"Mwana simba ni simba." (The child of lion is a lion.)~Swahili ProverbThe Swahili people (Waswahili) are an amalgamated Kiswahili-speaking Bantu ethnic group and culture found in the eastern African Great Lakes region and in Comoros. Members mainly reside on the Swahili Coast, in an area encompassing the Zanzibar archipelago, coastal Kenya, the Tanzania seaboard, and northern Mozambique. The name Swahili is derived from the Arabic word Sawahil, meaning "coastal dwellers".
Swahili girls from Pemba Island, Zanzibar Archipalego
Swahili girls from Pemba Island, Zanzibar Archipalego
Previously thought by many scholars to be essentially of Arabic or Persian style and origin; archaeological, written, linguistic, and cultural evidence instead suggests a predominantly African genesis and sustainment. This would be accompanied later by an enduring Arabic and Islamic influence in the form of trade, inter-marriage, and an exchange of ideas. Upon visiting Kilwa in 1331, the great Berber explorer Ibn Battuta was impressed by the substantial beauty that he encountered there. He describes its inhabitants as "Zanj, jet-black in colour, and with tattoo marks on their faces", and notes that "Kilwa is a very fine and substantially built town, and all its buildings are of wood" (his description of Mombasa was essentially the same). Kimaryo points out that the distinctive tattoo marks are common among the Makonde. Architecture included arches, courtyards, isolated women's quarters, the mihrab, towers, and decorative elements on the buildings themselves. Many ruins may still be observed near the southern Kenyan port of Malindi in the Gede ruins (the lost city of Gede/Gedi)
Kenyan Swahili man
Swahili people (Waswahili) speak Kiswahili (Swahili). Kiswahili is a major Bantu language that belong to the larger Niger-Congo language family and is widely spoken in East Africa. Apart from East Africa Kiswahili has gained international appeal as its studied all over the world. It is spoken by various communities inhabiting the African Great Lakes region, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Mayotte. The closely related Comorian language, sometimes considered a Swahili dialect, is spoken on Comoros Island.
Veiled Swahili girl in Pemba, Tanzania. Courtesy Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
Although only around five million people speak Swahili as their mother tongue, it is used as a lingua franca in much of the southern half of East Africa. The total number of Swahili speakers exceeds 140 million. Swahili serves as a national or official language of four nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is also one of the official languages of the African Union.
Swahili man and a little girl
Origin of Kiswahili
The Swahili language, is basically of Bantu (African) origin. It has borrowed words from other languages such as Arabic probably as a result of the Swahili people using the Quran written in Arabic for spiritual guidance as Muslims. “Swahili” from the Arabic word “swahil” meaning “the coast.”
Regarding the history of the Swahili language, the older view linked to the colonial time asserts that the Swahili language originates from Arabs and Persians who moved to the East African coast. Given the fact that only the vocabulary can be associated with these groups but the syntax or grammar of the language is Bantu, this argument has been almost forgotten.
Swahili man and his baby
Words from Other Languages
Numbers in Kiswahili: "moja" = one, "mbili" = two, "tatu" = three, "nne" = four, "tano" = five, "nane" = eight, "kumi" = ten, are all of Bantu origin. On the other hand there is "sita" = six, "saba" = seven and "tisa" = nine, that are borrowed from Arabic. The Arabic word "tisa" actually replaced the Bantu word "kenda" for "nine". In some cases the word "kenda" is still used. The Swahili words, "chai" = tea, "achari" = pickle, "serikali" =
government, "diwani" = councillor, "sheha" = village councillor, are some of the words borrowed from Persian bearing testimony to the older connections with Persian merchants.
The Swahili language also absorbed words from the Portuguese who controlled the Swahili coastal towns (c. 1500-1700AD). eg "leso" (handkerchief), "meza" (table), "gereza" (prison), "pesa" ('peso', money), etc. The Swahili language also borrowed some words from languages of the later colonial powers on the East African coast - English (British) and German. Swahilized English words include "baiskeli" (bicycle), "basi" (bus), "penseli" (pencil), "mashine" (machine), "koti" (coat), etc. The Swahilized German words include "shule" for school and "hela" for a German coin.
Greetings and Civilities:
Greeting is extremely important in Kenyan culture. Before talking to anyone, it is polite to
greet them first. After a greeting, some Kenyans may even carry on with small talk for a
good ten minutes before getting to the topic at hand.
How are you (greeting a singular person)? Habari yako? or Habari gani?
I’m fine Nzuri
What is your name? Unaitwa nani?
My name is ____ Ninaitwa ______
Thank you very much Asante sana
No problem Hakuno Matata
White person (foreigner) Mzungu
Have a safe journey Safiri salama
For centuries the Swahili depended greatly on trade from the Indian Ocean. The Swahili have played a vital role as middle man between east, central and South Africa, and the outside world. Trade contacts have been noted as early as 100 AD. by early Roman writers who visited the East African coast in the 1st century.
Trade routes extended from Somalia to Tanzania into modern day Zaire, along which goods were brought to the coasts and were sold to Arab, Indian, and Portuguese traders. Historical and archaeological records attest to Swahilis being prolific maritime merchants and sailors who sailed the East African coastline to lands as far away as Arabia, Persia, Madagascar, India and even China. Chinese pottery and Arabian beads have been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
Turbanned Swahili fisherman Holding Fish , Lamu, Kenya
During the apogee of the Middle Ages, ivory and slaves became a substantial source of revenue. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil, which was then a Portuguese colony. Swahili fishermen of today still rely on the ocean to supply their primary source of income. Fish is sold to their inland neighbors in exchange for products of the interior.
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.
Beautiful Swahili lady
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.
Harusi ya Waswahili – Sheli Lamu
The groom family will visit the bride family in a surprise in their first visit usually it is between 2pm – 4pm to propose. On arrival the groom family will pronounce their intention of visit“TUM
EKUJA NA JAMBO LA KHEIR KUTAKA JIKO”
(jiko here mean a woman). In arranged marriage the groom families knows and have information on the bride to be. Here it depends if the bride to be families have more than one girl in the house or the family lives with extended family the bride to be family will want a description of the girl in detail. The detail description includes; complexion, height, weight, etc.
Usually the description is done in detailed manner. The bride mother will then based on the description given will call the girl and ask her to serve the visitors tea and snacks the move is aimed at identify the bride to be (a mother guess is always right) and approval from the groom family. The groom family leaves the bride family house promising to come back soon but not without leaving a groom photograph behind for the bride to be.
Swahili bride`s tattoo before her traditional Islamic Marriage
Despite the fact that in arranged marriage the bride parents decision is considered to be final but the bride to be mother will explain in details to her daughter about visit and intention of the visitors, she will also give her the photograph of the groom to be.
Maulidi ceremony is performed immediately by both parents.The slaughter of cow as a “SADAKA” to the villagers and a thank giving to ALLAW (SW). Dua and Fatihais performed.
Kupelekapete will be a second visit to the bride to be family. The bride family will be informed early in advance in order to inform their close relatives about the occasion. On this particular day the purpose of visit is to discuss on the:
-Girl dowry (MAHARI)
-Fixed marriage date
The groom family will bring the engagement ring together with other gift for the bride e.g.Kanga, cloths, hijab, buibui etc.
Swahili Woman, Kenya. Photograph by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
Elevating a glance to an art form, Khadijah says with her eyes what Swahili women in Lamu, Kenya, are forbidden to say in words. Socially segregated by strict Islamic law, a woman shrouded in a black bui-bui may attract a man’s attention when she appears in public with her friends, but most marriages are arranged.
MAHARI OR DOWRY :
this belongs to the bride to be and she is the one to decide on what she
wants her Mahari to be. Mahari can be given in a form of:
-Furniture: this includes double bed, dressing table, wardrobe, sofa sets, and wall unit. worth Ksh. 150,000/= to Ksh. 200,000/=
-Cash money ranging from Ksh. 100,000/= to Ksh. 150,000/=
-Set of gold worth Ksh. 100,000/= to Ksh. 150,000/=
-The Holy Qur’aan and Mswala
:Mahari is bargainable and also depends on financial ability and stature in society.
-Maziwaya mama it is between Ksh. 30,000/= and Ksh 50,000/= an appreciation to bride mother.
-Kilembaya baba:it is between Ksh. 30,000/= and Ksh. 50,000/= an appreciation to bride father.
-Bag (Bagi) as they call it in Swahili the bagi can cost Ksh. 100,000/= to 150,000/= but the same Bagi can cost as little as only Ksh. 10,000/= this also depends on the family wealth.
Maziwaya mama is usually shared among the mama family (uncles and unties) same with
kilembaya baba the cash is divide among the baba families (Shangazi and Ami)
-Marriage date: the wedding date is fixed between 3 – 4 months to give both families time for wedding preparations
during this period the bride will remain indoors this is what is referred as
“KufungaUkuti”during this time the bride is not allowed to go out not unless it is very necessary and in any case she has to go out then she will be accompanied by an elderly person in the family and covered completely from head to toes, she should not be recognized by anybody.
Lamu Swahili woman With nice henna designs! In Lamu, many women put the veil to avoid boys bothering them!
(Used for several millenaries for its dying proprieties, the henna became famous for the temporary brownish tattoos it allows to make harmlessly on the skin. Extracted from the homonym plant by crushing its fresh leaves, Henna is broadly used in Africa, Southern Asia and the Middle East. Cleopatra and Nefertiti are known for having used henna and in Egyptian beliefs, it was part of the afterlife journey preparation, since it has been discovered on several mummies' toenails by archeologists.
A more superstitious tradition is henna averts malevolent spirits and the so-called Evil eye in Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the Levant. It is also supposed to attract or repel helpful or harmful Jinns, sort of supernatural creatures in Arab folklore. Black Henna is alternately used to talk about Indigo blue, a natural dye used in the same manner than the henna, and about a harmful chemical that can leave lifetime scars and have heavy after-effects.)
- Somo and kungwi: will be chosen among the family or alternatively profession on the field to guide the bride and give lessons on Elimu Asilia of the Swahili people to the bride to be during the kufungaukuti period.
During the four months indoors somo will help the bride to be with body beautification so that by the time she gets marriage she will be in a fair complexion and smooth this is made possible applying the following to the body; Liwa, Manjano, BintiDhahabu waxing and shaving is done
also. Five days to the wedding the bride hair will be relaxed using the cream relaxer died to her color of choice, dried and styled by the beautician (somo) the day of the wedding.
Hennaed Swahili Bride, Kenya Photograph by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
A Swahili wedding is filled with rituals designed to beautify the bride and heighten the senses. Before her wedding, Fatima has designs drawn on her limbs with twigs dipped in henna.
KUNGWI: An old woman chosen to give guidance to the bride on the cleanness of the body, bedroom matters, and how to handle a husband during the wedding day and after the wedding day duties and responsibilities.
-HINNA PARTY: The Hinna ceremony takes place 3 days before the wedding, the ceremony is attended by the bride friends and age mates as a farewell party to the bride the bride is applied hinna the occasion is marked by songs, and dance. Snacks and soft drinks are served to the visitors.
-SHINDA: Shinda is the coming together of the close bride relatives to make the final preparation of the wedding day especially to make arrangement on food drinks, to divide duties and responsibility for the big day. During Shinda lunch is made for the family gathering and soft drinks served. The occasion is meant to bring togetherness in the family and close relation. On the same day at night the family will celebrate KESHA with friends and neighbors. Snack (mahamrisviazivyarojo, kitoweo (meat or chicken) and juice will be served. The Kesha ceremony is marked by dance, songs, Ngoma “mama lele, Kirumbizi or buzi by the elderly women.
- LIMATULARUS – LUNCH: the lunch ceremony takes place at the bride’s home relatives, friends, neighbors and family gather for lunch. Taarab dance and modern songs mark the occasion.
- KUPAMBA: is mostly done in the evening from 7pm – 12pm at the hall this is strictly meant for married women to enter the hall one must have invitation card for the occasion. The hall beautification and design is made by professionals. A parked box of snacks and soft drinks is serves to the guest as they enter. Taarab music played and dance for about 3hours to be precise and at 10.30 pm to 11.00pm the bride will arrive marched to the stage for photographs, immediately the bride groom enters the hall the invited guest leave and the bridegroom is left with her relatives and very close relatives to explore the stage and take family photographs. The exercise takes between an hour and two hours. The groom takes her bride home escorted by close relatives.
Swahili groom and his bride,Zanzibar Island. Courtesy lilian-nabora
MKE NI LESO: Ni la zima mke kuvaa leso mbili wakati wakulala na mumewe Mume ni avae leso kiunoni Kikaii na upambaji wa milazakishellasikuyanikkah tuna
Muyasmini, vilua, udi, manukato, mafutamazurinausafizaidiyamkekimwili,
Mwanamkewa Kiswahili nipambonalazimatuendelezemilanadesturiyetukatikaelimuasiliatuliofundishwanawazeewetu. Na vituhivikuvitumiakwamwanamkewa Kiswahili nikamalazimakumfurahishamumewako
GROOMS FAMILY HOME:
The groom and bride will go to bed while both relatives wait for the answer from the groom. It the bride turns out to be a virgin the bed sheet is send to the bride family and a celebration for both the family.
“KUOLEWA NA KUOA SI RAHA NI KARAHA YATAKA USTAMILIVU”
a saying from Munira Yusuf to remind the couples on the wedding vows.
Manukatoyawaswahili – vilua, muasumini, roses.
Swahili marriage. Courtesy lilian-nabora
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.
Swahili wedding. Courtesy lilian-nabora
Islam established its presence in the East African coast from around the 9th century, when Bantu traders settling on the coast tapped into the Indian Ocean trade networks. Because of the interactions that ensued with the Arab and Somali proselytizers, Islam emerged as a unifying force on the coast and helped to form a unique Swahili identity.
