast refers to 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 in the African Great Lakes region.

The major ports along the Swahili Coast include:

Off-shore island groups associated with this coastal region:


Parts of the area that is today considered Swahili Coast was known as Azania or Zingion in the Greco-Roman era, and as Zanj or Zinj in Middle Eastern and Chinese literature from the 7th to the 14th century.[2] The rise of the Swahili Coast city-states can be attributed to the region's extensive participation in a trade network that spanned the Indian Ocean.[3][4] Historical documents including the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and works by Ibn Battuta describe the society, culture, and economy of the Swahili Coast at various points in its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; other evidence for Indian Ocean trade includes the presence of pot sherds on coastal archaeological sites that can be traced back to China and India.[5]

A product of the multi-cultured environment of the Swahili Coast was the development of the Swahili language, a fundamentally Bantu language that contains numerous Arabic loanwords.[6]


At around 100 BCE long-distance maritime trade began, though prior to that there was still trade taking place. Evidence for early trade was found at Ras Hafun in Somalia by Neville Chittick. At the two sites located in Ras Hafun, pottery from the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, India, and the Eastern Mediterranean was found. Some Swahili coast exports inclued ivory, animal hides and skins, tortoiseshell, some precious stones, ambergris and civet perfumes, sorgums, millets, sesame, coconut oil, vinegar, copra, dried fish, hardwoods, ebony, mangrove boats, sisal, coir, rubber, roc 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, woollens, glass and stone beads, metal wire, jewellry, ssandalwood, 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, religious and aesthetic knowledge and skills, gold, silver, brass, bronze, religious specialists, and craftsmen. [3]

See Also


  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 Horton, Mark; Middleton, John (2000). The Swahili: The social landscape of a mercantile society. Oxford: Blackwell.  
  4. ^ Philippe Beaujard "East Africa, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar before the sixteenth century, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa" (2007)
  5. ^ BBC Kilwa Pot Sherds
  6. ^ Nurse, Derek; Spear, Thomas (1985). The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800-1500. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

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