On the coastal section of East Africa, a mixed Bantu community gradually developed through contact with Muslim Arab and Persian traders. The Swahili culture that emerged from these exchanges evinces many Arab and Islamic influences not seen in traditional Bantu culture, as do the many Afro-Arab members of the Bantu Swahili people. The Afro-Arab Swahili people in turn introduced the Islamic faith to the hinterland.
The Swahili follow a very strict and orthodox form of Islam. For example, Eid-ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, is widely celebrated in areas where the Swahili form a majority. Further, large numbers of Swahili undertake the Hajj and Umrah from Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique.
Swahili Islamic School in Pemba island - Tanzania © Eric Lafforgue
Traditional Islamic dress such as the jilbab and thob are also popular among the Swahili. In addition to more orthodox practices, the Swahili also are known for their use of divination, which has adopted some syncretic features from underlying traditional indigenous beliefs. In addition to orthodox beliefs in djinn, many Swahili men wear protective amulets around their necks, which contain verses from the Koran.
Men And Teenage Boys With Traditional Dressing Singing And Dancing At Maulidi Festival Lamu, Kenya
Divination is practiced through Koranic readings. Often the diviner incorporates verses from the Qu'ran into treatments for certain diseases. On occasion, he instructs a patient to soak a piece of paper containing verses of the Qu'ran in water. With this ink infused water, literally containing the word of Allah, the patient will then wash his body or drink it to cure himself of his affliction. It is only prophets and teachers of Islam who are permitted to become medicine men among the Swahili.
Early history of islam
The earliest concrete evidence of Islam and Muslims in eastern Africa is a mosque foundation in Lamu where gold, silver and copper coins dated AD 830 were found during an excavation in 1984. The oldest intact building in eastern Africa is a functioning mosque at Kizimkazi in southern Zanzibar Island dated AD 1007. It appears that Islam was common in the Indian Ocean by AD 1300. When Ibn Batuta of Morocco visited the East African coastlands in 1332, all the way down to the present border between Mozambique and South Africa, most of the coastal settlements were Muslim, and Arabic was the common literary and commercial
language spoken all over the Indian Ocean - Batuta worked as a Kadhi, Supreme Muslim Jurist, in the Maldive Islands for one year using Arabic as his working language.
Men Dancing Goma Stick Dance At Maulidi Festival, Lamu, Kenya © Eric Lafforgue
Islam thus seems to have arrived quite early to East Africa through traders. It certainly did not spread through conquest or settlement, but remained an urban and coastal phenomenon for quite long. Later it spread to the interior after 1729 when the Portuguese were pushed beyond the Ruvuma River that forms the
present Tanzania-Mozambique border. It would be erroneous to consider Islamic practices in eastern Africa as Arabic practices, and associate Islam with Arabs, since Islam did not arabise East Africans; on the contrary, Arab immigrants, Islam and Islamic practices got africanised or swahilised, thereby developing Islam as an indigenous African religion! This is also linguistically evidenced by the fact that Arab immigrants
became Swahili speaking, adopted the Swahili dress, food and eating habits and other cultural elments.
Islam is therefore not a foreign but rather a local religion on the coast, and along the old trade/caravan routes. It is more of an urban religion also in the interior (as in Tabora, Morogoro, Moshi) and inland ports (Kigoma, Ujiji, Mwanza) of Tanzania and the rest of East Africa.
Swahili woman. Circa 1930
In recent times there has been many Swahili people who have also taken to Christian faith.
Swahili Christians at a church,Mombasa,Kenya
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.
Swahili girl from Kenya weaving basket
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.
Tanzanian Swahili woman and Lamu, Kenya © Eric Lafforgue
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.
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.
Swahili girls in traditional dress
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.
Swahili women in Lamu,Kenya Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
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.
Swahili women in Lamu,Kenya Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
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.
Swahili women wearing traditional dress
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.
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.
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.
Swahili mothers carrying their babies. Tanzania
Swahili mothers carrying their babies. Tanzania
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.
Tanzanian Swahili girl coming out from coranic school, Zanzibar Tanzania.
© Eric Lafforgue
© Eric Lafforgue
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.
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.
KISHWAHILI: PEOPLE, LANGUAGE, LITERATURE AND CULTURE
ASSIBI APATEWON AMIDU
Kiswahili is a language which is better known in the world as Swahili. However, apart from linguists interested in Africa, and general linguists interested in the comparative study of languages, not too many people actually know the origin and structure of the language we call Kiswahili or Swahili today, its extensive literature,and its Pan-African identity. Many people still believe, like the sailors of the 15th to the 19th centuries, that Kiswahili is a kind of mixture of Arabic and African languages. In short, Kiswahili is a kind of pidgin or creole which was born out of trade and intermarriages along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. This view is, however, far from the linguistic and historical discoveries of today. In fact, exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today, Dr. J. Ludwig Krapf completed the writing of the first ever Kiswahili grammar book in Mombasa. The year was 1845. It took another five years before the book was finally published in Europe. In remembering this important event, we need to re-educate ourselves about the language Kiswahili.
In order to do so, we shall concern ourselves with the following themes:
1. The origins of Kiswahili and its speakers;
2. Some salient features of Kiswahili as a Bantu language;
3. The literature of Kiswahili; 4. How Kiswahili got its name, and
5. The spread and use of Kiswahili.
Swahili woman in Somalia
THE ORIGINS OF KISWAHILI AND ITS SPEAKERS
Historians working in Africa have now concluded that all the African people were neighbours more than 10,000 years ago (c.f. Oliver and Fage (1988), Odhiambo, Ouso, and Williams (1977), Amidu (1985/89). To the north, we had and still have the caucasoid group who are now called Afroasians. Next to the Afroasians, we had and still have the Negro group or Black people. In the forest, lived the Pygmies, and in the eastern and southern savannas of East and Southern Africa, the Bushmen roamed freely. The last two, historically, have either a pale or a yellowish skin texture, according to Oliver and Fage (1988: 7).
But today, both they and the negro qualify as black people. Linguistically, the Pygmy-Bushmen-Hottentot belong to a distinct linguistic type called Khoi-San. Comparative linguistic studies have also shown that the languages spoken by all the negro peoples are related and that some 5-6,000 years ago they probably spoke one language. The common language began to change as the people discovered agriculture and started moving in groups further and further from each other to found new settlements and farms.
Kenya,Lamu Island of Swahilis
The homeland of the early negro people, it is claimed, was probably located around the bend of the Niger (c.f. Alexandre 1972: 60-72). But, we think that the homeland was, most likely, spread between the bend of the Niger and the lake Chad basin, where fishing was carried on along the river lines. If our claim is right, then, in our opinion, there is no doubt that an intrusion of a successive wave of Afroasians through the middle of negro heartland was finally responsible for the definitive division of the negro people into two distinct groups, which then developed apart as two distinct linguistic types, the Nilo-Saharan and the Niger-Congo.
Swahili girl and her baby sister,Lamu, Kenya
The Nilo-Saharan group then had only room to expand eastwards and today they include Songhai (in Niger), Luo (in Kenya), Acholi (in Uganda), Maasai (in Kenya, Tanzania), Dinka (in Southern Sudan) etc. The second group, called Niger-Congo, could also only expand westwards and south-eastwards. For this reason the group became split up into two groups, the Western group and the Southern group. They appear to have maintained contacts with each other, albeit only in times of great necessity, and so the two groups developed virtually independently of each other.
The Western group of Niger-Congo is found mostly in modern Western Africa. The Southern group of Niger-Congo moved into the forest and stayed between Mount Cameroon and the tributaries of the Congo, Logone, Chari, and Sangha rivers from where they moved to the region of Lake Mweru (c.f. Guthrie 1967). Within the comparative safety of the forest, this Southern group developed a different form of the Niger-Congo language, and this is called Bantu today. The Bantu people of today, therefore, emerged from the very heart of Africa into open savanna country further south. The people then moved to the east, the west, and south of Africa in gradual waves, till they were many enough to displace the Pygmies and Bushmen except in dense forests and in dry savanna and desert areas of Southern Africa.
Swahili people gathered in their living room,Lamu,Kenya
Later on, they also displaced some Afroasians of Eastern Africa. Among the first Bantu group to come to East Africa was the Washungwaya, a North-East Bantu group. The Waswahili are probably one of the better known members of this group. There is no doubt, in our mind, that the name Unguja is the modern derivation of Shungwaya. The Bantu original tribe of the Waswahili must have been simply the Shungwaya ya magunyani or Tikuu (Lit. 'The Shungwaya of the Homeland'), as opposed to the Shungwaya ya Shangazi (Lit. 'Shungwaya of father's sister'), who are the 'Mijikenda' and other groups. This is the surprise which many a learner does not expect or suspect. The Waswahili are, therefore, historically, a Bantu people by origin and language. They now live along the coast and on the off-shore islands of Eastern Africa.
Swahili women, Zanzibar
If you go to the East African coast and meet Waswahilis of varying shades and colour, it is due to centuries of contact and intermarriages with people from all over the globe. But, you will notice that the language they speak is understood by other Africans on the mainland, especially the hinterland, who have very little mixed features and mixed cultures, even if they have just met a Mswahili for the first time; while no person from the Orient or Europe or even other parts of Africa further removed understands, on his first arrival, what both the Waswahili and their mainland (hinterland) cousins are saying to them without the help of an interpreter. Africans in the immediate hinterland understand the Waswahili because both groups are using forms of the same language, while the Orientals, Europeans, and others do not understand them because they are using different languages.
Beautiful Swahili girl
How do we know that Kiswahili was and is part of the Bantu languages like Zulu, Shona, Kikuyu and others? Linguistic scholars like Delafosse (1948), Baumann, Westermann and Thurnwald (1948), Greenberg (1963), and Guthrie (1962; 1967) employed a technique called lexicostatistics or glottochronology which was used in Europe to show that most European languages originated from the same parent Indo-European language as the ancient and sacred language called Sanskrit used in India. The theory says that because language is important to the survival of man, people will always take with them words of their languages which will preserve their identity and culture whenever they are moving from place to place (c.f. Bynon 1977: 266-272). This means that words which directly affect a person's very survival such as those which refer to things like numbers, words referring to the body or parts of it, those which refer to trades such as fishing, iron working, architecture, and so on, do not get lost easily.
Swahili man following his donkeys that carry loads
Guthrie (1967), for example, in his study of Bantu languages found surprisingly that the highest percentage of proto-Bantu word roots (old words) in 200 core sample Bantu languages could be found in Chi-Bemba spoken in Zambia. This language has 54% of the total. He found that the language Luba-Katanga (Chi-Luba), in Congo-Brazzaville and Zaire, has 50% old roots still surviving, while Ki-Kongo in Zaire, Congo-Brazzaville and Angola, and Ki-Swahili on the east coast in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, the Comoro Islands, tie with 44% each of protoBantu roots. These roots are still present in these languages. The language Sukuma (Ki-Sukuma including Ki-Nyamwezi) in central Tanzania, spoken by 12,6% of Tanzanians, has 41%, while Yao (Chi-Yao) in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi, has 35% of the protoBantu word roots. These words are still in use in the language.
Ancient Swahili structure of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania
Other researchers have also been studying these languages from other perspectives, such as their common classificatory systems called classes, identical 'euphonical' concords, common sound laws, similar verbal and nominal derivational processes, and common constituent typology as (S)VO languages. Thus, one thing is clear to all the scholars: linguistically, Kiswahili is, in percentage terms, derived more from an older form of the African language family called Bantu than Sukuma and Yao, and is equal to Ki-Kongo. So, if we take modern Zaire-Zambia as the homeland of the Bantu people, then the Waswahili were one of the earliest people to migrate to the coast before the proto form changed significantly. This would also explain the high percentage of old roots in the language. This would, most likely, not be the case if the language were a mixture of Oriental, European, and unrelated African languages.
Swahili girls. Circa 1925
THE LITERATURE OF THE KISWAHILI
Kiswahili literature is as old as the people have been Kiswahili speakers. Oral literature, therefore, predates the written literature. For a long time, the oral literature was dismissed as not constituting literature in the classical sense of literature in Europe. Apart from a wealth of oral literature, Kiswahili has an impressive four centuries of written literary traditions. However, the evidence of this written literature dates only as far as the 17th century. The oldest surviving manuscript has been dated to 1652 and is called the Hamziya, according to Knappert (1979). It is a religious work.
Cute Swahili girl
The truth is that the original written manuscript of the Epic of Liyongo (Utenzi wa Liyongo) which is older than the Hamziya cannot be traced. It seems evident that the original source of the written version was the oral literature of the Waswahili of the Tana River basin to the off-shore islands off the present Kenya-Somali coast. Most of the written versions which have survived are 19th and 20th century manuscripts of the epic. Nearly all the early written literature of the Waswahili was in poetry. Poetry was written in different verse forms. There are over eleven verse forms in Kiswahili today (c.f. Knappert 1979; Amidu 1990, 1993; Lodhi 1986). Until the last years of the 19th century, the Waswahili discouraged prose writings as forms of serious literature. In fact, it is only in the 20th century that prose and drama have become very popular.
Swahili girls, Mozambique
Prose and drama were considered by the coastal Waswahili to be uncouth or commonplace 'performance literatures' and as such were not considered as 'true' literature. Today, however, we have all kinds of literature in Kiswahili and on any topic. But poetry is still the yardstick by which people ultimately judge the quality of a writer as a true artist (c.f. Lodhi 1986: 13, 18). It is for this reason that Julius Nyerere wrote his literature in verse and not prose. It is also for this reason that letters to Kiswahili newspaper editors, and magazines are written in poetry and not prose to this day (c.f. Lodhi 1986). Kiswahili songs are typically written in the classical or traditional verse forms, but since independence, written free verse songs have become more the norm, especially on the mainland. A tentative chronology of Kiswahili literature is as follows:
A. Oral Literature (From about 100 B.C.)
1. Folktales 2. Free Verse Songs used in Dances
3. Aphorisms and Proverbs 4. Epics.
B. Written Literature Date/Topic Title
1. Oldest manuscript ca. 1652 Verse. Hamziya
2. 18th-19th Centuries Verse. Chuo cha Tambuka, Al-inkishafi,
Mwanakupona, Majimaji, etc.
3. Mid 19th-20th Centuries Verse, Prose, Juliazi Kaizari, Kijenketile, Simu
Drama. ya Kifo, Utu Bora Mkulima, etc.
THE HOME LAND OF KISWAHILI LITERATURE
The cradle of Kiswahili literature is in the northern part of the Kiswahili country which is in modern Kenya close to Somalia. The Kiswahili written literary tradition began on Pate Island in Kenya in the 17th and 18th centuries. Later, the centre moved to Mombasa in the mid 1750 to the early parts of the 19th century. From about 1840, the centre shifted to Lamu, also in Kenya, and it stayed there until the arrival of European scholarship. The arrival of Europeans appears to have inspired the south to use prose to compete with the north. Even, the appointee to the post of supreme court judge (Kadhi) of Islam under the sultanate of Seyyid Said and his successor Seyyid Majyid came from the north, and continued in that tradition at least until the closing years of the 19th century and the early 20th century.
Old mosque of Msikiti - Kilwa Kisiwani, South Coast, Tanzania
Today, the north still leads in traditional literature. For example, one of the innovations started in Lamu off the Kenya coast in 1975 and documented by us is the use of poetry as a tool for political campaigns, elections, and satire. This type of poem is called the KIMONDO meaning 'blinding meteor' (c.f. Amidu 1990, 1993) for details about this verse). But, we draw attention also to the fact that on Pemba island, between Mombasa in the north and Zanzibar in the south, a tradition of classical literature has taken root, especially form the end of the 19th century.
However, in general, both Kenya and Tanzania produce many works each year especially in prose and on all aspects of life. Love songs are especially popular. The preferred dialect used in modern times is Standard Kiswahili (Kiswahili Sanifu) based on the dialect of Zanzibar town which is called Kiunguja. The increase in the number of speakers has given rises to Standard Kiswahili usages which are specifically not part of the native speakers' repertoire.
Girl in Kilwa Kivinje, Tanzania
For example, compare the use of the Vi- class, as in (22) below, to collectivize objects of different classes, where the native speaker would normally use Ma-1 class (i.e. cl. 6), as in (23).
(22) is Standard Kiswahili (Kiserikali 'government'), and (23) is Kiunguja.
(22) Kikombe, sahani, na malimau, vy-ote vi-mepotea (the cup, plate, and
lemons are all missing)
(23) Kikombe, sahani, na malimau, y-ote ya-mepotea (the cup, plate, and
lemons, are all missing).
Detailed studies need to be conducted into language use and variation since the 'Nationalization' of Kiswahili in 1967. Kiswahili is now a language of all the peoples in East and Central Africa, and not just of muslims on the coast or of north versus south. The well-known dialects of Kiswahili are, Kiunguja (Zanzibar), Kimvita (Mombasa), Kiamu (Lamu), Kisiu (Siu), Kipate (Pate), and Kingazija (Comoro Is).
Swahili Lamu woman © Eric Lafforgue
The name of the language Kiswahili has the following derivation. The prefix KI- actually means 'language, customs, way of life' of the people called Waswahili. The root SWAHILI means 'coast'. So, the word KISWAHILI means 'language, customs, way of life of people from the coast'. The word 'swahili' was a 'nickname' given to the East African coast by visitors form Arabia, especially from the 10th century A.D. The Arabic word is 'sahil' which means 'coast' but the Arabs used the plural form 'sawahil', and it is from this form that we have the word 'swahili' in current usage. Today, there is a tendency to use the term Mswahili to describe any East African who speaks Kiswahili. The surface culture of the native Waswahili is islamic, but their underlying culture is Bantu (c.f. Lodhi 1994).
Young Boy Playing With A Dhow Boat Model Beach Of Lamu, Kenya:Lamu town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa.
The town's history is marked by a Portuguese invasion then the Omani domination, like in Zanzibar. The streets of Lamu are very narrow, so there are no cars, only donkeys to carry everything!
The town's history is marked by a Portuguese invasion then the Omani domination, like in Zanzibar. The streets of Lamu are very narrow, so there are no cars, only donkeys to carry everything!
© Eric Lafforguewww.ericlafforgue.com
Between 100 B.C.and the 10th Century A.D., the Arabs and Persians who came to East Africa used to
call the people ZANJ (or ZINJ) which means black. Every Arab who was coming to East Africa said he was going to ZANJBAR, i.e. the land of black people. The term'bar' means 'land'. This distinction was important because Ethiopians, Somali and other cushitic groups who are Afroasians like the Arabs lived and still live in the horn of Africa to this day. Today, the name ZANJBAR is used only to refer to an island whose modern name is ZANZIBAR (i.e. zanzbar) but whose Kiswahili name is Unguja.
Lamu Swahili girl. Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
THE HISTORY OF CONTACTS ON THE EAST AFRICAN COAST
The Arabs, some Greeks from Alexandria in Egypt, and some Chinese were, mostly, the only visitors to the East African coast between 100 A.D. and 1498. In 1498, the portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope and landed in Sofala in Mozambique. From there they came to Mombasa and Malindi on the modern Kenya coast looking for the sea route to India. Between 1500 and 1510, the Portuguese moved up and seized all the Kiswahili lands and islands and kept the East African gold, ivory, and slave trade in their own hands, and then blocked the route to India to everyone except themselves. In 1698, the Waswahili people, led by powerful and established Arab/oriental merchants and families of Mombasa invited the sultan of Oman to save them from what they perceived as the Portuguese threat to their survival. Little did they know what was to follow. The Omanis came and drove out the Portuguese.
Women and Kids,Lamu,Kenya. www.ericlafforgue.com
In 1798, when General Napoleon landed in Egypt, the British quickly signed a treaty of friendship and defence with the sultan of Oman to check the French, and, as a reward for the cooperation of the Busaidi dynasty, recognized the sultan of Oman as ruler of the East African coast and its possessions. This was resented by the Waswahili of all walks of life, but there was nothing they could do. In 1840, when the ruling sultan, Seyyid Said, realized that the Waswahili, and even Arab merchants, were not obeying him and were not prepared to share their wealth from the lucrative trade with India and Arabia with him, he moved his headquarters from Oman to Zanzibar, where the people were more friendly. Mombasa was very hostile to foreign domination. After this, all trade was in Arab and Indian hands and the East coast became an Arab colony, and trade emporium of international proportions for the first time. The sultan brought many Indian merchants from Indian to trade in East Africa, especially in the interior.
Swahili people. www.ericlafforgue.com
The Americans (1837), the British (1841), the French (1844), all established consulates in Zanzibar to look after their trading interests until the scramble for Africa began in 1886. The sultanate lost control of the hinterland to the Europeans, but the dynasty in Zanzibar did not end until 1964 when it was overthrown in a revolution. The Europeans, who robbed the sultan of his control of the interior trade in East Africa, imposed colonial rule on their East African dominions. The people were forced to learn Europeans languages like German (up to 1914), English, and French. The situation has not changed since independence.
Mikindani Swahili kids playing, Tanzania.www.ericlafforgue.com
The fact of the matter is that, even when the sultan made Arabic his official language in East Africa, it was used only in his palace and by 'true' Arabs and diplomats. The 99% of the Waswahili never used Arabic because, even though they were Muslims, they did not understand Arabic and regarded it either as a foreign nuisance (if a nationalist) or the language of Allah, and of mysticism or miracles (if devout), which could only be understood and used properly by the mullahs. So, even to this day, the people speak their Bantu language Kiswahili, but only a few can speak Arabic (c.f. Amidu 1985/89).
Summary of Contacts up to Independence
200 B.C. - 950 A.D. Arabs, Persians, Greeks, Indian, and Chinese traders.
1498 - 1729 Portuguese, Arabs, Persians (Iranians), Indian traders.
1798 - 1963 English and French traders, and colonizers from their countries.
1887 - 1914 German traders, followed by German colonizers.
1837 - 1963 Traders from the United States of America.
1961 - Present Day Geo-political colonialism from the U.S.A, U.S.S.R (now just Russia), China, Japan, Britain, France, Belgium, South Africa.
Newly Married Couple: "Swahili Girl from Zanzibar Island" and his Zulu husband. Circa 1900
THE SPREAD OF THE LANGUAGE KISWAHILI
Kiswahili came from the interior to the coast. Later, it moved from the coast back into the interior again. How did this happen? Under the influence of Arabs, Persians, Indians, Europeans and Americans, there was a high demand for exotic goods and labour force such as ivory, slaves, animal skins and horns, live animals like cattle and sheep, African timber, gums, fragrant wood, cloves, copra, and minerals such as gold. To get these goods, it became necessary, especially in the 19th century, to send traders into the interior or cultivate them on the coast. Long caravans carried goods like silk and cotton cloths, beads, necklaces, sugar, and guns etc., from the coast into the hinterland and bartered these for the goods they wanted. At times, when the Waswahili and Arab traders could not persuade the people to sell their goods willingly, they would used force.
Swahili woman, Zanzibar
The traders from the coast spoke Kiswahili which was related to the languages in the interior. All the porters and assistants and slaves who helped to carry goods to and from the coast all used Kiswahili, and all the people who came to look for work with the traders on the trade routes learnt Kiswahili. By the time the slave trade was stopped in 1873, the language had become the lingua franca of several countries. Another thing which helped the language to expand was the arrival of missionaries to East Africa in the 19th century. The missionaries wrote grammars and dictionaries in 1850, 1870, and 1882 in order to spread Christianity. Since then a lot of grammatical work has been produced on the language. The German colonial government in Tanganyika from 1887-1914 made Kiswahili the compulsory language of junior civil and public service administration.
Swahili people. Circa 1930
Kiswahili is spoken as a mother-tongue in Somalia and used by others (approx. 0.9 mill. out of 7.6 mill.), and Kenya along the coast and off-shore islands, in Tanzania on the mainland and off-shore islands such as Zanzibar, Pemba etc. (used by nearly all 25.9 mill. citizens), on the Comoro Islands (all 0.5 mill. inhabitants), along the northern coastal areas of Mozambique and off-shore islands (approx. 0.2 mill.), and the northern part of Madagascar (approx. 0.1 mill.). It is also spoken in the south western and northern parts of Uganda, and increasingly in the whole of Uganda (approx. 8.5 mill. out of 17.7 mill.). It is spoken as a mother tongue in eastern Zaire and used by other groups (ca. 9.1-12.2 mill. out of 34.9 mill.), the lake regions of Rwanda (0.9 mill.) and Burundi (0.5 mill.), Zambia (0.1 mill.) and Malawi (0.5-1.0 mill.).
Praying And Singing With Young Boys At Maulidi Festival Celebration, Lamu, Kenya
Today, Kiswahili is the national and official language of Tanzania, the language of Parliament in Kenya as well as its unofficial lingua franca (used by nearly all 25.5 mill. inhabitants). Total estimated speakers and users is approx. 66-72.6 millions and could be in excess of 80 millions (c.f. Lodhi 1993; Amidu 1994a). Externally, Kiswahili has spread to the Middle East, where there are pockets of Kiswahili speaking peoples, to Europe and America as well as Asia, and some parts of West Africa (c.f. Amidu 1985/89, 1994a; Lodhi 1992, 1993). In all these continents and countries, Kiswahili is a subject of academic study.
Summary of Spread of Kiswahili
Geographical Area Country
1. East and Central Africa Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Comoro.
2. West Africa Ghana, Nigeria. (Academic use only).
3. Europe and America (Academic use only).
4. Middle East and India Small settlements, esp. Oman, and Gulf States. (Academic use).
5. Far East Japan, China, the Koreas. (Academic use only).
Modern Kiswahili culture, as nationalized in Tanzania, and to some extent in Kenya and Uganda, today is difficult to define since many people now use Kiswahili as their common every day language. Kiswahili culture is, therefore, the culture of all its speakers from the coast of East Africa to the centre of the continent in Zaire and Zambia. But we should be careful to distinguish the Pan-African culture of Kiswahili from the traditional mother-tongue speaker's culture, which belongs essentially to the East African literal area, to which we may add some settlements in the interior of Africa, and small pockets overseas. Kiswahili is the Key to all the languages which have spread from latitude 10 down to the tip of South Africa.
Swahili Lamu girl smile in the sunset - Kenya.© Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
Its oral literature, which goes back to 100 B.C., is rich in proverbs, aphorisms, anagrams, riddles and anecdotes, and a wide variety of music and dance songs. Kiswahili is not limited by race, colour or religion. Dr Krapf foresaw that, one day, Kiswahili would get to the West Coast of Africa. Kiswahili has indeed reached West Africa, not as the lingua franca he had dreamt about, but as an important academic subject. Whoever, wishes to understand the hearts and minds of Africa and Africans is well advised to begin with the tried and tested Kiswahili, because, it is full of diversities and surprises. It is also tailor-made for world communication as a result of contacts with all the really important languages of the world.
The topics discussed above reflect some of the questions which Kiswahili teaching and studies are most concerned with in Norway, and Scandinavia, and should be concerned with - the humanity of man as seen through an African people,their language, their literatures and cultures, and their civilization.
Summary of some Factors
A. Factors which made Kiswahili to spread
1. Trade with the hinterland and interior (esp. gold, slaves, ivory, cloth);
2. Colonial rule and Administration (Germans and British);
3. Missionaries (Krapf, Steere, Sacleux, Ashton, Taylor, Harries);
4. Independence struggle and national identity;
5. World interests (Education, aid, NGOs), and Pan-Africanism;
6. Refugees and migrants.
Swahili woman confined to room before her marriage
B. Estimated number of speakers (c.f. Lodhi 1993).
1. Mother tongue ca. 5-8 millions;
2. Second Language ca. 28-35 millions;
3. Third language ca. 30-42 millions.
Total ca. 63-85 millions.
Swahili girls, Tanzania
1. Language of everyday activity in East and Central Africa;
2. Language of administration and education in Tanzania;
3. Language of Parliament in Kenya;
4. U.N. listed language of importance and one possible continental language of theO.A.U.;
5. Broadcasting media in East, Central, West African, European, and Far-Eastern countries.
Education, fieldwork, government overseas organisations, non-government organisations, OAU, UNESCO, WFP/WHO IN E. & C. Africa, teaching in East, Central and West African universities and schools, communication and journalism,art for art, etc
Swahili fishermen mending net
THE SHIRAZI IN SWAHILI TRADITIONS, CULTURE, AND HISTORY
"Strange foreign jewels on a mournful silent shore"
Swahili kids at Lamu beach,Kenya
Historians have frequently viewed the Swahili-speaking peoples of the East African coast as members of an Arab diaspora that spread around the Indian Ocean with trade over the last two thousand years. The interpretation flowed easily from the apparent "Arab" nature of Swahili culture--a written language using Arabic script, elaborate stone buildings and mosques constructed in urban settings, Islam, and genteel social behavior especially when contrasted with the culture of mainland Africans, members of preliterate, uncentralized communities. Since the Swahili culture of the islands and coastal fringes bore little apparent resemblance to the cultures of the mainland, historians reasoned, its development could only have been the product of Persian and Arab merchants bringing to the "mournful silent shores" of East Africa the "jewels" of their own Muslim civilizations.
The perspective was essentially diffusionist in assuming that cultural innovation and historical development in Africa could only have come from elsewhere, and racist in assuming that race and culture were so inextricably linked that a separate "race" of immigrants had to carry these new ideas. As a result, historians failed to investigate the possible African roots of Swahili culture in their Bantu language, their religious beliefs and values, their economy, or their social structure. But this charge applies not only to European historians; Swahili oral historians have long recounted the development of their societies in essentially the same terms in involved genealogies tracing the development of different Swahili families, communities, and institutions back to Persian or Arabian ancestors. When European historians came to study the oral traditions of the Swahili (usually in written, chronicle form), they thus found ready confirmation of their own assumptions and interpretations.
The essential agreement of both the oral and professional historians would seem to make the diffusionist case a convincing one. Closer examination of Swahili culture and society, however, reveals that African components are far more prominent than allowed for by the diffusionist argument. The Swahili language, for example, is a Bantu language in both its grammatical structure and in the majority of its vocabulary, closely related to the Mijikenda and Pokomo languages spoken along the Kenya coast; and its literature reflects the African oral mode. Swahili stone architecture has no stylistic analogs in Arabia or Persia, but developed locally out of the mud and wattle architecture prominent along the coast in the context of increasing economic wealth and socio-economic differentiation. Even the Islam of the coast bears strong traces of historical African religions in the prominence of beliefs in spirits and spirit possession, ancestor veneration, witchcraft, and sorcery, all of which have been maintained by a local oral tradition of Islam that has co- existed with the more orthodox written legal tradition. If Swahili culture is an African culture, the question then becomes how and why earlier historians went wrong.
Many of the literate historians were writing at a time when diffusionism was a prevalent explanation for historical development in Africa. Their conclusions were confirmed by the parallel interpretations of archeologists working on coastal sites and by a literal reading of Swahili traditions, as we have seen. And there were no detailed ethnographies of Swahili societies or comparative study of the Swahili dialects and Bantu languages of the area to refute them. In taking the Swahili traditions literally, though, they failed to realize two important aspects of the traditions and of traditional thought. The first was change in the traditions caused by the dramatic increase in Arab influence during the nineteenth century with the establishment of Omani rule in Zanzibar and the extension of Zanzibari influence along the coast. Architectural styles began to reflect Arabian and Indian features, immigrant sharifs (alleged descendants of the Prophet) and religious men reformed and revitalized coastal Islam along contemporary Arabian lines, Hadrami merchants became prominent community leaders, and Omani dominated coastal politics. The rise in Arabian influence was rapidly reflected in Swahili traditions through a renewed interest in Arabian genealogical links. From the perspective of the late nineteenth century, when Europeans first became extensively involved in East Africa, then, Swahili culture appeared to be Arab and putative Arab origins featured prominently in Swahili traditions. The mistake the historians made was to extend these nineteenth century phenomena back to the beginnings of Swahili culture in the first millennium.
Secondly, in taking Swahili traditions at face value, the literate historians failed to understand the dynamics of traditional thought. Taking traditions literally has been a common fallacy among historians who fail to see that traditions are an integral part of the history they convey, providing explanation and meaning to the people who relate them for their cultural values and social institutions. Genealogies are not simply literal lists of ancestors, but models of society that both state and explain historical developments and social relationships in terms of a reproductive model. Kinship and descent were the models of society long before they were discovered by anthropologists. Genealogies are thus far less valuable for a narrative history of past ancestors and kings than they are for a history of the structural development of the society.
Historians and anthropologists have recently begun to discuss ways that we might unlock the meanings oral traditions convey to the traditional historians who relate them and to the people who listen to them within the context of their own structures of thought and of the ways in which oral traditions develop. Whereas earlier attempts to use oral traditions concentrated on validating them as historical sources according to literary tests of historical truth, the new approach concentrates on translating essential meanings from one mode of historical thought to another. Some see this choice of method as simply a choice between functional and structural modes of analysis, but it is an attempt to use the lessons of both. Tn positing a functional correspondence between myth and other social institutions, the functionalists saw myth as a charter validating current institutions. What the functionalists failed to see was that, once generated, myth assumes its own reality as an ideology guiding future action.
We face the problems of the present with the ideology of the past. Myths, then, represent the lessons of the past, and can therefore be used to help understand the institutions of the past to which they were related. Structural analysis, with its emphasis on the symbolic content of myth, seeks to uncover deeper, often hidden, structures of society and thought. This is a valuable exercise when the analysis concerns a particular society at a given historical moment and explores the multivocality and rich ambiguity of symbols, but too often structural analysis is reduced to cultural universals and simplistic oppositions. The search for meanings seeks to translate from one mode of historical thought to another. The teller of tales is an historian seeking to understand the lessons of the past of his or her own society within the logic of a pre-scientific, analogical mode of thought and conveying those lessons orally. Through a process of abstraction, the lessons of the past are progressively reduced to elegant symbols expressing fundamental historical truths.
Our task, as historians operating in a literate and analytical tradition, is to understand the original meanings of the myths and the ways in which these might have changed over time before translating these meanings into the language of our tradition. And if we are to translate these accurately, we must translate both the stated and the unstated, the words and the thoughts behind them, the symbols and their full range of referants.
The Structure of Swahili Society
Since traditions provide, in Clifford Geertz's phrase, both models of and models for society, it is necessary to look first at the structures of Swahili society before beginning our analysis of their traditions. The Swahili are townspeople, whose towns scattered among the islands and along the coastal fringe of the East African coast from Somalia to Mozambique were important entrepots for East African-Indian Ocean trade from the ninth century. The majority of Swahili, however, lived in small villages and made their living fishing and farming. Towns rose and fell individually on the vagaries of trade, one generation building elegantly in stone while the next reverted to mud and wattle. Prominent towns included Manda and Shanga in the Lamu Archipelago in the ninth to fifteenth centuries, Mogadishu in the thirteenth century, Kilwa in the fourteenth-fifteenth, Mombasa in the fifteenth-sixteenth, lamu in the fifteenth and nineteenth, Pate in the sixteenth-seventeenth, and Zanzibar in the nineteenth century. But even these were never far removed from their village roots; village settlements and life intruded into town life, and many towns reverted to villages in times of development
Veiled Swahili woman, Kilwa Masoko village, Tanzania Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
Swahili villages, like those of the Bajun of the Somali and northern Kenya coast, typically were ethnically homogenous, but as an individual village became more prosperous, it attracted immigrants from other Swahili villages and towns, from the main- land, and from overseas, resulting in an ethnically-mixed and economically-specialized society. This led to the characteristic pattern of socio-economic differentiation and social stratification, with individual groups living together in their own ward and quarter (mtaa) of the town and different groups or wards ranked hierarchically vis-z-vis one another. Lamu society in the early nineteenth century included the prominent old Swahili families (waungwana), who occupied the stone wards in the center while poorer Swahili, Arab traders, Dahalo hunters, Pokomo farmers, Somali and Oromo cattle traders, and slaves together occupied the mud and thatch wards on the periphery. Each ward was formed around a few families, who lived in close proximity to one another, attended the same mosque in their ward, intermarried, and worked together in common economic enterprises. An individual ward might dominate in political or religious leadership, in the production of certain crafts, or in trade. But each was linked to other families and wards in the wider context of the town economy, town politics, and communal rituals.
Swahili boy with his donkey
Wards coexisted with one another in states of complementary tension, and each developed an elaborate combination of ideology and socio-economic practice to maintain its respective position or to better it at the expense of others. The hegemonic ideology was that of the waungwana (lit. "the free born"), comprising the oldest and most respected families in the town. To be one of the waungwana, one typically had to be a wealthy landowner, be able to trace one's descent from one of the earliest settlers of Lamu in the oral traditions or in the genealogical book (silwa) waungwana maintained for this purpose, and live in a stone house in one of the central wards. To be uungwana was to be "civilized" in the town mode--respected, creditworthy, dressed in the Swahili manner, well-spoken in Swahili and adept at Swahili verse, and learned in Islamic knowledge. Waungwana jealously guarded their status through not allowing others to live in the stone town or even to build in stone elsewhere; through maintaining their genealogies and the silwa; through restricted marriages with those of similar status; through insuring a proper Quranic education for their children; through maintaining the traditions that accounted for their superiority; and through continual exercise of economic, political, and religious power over the town as a whole. Similarly, each waungwana ward sought to articulate and protect its own special positions and identity within waungwana society and the town as a whole.
Swahili lady, Zanzibar
Such a system was not static; prominent families and wards could only maintain their position as long as they were able to retain economic and political power. Abdul el Zein has analyzed the situation in Lamu in the later nineteenth century, when Hadrami merchants and sharifs were able to capitalize on their economic power, political leadership of the poorer inhabitants, and religious prestige to counter waungwacn power, status, and ideology, with a more egalitarian ideology based on the brotherhood of all believers. Thus economic prosperity was a mixed blessing for the old Swahili families of the coast, bringing them wealth and power but also competition, as immigrants flooded in and capitalized on new economic and political opportunities to improve their own status.9 The position of a particular family or ward and the social structure or position of the town as a whole were thus historical products, born out of the dynamic tensions inherent in Swahili economy and society, and closely reflected in the history recalled by the people in their own.
Veiled Swahili woman, Kilwa Masoko village, Tanzania Eric Lafforgue www.ericlafforgue.com
Traditions of the Shirazi
Integral to the ideology of each Swahili family, ward, and town were their traditions, normally composed of long genealogies that explained and justified their respective places in Swahili society. Each group had their own specific traditions and such traditions varied through time with the rise and fall of different groups, but I wish to limit myself here to a common tradition found all along the coast to demonstrate some of the meanings that we can derive from these traditions and their implications for Swahili history. This is the tradition of the Shirazi, people who allegedly came from Shiraz in Persia to found most of the coastal towns. Waungwana families frequently trace their descent from these immigrants, and the name Shirazi has become a common ethnonym for the Swahili people generally.
Old Swahili Zidaka in Shela - Kenya
We start with the traditions of Kilwa, the town on the southern Tanzanian coast that rose to prominence through control of the gold trade from Zimbabwe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its traditions are rich, and there is extensive archeological evidence to test them against. In one version, the "Arabic History of Kilwa," probably first written down about 1520, we are told, in summary, the following:
"The first inhabitant of Kilwa was an infidel and a
hunter named Muli. One day a Shirazi, Ali ibn al-
Husan, one of six brothers who had left Shiraz to-
gether with their father in seven ships in the early
llth century to found settlements all along the
coast, arrived in Kilwa while Muli was hunting on
the mainland. When Muli returned, Ali asked if he
could settle on the island. Muli agreed, providing
Ali would encircle the island in colored cloth.
Ali did so; Muli took the cloth and went to the main-
land. To prevent Muli's return, Ali dug out the
channel between Kilwa and the mainland so that Muli
could not recross it at low tide. When Muli did return,
he waited for low tide, dispaired of being able to
return to his home, and left." ("An Arabic History of Kilwa Kisiwani, c. 1520" in G.S.P.
Freeman-Grenville, ed., The East African Coast (Oxford,
This tale has often been taken by historians to relate literally to the founding of Kilwa and other coastal towns by Persian immigrants in the eleventh century, and much ink has been spilled on tracing the genealogical and chronological connections with Shiraz, but, as Neville Chittick has shown in his excavations at Kilwa, the dates cited are both too late for the initial founding of Kilwa and too early for the probable beginning of the
Shirazi dynasty on either Kilwa or Mafia. The tradition can, however, be interpreted structurally.
The single hunter Muli stands for the indigenous hunting peoples who inhabited the area initially, and who were thus the "owners of the land."' When the Shirazi arrived, they arranged to pay tribute to the Muli for the right to settle on their land, but such tribute was misinterpreted. The Shirazi felt they had bought the land and thus sought to prevent the Muli's return, while the Muli felt they had merely allowed the Shirazi to rent,
thereby retaining their own rights to return. The point is made somewhat differently in another version of the tradition collected about 1900. Here the original inhabitant of Kilwa is called Mrimba:
'Then there came Sultan Ali bin Selimani the Shirazi,
that is, the Persian. He came with his ship, and
brought his goods and his children... They disembarked
at Kilwa, that is to say, they went to the headman of
the country, the Elder Mrimba, and asked for a place
in which to settle at Kisiwani. This they obtained.
And they gave Mrimba presents of trade goods and beads.
Sultan Ali married Mrimba's daughter. He lived on good
terms with the people. He gave them presents, each
according to his standing. These presents were cloth
Then Sultan Ali persuaded Mrimba's daughter and said:
"Tell your father, the Elder Mrimba, it is best for
him to leave Kisiwani and live on the other side on
the mainland. For it is not suitable for him to live
in the same place as myself: it is not correct for he
is my father-in-law. I will live here in Kisiwani:
it will be enough if I manage our affairs. Whenever
he wants to come to Kisiwani to see me, he can come,
and likewise I can go and see him in the same way."
So Mrimba's daugher told her father what Sultan Ali
had said. The Elder Mrimba agreed to what Sultan Ali
wanted. But he said, and he told his daughter to say:
"Tell Sultan Ali, I am ready to go to the mainland,
but he must spread out cloth for me all the way, so
that I may walk on cloth as far as the mainland. I
do not agree if it falls short." His daughter gave
Sultan Ali his reply, as Mrimba had desired: and
Sultan Ali agreed to Mrimba's wish.
So he spread out cloth from Kisiwani to the opposite
mainland, and Mrimba passed over....
Then Sultan Ali ruled in Kisiwani. And Mrimba resolved
to make war, and to come to Kisiwani and strike down
Sultan Ali. So Sultan Ali had the Koran read out as a
spell and offered sacrifices so that Mrimba should not
take the road to cross over and bring war. Then Mrimba
moved his home, and went to the mainland of the Ruvuma
and dwelt there.
Sultan Ali only ruled the islands; he had no power on
Sultan Ali had a child by Mrimba's daughter, a son,
who was called Sultan Mahomed bin Sultan Ali. He lived
at home until he reached manhood, and then set off and
went to the Ruvuma to see his grandfather, the Elder
Mrimba. When he arrived, his grandfather handed over
his power to him, his grandson. So Sultan Mahomed
Then he gave him all the munitions of war and permission
to make war on the mainland, first on Tungi, and then as
far as Pemba ya Mnazi. Then he returned and came to
Kisiwani. And, on the very day he arrived, his father
Sultan Ali died.
So Sultan Mahomed ruled...("The Ancient History of Kilwa Kisiwani" in Freeman-Grenville,
Hamid bin Muhamad bin Said, Late Sultan of Zanzibar. A wealthy Swahili merchant, who would have been one of the go-betweens with the inland merchants. Davis – Africa… 1907
Here we see more clearly that the initial agreement to settle involved the Shirazi paying tribute to the Warimba in trade goods and beads, incidentally identifying the Shirazi as traders. Ali arranged a marriage alliance with Mrimba, and then sought to divide political and economic power between the island domain of trade and the agricultural mainland between them, citing rules of in-law avoidance and paying further tribute. But the Warimba refused to give up their sovereignty over the land, and so the Shirazi asserted their superior Qur'anic and local magic to defeat them. The conflict was eventually resolved in Mohamed, the child of both the Warimba and the Shirazi, who re-united his maternal grandfather's power over the mainland and his father's over the island. The relationship between the Shirazi and the Warimba thus proceeded from a tributary relationship through affinal and hostile ones to the union of the two lineages in a joint line, Mohamed and his successors becoming both "owners of the land" and rulers of the island and mainland.
Tippu Tip or Tib (1837 - June 14, 1905), real name Hamad bin Muhammad bin Jumah bin Rajab bin Muhammad bin Sa‘īd al-Murghabī, was a Swahili-Zanzibari trader of mixed descent. He was famously known as Tippu Tib after an eye disease which made him blind. A notorious slave trader, plantation owner and governor, who worked for a succession of sultans of Zanzibar, he led many trading expeditions into east-central Africa, involving the slave trade and ivory trade. He constructed profitable trading posts that reached deep into Central Africa.
The structure of Kilwa society is revealed in the tradition. The original inhabitants of Kilwa were hunters (and probably farmers) who were eventually supplanted by traders from the northern coast using their wealth and prestigious claims to Per- sian origins and knowledge of the Qur'an, bnt who in the end intermarried and merged with the local people to form a single indigenous ruling group. This synthesis can still be seen in nearby Mafia where the waungwana, the Mbwera, claim to be both the "owners of the land" and Shirazi as a result of intermarriage between the two.
Arab Swahili ladies,Zanzibar. Circa 1913
Elsewhere the resolution between local inhabitants and the Shirazi took a different form. The traditions of Pate in the Lamu archipelago are typical. While the Pate Chronicle, related by a member of the Nabahani dynasty that ruled until the nineteenth century, concentrates almost exclusively on the immigration, genealogy, and conquests of that dynasty, a tradition collected by Chittick reveals a more complex introductory chapter
that is only briefly alluded to in the Chronicle:
" The origin of Pate was a person from the mainland whose
name was Mwana Masuru and who was of the Sanye tribe.
Then there came a Batawi to trade and buy ivory from
Masuru. He subsequently married Mwana Masuru's daughter,
and so acquired possession of Pate. Then came the
Nabahanis, Sefu and Sulaiman; Sefu married the daughter
of Batawi. Seven days after the wedding Sefu went to
this father-in-law to ask for his funguo, and was given
Pate." NB:People from Pate are still called Batawi elsewhere along the coast.
Sayyid Khalifa II bin Harub Al-Said
A literal interpretation of this tradition sees the establishment of three successive dynasties, the two marriages possibly masking successive usurpations, but that is too simple. The tradition establishes a series of relationships in the hierarchical, stratified Swahili mode. Mwana Masuru was a woman and the Sanye are the Dahalo or Aweera hunters who were the original in- habitants and "owners of the land." The Batawi were merchants who came initially to trade with the Dahalo, but who stayed to settle and trade by establishing an enduring alliance ("marriage") with them. The ivory trade with the Dahalo continued to be the mainstay of Pate's economy through the nineteenth century and the Batawi remained one of the most prominent Shirazi waungwana families in that trade. Finally, the Nabahani immigrated from Oman, allied with the Batawi, and became kings.
Sultan and other Zanzibari officials walking past cannon, Zanzibar 1905 - Winterton Collection of East African. These people are aliens that came to settle on Bantu land claiming to be Swahilis
The original role of the Nabahani is not clear in the tradition, but their claim to rule is based on the superior prestige (baraka) of their Omani origins. Other evidence makes it clear that Omani traders gained from the growing Omani ascendancy on the coast during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pate's prosperity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would certainly have attracted such traders, who were able to parlay their wealth into social pre-eminence and political power, which they then sought to con- solidate by virtually obliterating their Dahalo and Shirazi antecedents from the traditions. In retrospect, however, the tradition views their ascendancy in terms of a marriage alliance, implying that the Batawi acceded to their rule and the assimilation of the Nabahani into waungwana society.
Sultan Of Zanzibar and British Consul, 1960. The British were always looking for light colored people to install as chiefs and Sultans against the black Bantu people.
In the language of the traditions, immigrant traders arrived, gave gifts to the indigenous inhabitants, fought them and married them, and inherited rights to the land and to political power. In the language of social science, the traders arrived as strangers, paid tribute to the indigenous peoples, contested with them for control and made alliances with them, and ultimately were assimilated within a society that was simultaneously becoming differentiated and stratified. These themes reflect the tensions inherent within the societies and represent the resolution through institutionalization of those tensions in a stratified model of coastal society.
Arabic Dressing Culture in Zanzibar, 1890
The Shirazi were thus less a people than a historical phenomenon as peoples along the coast traded, settled, interacted, and developed more complex social structures to form the distinctive culture that we know as Swahili today. The Shirazi are the prototypical Swahili, conceived in the intercourse between different peoples and economies, born into a society in tension, and raised in inequality. Perhaps the traditional language of marriage is not inappropriate after all. The traditions reveal the characteristic historical tensions that trade and immigration caused in coastal societies, as well as the processes by which traditional historians reflected on that history by attributing specific cultural roles and traits to different "races." All this invited Western historians to confirm their own diffusion theories all too easily and so miss the real historical meanings that the traditions have, both for the Swahili themselves and for their history.
The Shirazi in History
What the Shirazi represent in the traditions is clear, but who were they? Did they really come from Shiraz? While Persian origins are claimed in a number of traditions, the Jomvu of Mombasa recall Arab ancestors who first settled in Mogadishu before moving to Mombasa. The Bajuni, Kilindini of Mombasa, and Vumba of southern Kenya all recall that the Shirazi came from Shungwaya in southern Somalia, the legendary home of their linguistic cousins, the Mijikenda and Pokomo. And a version of the Kilwa tradition also claims that the Shirazi came from Shungwaya. The Shirazi may not have been Persian, but African or Afro-Arab traders from the northern coast who spoke a Bantu language and were otherwise similar to the people among whom they settled, but who called themselves Shirazi for the prestige foreign origins so often bring.
19th century photo of the English traveler Sir John Kirk showing a daughter and son of the Sultan of Zanzibar protected by two guards
The symbolic language of the traditions is of local provenance. The image of hunters as "owners of the land" appears in a number of other Swahili traditions as well as in those of some of their hinterland neighbors. In the Shambaa tradition analyzed by Feierman, Mbegha the hunter in the bush is the archetype of the wild and uncivilized man who, on settling in a village and participating in exchange relationships with Shambaa farmers, becomes humanized and civilized. The primary base of the Swahili trading economy was the acquisition of ivory and other forest products from local hunters with whom they enjoyed close reciprocal relations, symbolized by the exchange of cloth and beads for settlement rights and by the marriage of hunter and trader in the traditions. Furthermore, trade brought immigrants from elsewhere along the coast who had to establish local social relationships: foreign males symbolically married local females. Finally, trade and the immigrants and prosperity it brought caused increasing economic specialization and contests for political power that are depicted in the traditions by marriages of female landowners to wealthy male traders and the fusion of these two groups in a single ruling group. The symbolism of the traditions thus captures eloquently the specific historical nature of social and economic interaction as it occurred along the eastern African coast.
Contemporary documentary accounts also stress the indigenous nature of coastal society. While Pemba in the early tenth century had a mixed population of merchants from Siraf and Oman, local Muslims, and "Zenj idolators," they venerated their ancestors, had no religious (i.e. Muslim) law, and had "an elegant language and men who preach in it." The population of the Comoros two centuries later was Muslim, but was also black and spoke its own language`s. And while Mogadishu in the fourteenth century was noted for the wealth of its merchants, the lavish court of the Sultan, and the prominence of Islam, it was also the most important city of "Swahilini"--the home of the Swahili--that stretched from Mogadishu to Lamu. This is the first known use of the term and the first to locate the homeland of the Swahili on the northern coast, but earlier Ibn Sacid had noted that southern Somalia was populated by Zanj in contact with Arabs.
Swahili people in traditional costume. Circa 1900
While the language of the traditions and contemporary documents is suggestive, linguistic evidence gathered by Nurse points more clearly to a Swahili synthesis along the northern coast. Swahili is a Bantu language closely related to the Mijikenda and Pokomo languages now spoken in Kenya, but previously spoken along the Somali and northern Kenya coasts. Swahili itself first developed in this area, as people speaking the ancestral language to Mijikenda, Pokomo, and Swahili became divided and their languages diverged into separate dialects and, eventually, separate languages.
Swahili woman with a traditional braids. Circa 1900
While Mijikenda- and Pokomo-speakers were probably farmers on the mainland and moved south overland in the sixteenth century, Swahili became the language of townspeople along the coast who adopted a number of Arabic words and wrote in the Arabic script as they interacted with Arabic-speaking merchants from across the Indian Ocean. Subsequently, the Swahili language spread down the coast, carried no doubt by traders from Somalia and northern Kenya where trade first expanded from the ninth to the thirteenth century.
The process of that expansion is most clearly revealed in the excavations by Chittick at Mafia and Kilwa. The earliest settlements at Kilwa, dating from the ninth century, were characterized by mud and wattle houses, a fishing economy, local pottery and iron production, and limited local trade. Kilwa began to become more prosperous from the mid-twelfth century, following earlier patterns in Mafia. Building in stone began,
imports of pottery increased, cloth was produced, Islam was introduced, and coins were struck locally in the name of Ali bin al-Hasan. By the early fourteenth century there was a marked increase in wealth and stone building, a dramatic change from earlier architectural and pottery styles, and a florescence of Islam, while production of both iron and cloth ceased. Kilwa had developed from being a small local producer to being a major international trade center, controlling the export of gold from Zimbabwe, a role she continued to play until occupied by Portuguese in 1505.
While Chittick attributes many of these developments to foreign influence, the evidence indicates that the local dynamic was dominant. Following three centuries of undisputed local development, Kilwa began to expand and transform its trade, but local elements in the culture continued to predominate. Local pottery constitutes 99% of the finds in all periods and, while Kilwa witnessed impressive development and radical new styles of architecture and pottery in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, no stylistic antecedents to the local styles can be found in Arabia or elsewhere. Increasing trade and wealth must have initiated a creative process of local development, just as it had further north in the Lamu archipelago, where recent excavations at Shanga by Mark Horton make this process clear.
Shanga was initially established in the ninth century as a small center for iron-working, pottery-making, agriculture, and cattle-raising. By the tenth century it became a residential center as well, with people living in mud and wattle houses, while continuing to produce iron, pottery, and foodstuffs. With an increase in foreign trade, indicated by imported pottery, Shanga underwent a period of increasing development from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. Mud and wattle houses began to be constructed on squared priorities coral block foundations, and the first mosque was built, using coral rag and mud mortar initially and rag, lime mortar, and plaster in later additions. By the fifteenth century, rag and lime mortar were being used extensively in house construction as well, a town wall had been built, two new mosques added, and a number of elaborate pillar tombs erected.
That such developments indicate a clear evolution of local styles is borne out by the continued predominance of local pottery in all periods. The town plan remained unchanged, the sole exception being the mosque where the pre-Muslim alignment was altered slightly to face its qibla towards Mecca. Developments at Shanga were also closely related to developments elsewhere in the interior and along the coast. The earliest pottery and iron production at Shanga was paralleled 100 km. up the Tana river at Wenje and at the earliest levels at Kilwa, Manda, and the Comoros. The development of the earliest Swahili towns must thus be seen as primarily local, closely related to similar developments taking place elsewhere in the interior and along
Oral Traditions and Swahili History
Reconstructing Swahili history, it would appear that a people speaking the Swahili language had emerged along the northern coast of Kenya and Somali by the ninth century and became increasingly wealthy trading with Persia and Arabia. Subsequently they expanded their trade down the coast, establishing settlements as they went and interacting with the societies in which they settled. What distinguished the Swahili in these developing island societies from the peoples of the mainland was their urban, maritime, trading way of life; genteel traders who participated in the international economy and interacted with both their African neighbors and merchants from abroad. This evolving urban culture provided the basis for uungwwana, explained and justified by the Shirazi traditions, that distinguished the Swahili from the ushenzi, or "unculturedness," of the mainland Africans and remained the ideological basis of Swahili society until supplanted by ustaarabu, Arabness, in the nineteenth century.
As an integral part of the history they convey, the traditions reveal both the nature of that process and the structures of Swahili society. The growth of trade and of economic differentiation produced complementary socio-economic groups whose members used ideological, political, and religious sanctions to maintain hierarchical, stratified social structures. In the development from homogeneous fishing and farming communities to heterogeneous trading ones, the traditions are concerned with the dialectical interplay between the opposed forces of absorption and differentiation. Literate historians would be wise to take heed of this dynamic and sophisticated historical model.
The structural analysis of Swahili society derived from the Shirazi traditions thus complements the other evidence and provides a valuable insight into the early development of the Swahili peoples. The earliest history of the Swahili is only revealed when we unpeel the accumulated layers of their society and traditions to identify the historical processes that under- lay their development. Taking account of the idioms and models used by the traditions and the processes by which those traditions were created and told, they convey the development of those societies accurately.
Swahili woman from Kenya
A Swahili history that emphasizes Arab roots and Arab culture is based only on that layer developed in the nineteenth century; our study must go deeper to uncover those layers, such as the ones relating to the Sanye and Batawi in Pate, which have been almost, but not quite, obliterated by subsequent developments in the societies and traditions, and must seek to uncover the meanings these have for Swahili historians if we are able to use them to construct our own histories.
SLAVE TRADE AND SLAVERY ON THE
SWAHILI COAST, 1500–1750
A great deal of research has been carried out on the slave trade and slavery on the Swahili coast. John Middleton wrote, “Slavery has been perhaps the best-studied of all Swahili institutions.” The great majority of these works, however, deal only with the nineteenth century.
Swahili men in chains as slaves,Zanzibar, 1876
Contrary to the previous centuries, economic upheavals occurred in the region during this period, because from the 1810s onward a plantation economy flourished on the coast, which demanded plentiful servile manpower. The slave trade, centered on Zanzibar, developed on an unparalleled scale in Eastern Africa, and an actual slave mode of production became widespread on the coast. Conversely, very few publications have dealt with the slave trade for the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Almost all deal with the second part of the eighteenth century, mostly from the 1770s onward. During this time the French from the Mascarene Islands developed an intense slave trade with the Swahili coast, mostly from the port towns of Kilwa and Zanzibar, giving new momentum to the slave trade in East Africa. In the same period the Omani imposed their sovereignty on Zanzibar and progressively took over the entire coast. They controlled more and more of the trading networks and encouraged new trends to the slave trade. Historical documentation on the Swahili coast is a little more prevalent for the last third of the century, with an increasing number published in English.
The first half of the eighteenth century has received much less attention from the historians. Finally, the few existing treatises on the slave trade before the nineteenth century have mainly studied slave demand from
the French or the Omani, but not the role the Swahili had in it.
Debates have occurred concerning the number of slaves exported from the East African coast before the nineteenth century, but they were limited in scope and have not led to deep historical investigation. Coupland’s book is the only one to tackle the slave trade in detail over a long period of time. He claims that the East African slave trade had been continuous and massive since antiquity, led by the “Arabs” who according to him settled on the coast and began trading in the interior. A “prodigious” number of slaves had been exported, contributing to the depopulation of East Africa, and exceeding the transatlantic slave trade. Such allegations, which aimed to justify British colonization, have been seriously criticized for lack of evidence. Rejecting Coupland’s thesis, some historians have minimized the slave trade and its economic impact before the eighteenth century.Because of the lack of explicit evidence, they even question the existence of the slave trade on the Swahili coast before the Omani settlement on the coast in the eighteenth century. Other scholars contest the claims of Alpers and Freeman-Grenville and have asked for a revaluation of the slave trade. Nevertheless, most of the historians of the Swahili world have generally adopted a prudent position, admitting the existence of the slave trade, but maintaining that before the end of the eighteenth century, it remained a minor part of the coastal trade compared to the trade in ivory or gold.
The lack of interest in Swahili historiography on this issue can be explained by the proportionally small amount of research conducted on the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, which have not aroused as much debate as the origins of Swahili civilization or its evolution in the nineteenth century. Studies on ancient social and political organization are few, and are often too linked to nineteenth-century historiography and ethnography. Moreover, works on this period so far undertaken have often neglected contemporary documentation, mostly Portuguese, although it can be a rich source of information. For the most part, historians have relied on a few useful, but incomplete, publications. As such, it is revealing that the three historians who have recently rediscovered the Portuguese sources have all mentioned the existence and the importance of the slave trade or servile work. Several studies dealing with Madagascar tackled the slave trade between Madagascar and the Comoro Islands and the Swahili coast, but they were neglected by Swahili historiography, which is too often separated from the Malagasy and Comorian historiography.
Since the 1970s the revival of Swahili historiography has often ignored these matters. For a long time a major goal of Swahili studies has been to demonstrate the sociocultural proximity of Swahili society with the African interior. Thus, studies of the East African slave trade and the use of slaves have emphasized Omani participation and influence as well as French demand. Moreover, the controversial status of Swahili populations in the modern states of East Africa, and more generally the issue of African involvement in the slave trade, remain sensitive issues, which have probably inhibited research on this matter. Last but not least, until recently the slave trade in the Muslim world was rarely investigated and often underestimated. This study reconsiders the slave trade and slavery on the East African coast before the second half of the eighteenth century, mostly through Portuguese sources. It focuses on the region from Cape Delgado in the south to the Lamu archipelago in the north, because this area is the heart of cultural debates about Swahili civilization. Yet this does not mean that Swahili communities inhabiting other parts of the coast, in particular the Mozambique area or the Comoros, were not concerned with the slave trade.
Between the early sixteenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century the Swahili were widely involved in slave trading networks. Most captives came from northwestern Madagascar and were destined to fill demands for servile labor in Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and the Swahili city-states, and from the late seventeenth century, the Omani. This study primarily examines the nature of the slave trade organized by Swahili traders, especially its scale, its role in the development of prosperous new trading networks of some coastal city-states. In addition, it will shed more light on the movements of some Swahili and Hadrami groups on the East African coast. Conclusions arising from these investigations largely question the earlier assumptions about and estimations of the East African coast slave trade.
So far historical sources are too few to estimate the scale of the Swahili coast slave trade before the sixteenth century. The famous Zanj rebellion in Iraq (869–883) is often cited to attest the antiquity and importance of
the slave trade at this time and its decline after the uprising. A rarely cited study by G. H. Talhami, however, has shown that slaves imported from the Swahili coast formed a very small minority in these rebellious.
Moreover, most of Africans involved came from other regions of Africa or were of free status. According to Talhami, Arab and Persian geographers did not mention slave trading between the East African coast and
the Arabian peninsula before the tenth century. Buzurg ibn Shahriyar, who wrote around 950, is the first to state that Zanj slaves were caught or purchased in the area between Sofala and Zanzibar to be sold in Oman. Later in the mid-twelfth century al-Idrisi wrote that Arab traders captured Zanj to enslave them, but generally speaking, medieval geographers rarely mentioned the slave trade on the Swahili coast, although they often did so for other regions, particularly western Africa. For instance, Ibn Battuta reported the existence of slaves in Kilwa in 1331, but not their trade. Thus before the sixteenth century most of the slaves shipped by merchants from southern Arabia probably came from the Horn. A recent study based on the exceptional Rasulid administrative documentation has shown that the port town of Zayla, in present day Somaliland, was the coastal terminus of major slave routes from the Ethiopian highland. Slaves, including eunuchs, were then shipped to Aden on small ships. This maritime route between Zayla and Aden was very prosperous between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. Conversely the Rasulid documentation tells very few about Zanj slaves.
Between the tenth and fifteenth centuries the presence of African slaves is documented in Arabia and the Persian Gulf, as well as in China and India in smaller numbers, although it is difficult to determine their
origins, due to the ambiguity of the word Zanj. Most of them seem to have come from the Horn of Africa or Nubia. Thus, by the end of the fifteenth century the slave trade was already an established practice on
the Swahili coast, probably continuous for around five centuries, but in relatively small proportions in comparison with other trade commodities or other parts of Africa.
THE SWAHILI SLAVE TRADE FROM MADAGASCAR TO ARABIA IN THE
SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES
Portuguese accounts are our main sources for the sixteenth and seventeenth century period; yet they do not mention much about the slave trade since Portuguese merchants were not as involved in the trade in slaves as they were in other commodities like gold or ivory. This relative lack of evidence about the slave trade, and the fact that what trade did exist was centered on the Comoro Islands and Madagascar, has probably resulted in the underestimation of the Swahili slave trade during that era. Nevertheless, slave trading was noteworthy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mainly due to a steady demand for slaves in Arabia and the Persian Gulf. These slaves were Islamized and assigned various roles, such as servants, soldiers, guards, craftsmen, sailors, dockers, or pearl divers in the Persian Gulf as well as concubines who seem to have been widespread. Slaves were also employed for agricultural tasks, notably in the palm groves and the maintenance of the irrigation systems. Before the expansion of Omani agriculture in the late seventeenth century, however, agricultural slavery seems to have been relatively limited. Some Portuguese authors report that captives imported in Arabia, whether males or females, often children or adolescents, were trained in their master’s home. Emancipation was considered an act of piety, and slaves could also
be redeemed, which explains the need for a continuous flow of slaves. Important Swahili and Arab trade networks based in Malagasy as well as the Horn of Africa supplied these slaves.
A Bantu Swahili slave at Zanzibar Slave Market in the late nineteenth century.
Then the northwestern shore of Madagascar from Maintirano to the Cap d’Ambre was sporadically settled by an Islamic population known by the Malagasy name “Antalaotra”. The Antalaotra inhabited a few port
towns, mostly situated in the region from the Bay of Boeny to the Bay of Ampasindava. Although the composition of this community was vague, it seems to have been influenced by Swahili civilization, sharing an adherence to Islam, the Swahili language, some Shirazi traditions, and a similar material culture. The trading ports of this mercantile society appeared around the eleventh century, expanded from the end of the fourteenth century and increased in the fifteenth century. In the early sixteenth century the main Antalaotra town was Langany, located in the Bay of the Mahajamba, probably founded in the fifteenth century. Around the 1580s Langany was supplanted by Boeny, another port city, founded at this time and located on the island of Antsoheribory in the Bay of Boeny. This town was often referred to as “Mazalagem Nova” by the Portuguese, or “New Masselage” by the English (from the Antalaotra name Masalajy), as opposed to Langany, which the Europeans began to call “Mazalagem Velha” or “Old Masselage.” Boeny was very prosperous during the seventeenth century and attracted most of the maritime trade in the area. The Jesuit friar Luís Mariano, who had traveled several times to the town between 1613 and 1620, describes it as a Muslim city with an estimated population of 6,000 to 7,000, which engaged in trade with Swahili and
Arab ships. Townsmen spoke both the “Buque” language (that is Malagasy) and the tongue of “the Malindi coast,” the Swahili language. Other sources corroborate these details. The smaller Antalaotra port towns also engaged in the coastal trade, in particular Sada (Anorotsangana) and the region of the Bay of Ampasindava in the north.
It seems that the prosperity of these towns was largely based on the slave trade. Some kingdoms situated in central Madagascar continuously waged war on each other. Capturing slaves was certainly one of the main
purposes of these conflicts, because the numerous war prisoners were intended for sale to the “Moors” of Langany or Boeny. Moreover, the aim of these sorties was “to capture rather than kill.” Most of the slaves seem to have been driven to the shore by inhabitants from the interior and the highlands named “Hova,” who were certainly settled in the region later called Imerina. An account dated 1640 states that every year the
Hova came down the river Mahavavy, south of the Bay of Boeny, forming “caravans” of 10,000 heads of cattle and 2,000–3,000 captives to be sold in Boeny. The Antalaotra monopolized the trade with the island inhabitants like the Swahili did with the African mainland. Thus, the intense slave trade in northwestern Madagascar in this period can be explained by this continuous and massive supply of slaves from the center of the island. According to Philippe Beaujard fortified villages appeared in the highlands around the fifteenth century and the growth of humid rice cultivation may have sustained a demographic growth and indirectly the
slave trade. Although this traffic may have originally been linked to a troubled political situation, it is beyond doubt that this trade was supported by conflicts that became razzias, if not actual enslaving wars, to supply the slave market controlled by the Antalaotra. They then sold the captives to Swahili and Arab traders in the port towns of Langany, and later Boeny, and sometimes in the region of Sada.
Swahili Woman on Kiwenga beach, Zanzibar
The Comoro archipelago, particularly the islands of Anjouan and Mohely, was the second area frequented by Swahili or Arab slave traders because it acted as a platform for redistributing northwestern Madagascar
slaves. That trade was one of the principal incomes of the archipelago, which enjoyed great trading prosperity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and stood apart from Portuguese claims. As early as 1521 there are references that Comorian traders bought slaves in Madagascar, along with rice, meat and cattle, and then sold them to the ships reaching the archipelago. It even seems, if we accept the claims of Turkish author Piri Reis, that slaves were not only stocked but also encouraged to breed before their export. This raises the issue of whether slaves owned by Swahili or Comorian masters could be sold after they had spent some time as domestic or field slaves during which time they had undergone some acculturation. This problem, more broadly linked to the general issue of African slavery, needs further research.
The Arab traders visiting Madagascar and the Comoro Islands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mainly came from the Red Sea and the South Arabian coast. Yet most of the slave purchasers were Swahili
from cities of the “Malindi coast,” that is from Mombasa to Mogadishu. This trade is mentioned as early as 1506, and some seventeenth century sources specify that they went to Madagascar each year.45 Other goods were bought by the Swahili traders in the northwestern part of the island: chiefly rice, cattle and meat, which were plentiful; however, the modes of transaction between the Swahili and the Antalaotra are not well known. Slaves and other commodities might have been bartered for Indian cloth and metals. There was also a permanent trade in agricultural goods or slaves between the Comoros and the Swahili coast.
Among the Swahili merchants, traders from the Lamu archipelago apparently dominated the Malagasy slave traffic to the East African coast. The trade of the city of Pate with Madagascar is mentioned for the first
time in 1589,48 followed by more frequent references during the seventeenth century. Pate Island and the towns of Lamu and Faza are also cited. Furthermore, when Dom Jerónimo Chingulia, the rebellious king
of Mombasa, took refuge in Boeny in 1635, he was defended by numerous Swahili from Pate, Lamu, and Siyu. More broadly, the accounts about Chingulia between 1633 and 1637 are explicit on the networks between Pate, northwestern Madagascar, the Comoros, and the Hadramawt, mostly operated by the political elites of the Swahili city-state. According to Mariano in 1616 and 1619, and Buckeridge in 1663, Pate ships sailed almost every year to Boeny to load slaves. According to Buckridge, an estimated 2,000 slaves were shipped each year from Boeny and Sada by Pate island merchants, but a Portuguese report dated 1663 (cited by Axelson) gives a higher estimate of around 3,000–4,000. Very likely traders from the Lamu archipelago formed a powerful and active community in Boeny. We do not know if they resided in large numbers in the town outside the winter period, but we know that they were an influential element in town politics. In 1619 they were blamed by the Portuguese for the troubles that arose between the Jesuit missionaries and the Antalaotra leaders. Lamu merchants were also much involved in the Comoro Islands
slave trade. In 1620 the French trader Beaulieu met two ships off Ngazidja (la Grande Comore) coming from Mayotte and heading for Lamu, their port of registry: they were loaded with a great quantity of rice, smoked meat, and “many slaves.”
The tight connections between Madagascar, the Comoros, and the Swahili coast, particularly the Lamu archipelago, may be explained by the trading networks established by Hadrami and Yemeni lineages during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At that time, probably from the years 1520–1540, many clans of sharifs and shaikhs, originating from Mogadishu, Barawa, Yemen, and most of all, from Hadramawt, settled on the East African coast. Renowned for their piety, they had great charisma. Often their first port of call was Pate where they founded lineages, as they did in Lamu and other towns in the region. During the seventeenth century most of these groups also settled on the rest of the coast from the Lamu archipelago, notably in the Comoros, especially the islands of Anjouan, Moheli, and Ngazidja, where they sometimes ruled small sultanates. These clans took part in the sea traffic and trade as far away as Indonesia. According to B. G. Martin and Randall Pouwels, from the sixteenth century on, they created complex trade networks that were run by lineages settled in various places on the coast where they played prominent roles in local politics.
We can surmise that these networks were partly based on the Malagasy slave trade. Considering their experience in the slave trade with the Horn before 1500, as evidenced by Eric Vallet, Yemeni and Hadrami merchants probably reoriented part of their traffic towards the Swahili coast and Madagascar after sometime around that date. This hypothesis could explain the vitality of the trading connections between the Lamu archipelago, the Comoros, and Madagascar as shown by much of the evidence. This does not mean that the Hadrami and Yemeni migrants had been responsible for establishing the slave trade from Madagascar, for the Antalaotra port cities, which had Shirazi foundation myths like the Swahili coastal cities, had already been in existence since the end of the fourteenth century and sometimes earlier. It thus appears that the Malagasy slave trade existed before the sixteenth century.
Besides the Arabic and Swahili chronicles cited by Martin and Pouwels, the Portuguese sources attest to tight trading links between the Swahili coast, the South Arabian peninsula, the Red Sea, Madagascar,
and the Comoros. As early as 1570 Monclaro mentions the dense traffic between Pate and the Red Sea. In the early seventeenth century Diogo do Couto clearly corroborates these connections. According to him, the
island of Ngazidja was divided into twenty kingdoms, ruled by “Arab Moors” (Mouros Arabios—some perhaps were lineages of Hadrami and Yemeni origin) who had reached the “coast of Malindi” before settling on the island. Each year traders from “Mecca” (the Red Sea) came to the island to obtain slaves and various products. As mentioned before, the Arab merchants going to the Comoro Islands mostly came from southern Arabia, and slaves were principally exported to that area, mainly to Mocha, Aden, al-Shihr, and Kishn. For instance, a 1611 English account states that four small ships sailed each year to Mocha from the “coast of Swahell” loaded with slaves (purchased in Madagascar), ivory, and ambergris.
These port towns were the principal Arabian commercial centers linked to the East African coast before the advent of Oman as a naval power in the late seventeenth century. One of their functions was to re-export to
the Red Sea and Egypt the products of the western Indian Ocean trade, like Indian cloth, and also slaves, as implied by some of the evidence: Piri Reis explicitly mentions Yemen and Jidah as importing Comoro slaves.
Merchants from Mogadishu, Barawa, Malindi, Mombasa, the Lamu archipelago, and of course the Comoros, traded in Madagascar, some of them certainly descended from the Hadrami and Yemeni lineages settled in those regions.
Two documents confirm this hypothesis more firmly. According to Barreto in 1667, the traders from “Mecca,” Barawa, and Mogadishu who visited the port cities of Madagascar to buy slaves were “cacizes.” In Portuguese texts, this expression, transcribed from the Arabic qasis (priest), or its Swahili equivalent kasisi, usually refers to a Muslim religious figure, possibly a sharif or other person believed to have religious charisma. A statement by São Domingos in 1630 is even more explicit: “To this island of Pate come ships, on their way from Mecca to the island of Saint Laurence [Madagascar] with sharifs, who are their cassizes [qasis], and who spread their sect there, and take back many Buques [Buki —Malagasy], pagan children, to bring them to Mecca.” This extract sheds light on the connections between the Red Sea, the Lamu archipelago towns, and Madagascar or the Comoros. These trading networks appear to be partially run by sharifian groups, settled from the south of the Arabian Peninsula to the slave exporting lands. Even if evidence fails to identify the specific lineages that settled in Madagascar, there is no doubt that Swahili and Arab migrants settled there in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, attracted by trading opportunities. Moreover, in the early eighteenth century, after the Sakalava conquest of northwestern Madagascar, links remained strong between the region and the Lamu archipelago. An Antalaotra tradition maintains that an Islamized Sakalava princess married an “Arab” from Pate.
Chronicles and oral traditions dealing with the prestigious Hadrami and Yemeni clans that settled on the Swahili coast during this period date back to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. All insist on their fame and religious proselytism, their role as political mediators, or their decisive help to the Swahili against the Portuguese and the Oromo. Trade, particularly the slave trade, was probably their main goal in settling in eastern Africa, but it is not surprising that such traffic would not be mentioned in traditions or written accounts from the late nineteenth century.
We do not have detailed information on the way the Swahili sold the slaves to the Arab merchants. Possibly the latter did not make the long journey to Madagascar and the Comoros, but rather obtained slaves in
the Swahili port cities where they also purchased other products, chiefly ivory. The slave trade is rarely mentioned by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, maybe because it was much less than it would become in the next century. Indeed, the Portuguese did not have a great interest in the slave trade. Before the end of the sixteenth century there are few accounts of the Swahili coast trade in the archives. These accounts deal mostly with the regions of Kilwa, Mozambique, and Sofala where the slave trade made up a minor part of the sixteenth-century trade. Yet we know that the two Ottoman expeditions, which sailed as far as Mombasa, visiting several ports along the way in 1585–1586 and 1588–1589, obtained slaves from the Swahili. In the seventeenth century the Lamu archipelago dominated the Swahili slave trade from Madagascar and the Comoros; it appears to have been the main port of call for coastal slave traders, probably since the end of the preceding century. An estimated 2,000–3,000 slaves were said to be exported annually to the island of Pate, so the scale of the traffic was quite considerable. While sojourning in Pate in 1606, Gaspar de São Bernardino was told that “Arab Moors” had reached the city to purchase young slaves, and Nicolau de Orta Rebelo, who accompanied him, mentions in his own account that the ship that took them from Pate to Hormuz was loaded with many slaves. In addition to the Portuguese evidence
and Buckeridge’s account, an English source dated 1645 states that slaves were cheap in Pate and Barawa.
The preeminence of the Lamu archipelago as a redistribution port of Malagasy slaves can be explained by existing trading networks with Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, as well as its outlying position from Portuguese headquarters on the Swahili coast. From the early 1590s Mombasa was under the control of the Portuguese who often visited and patrolled the region located between the town and Mozambique until the
late seventeenth century. Arab ships certainly reached the outlying parts of the Lamu archipelago, because ships had to pay taxes in Mombasa, unlike Pate island (before the building of a custom house in Pate in 1633).Lisbon complained that trading ships often frequented this region, which grew rich to the detriment of Mombasa. Likewise Arab ships generally avoided Mombasa because of trade restrictions instigated by the Portuguese.
Finally, the Portuguese probably opposed the selling of slaves by the Swahili to the Arabs, because of their systematic Islamization, which was denounced by many authors. Thus, as noted by Buckeridge, slaves were abundant and cheap on the whole coast, except in the places where the Portuguese prevailed. As in the Comoros, the slave trade on Pate Island benefited from the reduced presence of the Portuguese who had been definitively expulsed from the region in 1660. Eventually all the factors favorable to the slave trade were linked: the Hadrami and Yemeni lineages settled in those areas where the Portuguese were not very influential, mainly the Lamu archipelago and the Comoros. We must add that other towns, principally Malindi and Mombasa, welcomed Arab slave traders in the beginning of the sixteenth century, followed by Barawa and Mogadishu in the seventeenth century. Probably Swahili and Comorian traders also went to Arabia or the Persian Gulf to sell slaves. Bigger Swahili ships were able to sail to Arabia, and it seems very likely that, from time to time, the richest Swahili kings and traders sent their own
ships to the western coast of India.
It is difficult to estimate the scale of the Swahili slave trade between Madagascar and the regions of Mombasa and the Lamu archipelago. Because sources are so few for the sixteenth century, we may very likely underestimate the importance of slave traffic during that time. Yet it seems that the slave trade grew during the seventeenth century, for which we have more documentation. Portuguese sources comment more frequently on the slave trade by the Muslims.
The growth of this trade was perhaps linked to the population growth of the towns in the Lamu archipelago in the seventeenth century, particularly Pate. Various accounts support claims that merchants from the Red Sea, Barawa, and Mogadishu exported an estimated 3,000 slaves a year in the mid-seventeenth century from Madagascar. Slave export estimates are derived from accounts of the Malagasy highland trade, Barreto’s account, the trade by ships from Pate Island, and Portuguese accounts of trade with Mombasa, Malindi, Barawa, Mogadishu and other Swahili coastal towns.
Armstrong proposes a rough estimation ranging from 40,000 to more than 150,000 slaves exported from Boeny during the seventeenth century, which takes into account the whole nonEuropean slave trade (Swahili, Comorian, and Arab). In such a context, we suggest that the estimate for the Swahili trade may have been 2,000 to 3,000 slaves per year direct from Madagascar (in peak times), excluding the trade with the Comoros or by Comorians. Furthermore, such figures are credible when considering the loading capacity of East African ships or ships built elsewhere but used by Swahili merchants. For example, in 1506 two ships belonging to leading inhabitants of Kilwa were inspected by the Portuguese, each capable of transporting 180 slaves. Likewise in 1616 a great Pate merchant, calling at Anjouan en route for Madagascar, took on board his ship 250 to 300 shipwrecked Portuguese. An English document dated 1646 states that an Anjouan ship landed on the island with 500 slaves from Boeny, but this figure may be an overestimation.
Finally, some Swahili ships were big enough to be able to sail to Arabia, as mentioned above.Prior to the eighteenth-century, slave traders (Portuguese, Swahili, Comorian, and Arab) also obtained slaves from the East African mainland. The Portuguese obtained slaves from the Kerimba Islands and the mainland populations of Mozambique, particularly the Makua, starting in the late sixteenth century. Besides the Malagasy slave supply networks, Swahili traders also obtained slaves from the coastal interior. It is likely that Swahili from the north of this region also bought slaves, as stated by Santos. When considered together, however, available sources show that the traffic in slaves was far from the scale of the slave trade in the eighteenth century. Previously, trade in ivory surpassed any other trade in the area.
Swahili woman from Zanzibar
On the rest of the Swahili coast north of Cape Delgado, the slave trade with mainland communities was much reduced, if it existed at all. This situation continued until the nineteenth century, except for the Kilwa region. So far no sources have surfaced that deal with the Swahili coast trade between 1500 and 1800, apart from some evidence of rare and minor exceptions like Katwa, a population of Somali origin that settled in the area between the Lamu archipelago and Barawa in the seventeenth century.
Swahili kid from Lamu,Kenya
According to Santos they specialized in captive women and eunuch children. In 1624 Lobo learned that slaves were sold in the Juba River area, in particular Katwa. The Portuguese also owned Katwa slaves. It is also possible that Oromo women from this region were purchased as concubines, and this continued into the nineteenth century. This trade in very specific and expensive slaves remained secondary. As evidenced by numerous Portuguese documents, ivory, agricultural products, and other commodities were the main trades with groups in the hinterland.In these areas Swahili traders never instigated war or razzia on the surrounding populations for the purpose of getting captives for sale.
Swahili society was principally mercantile and not warlike. Merchants obtained slaves from other Swahili communities in Madagascar or the Comoros or from the mainland populations themselves in the Cape Delgado or Juba River areas. The Swahili city-states often appear as weak military powers, frequently attacked by their mainland neighbors, or else dependent on military forces recruited among the mainland people for their defense
Examples of this abound. In any case, it would have been unwise diplomacy for the Swahili to raid the pagan communities on the coastal mainland with whom they had close clientele ties, based on essential trade,
political, and military alliances and payment of tributes. These clientship relations sometimes resulted in the Swahili imposing tribute payments in slaves. According to the traditions of the Pokomo, a Bantu-speaking people residing on the banks of the Tana River south of Lamu, sometime before the nineteenth century Swahili from the Lamu archipelago had imposed on Pokomo villages under their authority a tribute of two boys and two girls from each big village and one of each for small settlements. The presence of Pokomo smiths of slave origin in Siyu seems to confirm this. Slave labor of this sort, however, cannot be compared to the Malagasy slave trade, although it amounted to an oppressive clientship, forming part of the complex relations of dependence. Such tribute arrangements were limited and very rare. Later, traditions assert that this tribute was replaced by payments in bags of rice.
Unlike the southern Swahili coast in the eighteenth century, slave trade networks between the deep interior and the coast to the north of Kilwa did not develop during this era. We can surmise that conditions of the mainland trade routes, the political situation, and demographic dynamics of the area did not favor such a traffic, contrary to the situation in Madagascar, and later, the Mozambique and Kilwa regions. The demand for slaves was not sufficiently attractive to interest other areas of slave purchasing, for the Malagasy supply was large enough to meet existing demand.
Read further here:http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/67/10/40/PDF/Slave_trade_and_slavery_on_the_Swahili_coast-T._Vernet_.pdf
HISIORICAL TEXTS FROM THE COAST (PARTIJ)
Methali za kiswahili ---- Swahili proverbs
- Adhabu ya kaburi aijua maiti, The touture of the grave is only known by the corpse
- Akiba haiozi, A reserve will not decay
- Asifuye mvuwa imemnyea. He who praises rain has been rained on.
- Akili nyingi huondowa maarifa. Great wit drives away wisdom
- Asiye kubali kushindwa si mshindani.He who does not admit defeat is not a sportsman
- Atangaye na jua hujuwa. He wanders around by day a lot, learns a lot
- Asiye kuwapo na lake halipo.If you are absent you lose your share
- Avumaye baharini papa kumbe wengi wapo.Shark is the famous one in sea the but they many others
- Baada ya dhiki faraja.After hardship comes relief.
- Baniani mbaya kiatu chake dawa.An evil Indian but his bussiness is good.
- Bendera hufuata upepo. A flag follows the direction of the wind.
- Bilisi wa mtu ni mtu.The evil spirit of a man is a man.
- Chamlevi huliwa na mgema.The drunkard's money is being consumed by palm-wine trapper.
- Chanda chema huvikwa pete.A handsome finger gets the ring.
- Chombo cha kuzama hakina usukani. A sinking vessel needs no navigation.
- Chovya - chovya yamaliza buyu la asali. Constant dipping will empty goud of honey
- Dalili ya mvua mawingu. Clouds are the sign of rain
- Damu nzito kuliko maji.Blood is thicker than water
- Dawa ya moto ni moto. the remedy of fire is fire
- Dua la kuku halimpati mwewe.the curse of the fowl does not bother the kite.
- Fadhila ya punda ni mateke. Gratitude of a donkey is a kick.
- Fimbo ya mbali hayiuwi nyoka. A weapon which you don't have in hand wont kill a snake.
- Fuata nyuki ule asali.Follow bees and you will get honey
- Fumbo mfumbe mjinga mwerevu huligangua.Put a riddle to a fool a clever person will solve it
- Ganda la mua la jana chungu kaona kivuno.The skin of yesteday's sugarcane is a havest to an ant.
- Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.Little by little fills up the measure.
- Hapana marefu yasio na mwisho.They is no distance that has no end.
- Hakuna siri ya watu wawili.They is no secret between two people.
- Haraka haraka haina baraka.Hurry hurry has no blessings
- Hasira, hasara.Anger brings loss(Damage)
- Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo.It is better to lose your eyes than to lose your heart.
- Heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi.Better to stumble with toe than toungue.
- Hiari ya shinda utumwa.Voluntary is better than force.
- Hucheka kovu asiye kuwa na jeraha.He laughs at scar who has received no wound.
- Ihsani (hisani)haiozi.Kindness does not go rotten.
- Ikiwa hujui kufa,tazama kaburi.If you don't know death look at the grave.
- Jina jema hungara gizani.A good name shines in the dark.
- Jino la pembe si dawa ya pengo.An ivory tooth is not cure for the lost tooth.
- Jitihadi haiondoi kudura. Effort will not counter faith.
- Jogoo la shamba haliwiki mjini. The village cock does not crow in town.
- Kafiri akufaye si Isilamu asiyekufa.An infidel who does you good turn is not like a Muslim who does not
- Kamba hukatika pabovu. A rope parts where it is thinnest.
- Kanga hazai ugenini.A guinea- fowl not lay eggs on strange places
- Kawaida ni kama sheria.Usage is like law
- Kawia ufike.Better delay and get there.
- Kazi mbaya siyo mchezo mwema.A bad job is not as wothless as a good game
- Kelele za mlango haziniwasi usingizi.The creaking of the door deprives me of no sleep.
- Kenda karibu na kumi.Nine is near ten.
- Kiburi si maungwana.Arrogance is not gentlemanly.
- Kichango kuchangizana.Everyone should contribute when collection is made.
- Kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa.One finger canot kill a louse.
- Kingiacho mjini si haramu.That is fashionable in town is never prohibited.
- Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako.That which eats you up is in your clothing.
- Kila chombo kwa wimblile.Every vessel has its own waves
- Kila mlango na ufunguwo wake.Every door with its own key
- Kila mtoto na koja lake.To every child his own neck ornament
- Kila mwamba ngoma ,ngozi huivuta kwake.Every who streches a skin on a drum,pulls the skin own his own side.
- Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake.Every bird flies with its own wings.
- Kilio huanza mfiwa ndipo wa mbali wakaingia.The beareved begins the wailing latter others join.
- Kimya kingi kina mshindo mkubwa.Along silence followed by mighty noise.
- Kinga na kinga ndipo moto uwakapo.One fire brand after another keeps fire burning.
- Kinyozi hajinyoi.A barber does not shave himself.
- Kinywa ni jumba la maneno.Mouth is the home of words.
- Kipendacho moyo ni dawa.What the heart desires is medicine to it.
- Kipya kinyemi ingawa kidonda. A new thing is a souce of joy even if is sore.
- Kisebusebu na roho kipapo.Refusing and wanting at the same time.
- Kisokula mlimwengu,sera nale.what is not eaten by a man,let the devil eat it.
- Kitanda usicho kilala hujui kunguni wake.You canot know the bugs of a bed that you have not lain on.
- Kivuli cha fimbo hakimfichi mtu jua.Shadow of a stick canot protect one from the sun.
- Kiwi cha yule ni chema cha;hata ulimwengu uwishe. The blindnes of that one is his good fortune
- Kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza.A good thing sells it self a bad one advertises it self
- Konzo ya maji haifumbatiki. A handfull of water can not be grasped.
- Kosa moja haliachi mke.One fault does not warrant divorce of a wife
- Kozi mwandada ,kulala na njaa kupenda.A goshawk is an egg child,if sleeps hungry its his own fault.
- Kuagiza kufyekeza. ie One eye of a master sees more than four of a servent.
- Kuambizana kuko kusikilizana hapana.Giving advice but no one listens.
- Kucha M'ngu si kilemba cheupe.The fear of God is not wearing a white turban.
- Kuchamba kwingi,kuondoka na mavi.Leave well alone! You wont improve matters by going on tinkering
- Kufa kufaana.Death has its advantages too ie it benefits those who inherit.
- Kufa kwa jamaa, harusi.The death of not a relative is a wedding.Compared to a death of a relative
- Kufa kwa mdomo,mate hutawanyika.When the head of the family dies,that family breaks up.
- Kuishi kwingi ni kuona mengi. To live long is to see much.
- Kujikwa si kuanguka,bali ni kwenda mbele.To stumble is not falling down but it is to go forward.
- Kukopa harusi kulipa matanga.Borrowing is like a wedding ,repaying is like mourning.
- Kuku havunji yai lake.A hen does not break her own eggs.
- Kuku mgeni hakosi kamba mguuni.A new fowl always has string around its legs.
- Kula kutamu ,kulima mavune.Eating is sweet ,digging is weariness.
- Kulea mimba si kazi kazi kulea mwana.It is not hard to nurse a pregnency,but it is hard to bring up a child.
- Kunako matanga kume kufa mtu.Where they is mourning someone has died.
- Kunguru mwoga hukimbiza mbawa zake.The timid crow withdraws his wings from harm.
- Kupanda mchongoma ,kushuka ngoma.You may climb a thorn tree,and be unable to come down.
- Kupoteya njia ndiyo kujua njia.To get lost is to learn the way.
- Kutoa ni moyo usambe ni utajiri.Charity is the matter of the heart not of the pocket.
- Kutu kuu ni la mgeni.Old rust is for the stranger.
- Kuzima koleo si mwisho wa uhunzi.Cooling the tongs is not end of forging.
- Kwa mwoga huenda kicheko na kwa shujaa huenda kilio.i.e.timidity often ends in a laugh, bravado in a lament.
- Kwenda mbio siyo kufika.To run is not neccessarily to arrive.
- Kwenye miti hakuna wajenzi.Where there trees,there are no builders.
- La kuvunda(kuvunja) halina rubani. A vessel running agroud has no captain.
- La kuvunda (kuvunja)halina ubani.They is no incence for something rotting.
- Lake mtu halimtapishi bali humchefusha.One's foul smelling does not sicken one self but merely disguts one.
- Leo ni leo asemayo kesho ni mwongo.Today is today who says tommorrow is a liar
- Liandikwalo ndiyo liwalo.That which is written by God is what is.
- Lila na fila hazitangamani.Good and evil will never mix.
- Lipitalo ,hupishwa .Things dont just happen by accidents
- Lisemwalo lipo,ikiwa halipo laja.What is benig talked about is here,and if its not it's comming around behind.
- Lisilokuwapo moyoni,halipo machoni.Out of sight out of mind.
- Maafuu hapatilizwi.You dont take viengeance on silliness.
- Macho hayana pazia.Eyes have no screens,they see all that is within view.
- Mafahali wawili hawakai zizi moja.Two bulls do not live in the same shade.
- Maiti haulizwi sanda.A dead person is not asked for a shroud.
- Maji hufuata mkondo.water follows current.i.e.swim with current.
- Maji huteremka bondeni,hayapandi mlima.Water flows down the valley does not climb the hill.
- Maji ukiyavuliya nguo huna budi kuyaogelea.If you take of your clothes for water you must bathe.
- Maji usiyoyafika hujui wingi wake.You can not know the extent of water in a pond that you have never been to.
- Maji ya kifufu ni bahari ya chungu.Water in a coconut shell is like an ocean to an ant.
- Maji yakija hupwa.When tide is high,it ebbs.
- Mpanda ngazi hushuka.He who climbs a ladder comes down again.i.e.What goes up must come down
- Maji yakimwagika hayazoleki.If water is split,it can not be gathered up.
- Majumba makubwa husitiri mambo.Big houses conceal a lot.
- Majuto ni mjukuu.Regrets are like a child,They come some considerable time after event.
- Manahodha wengi chombo huenda mrama.With many captains,the ship does not sail properly.i.e.Too many cooks spoil the broth.
- Maneno makali hayavunji mfupa.Words alone wont break bones.
- Maneno mema hutowa nyoka pangoni.Pleasent words will draw the snake from its hole.
- Masikini akipata matako hulia mbwata.When a poor man gets something he boasts of his new wealth.
- Masikini haokoti,akiokota huambiwa kaiba.A poor man does not pick up things if does they say he stole them.
- Masikini na mwanawe tajiri na mali yake.A poor man with his child a rich man with his wealth.
- Mavi usioyala,wayawingiani kuku? Why drive away fowls from the dung you do not eat yourself?
- Mavi ya kale hayanuki.Old droppings do not stink.
- Mbinu hufuata mwendo.A double jointed arm follows the leg action.i.e Like father like son.
- Mbio za sakafuni huishia ukingoni.Running on the roof finishes at the edge.
- Mbiu za mgambo ikilia kuna jambo.When an oxhorn of a news man is sounded,something is wrong.
- Mchagua jembe si mkulima.One who selects his hoe is not real farmer.
- Mchagua nazi hupata koroma.He who selects coconut with great care ends up getting a bad coconut
- Mchakacho ujao,halulengwi na jiwe.You dont throw stones at an approching craclin noise in the bush wait and see what is it first
- Mchama ago hanyeli,huenda akauya papo.A traveller does not make a mess where he had made a camp as he might one day come back.
- Mchelea mwana kulia hulia yeye..He who fears the crying of a child,will cry himself.
- Mchele moja mapishi mengi. Rice is all one but they are many ways of cooking it.
- Mcheka kilema hafi bila kumpata.He who laughs at a cripple will not die without becoming himself
- Mcheza hawi kiwete,ngoma yataka matao.A dancer will not become crippled for dancing calls for grace.
- Mcheza kwao hutuzwa.He who dances at home will be rewarded.
- Mcheza na tope humrukia.He who plays with mud will get splashed.
- Mchezea zuri ,baya humfika.He who ridicules the good will be overtaken by evil.
- Mchimba kisima hungia mwenyewe.He who digs a pit will fall into it himself.
- Mchonga mwiko hukimbiza mkono wake.The maker of wooden spoons saves his hand from fire.
- Mchovya asali hachovi mara moja.He who dips his finger into honey does not dip it once.
- Mchuma janga hula na wakwao.He who earns calamity,eats it with his family.
- Mchumia juani,hula kivulini.He who earns his living in the sun,eats in the shade.
- Mdharau biu,hubiuka yeye.He who riducules a deformed person becomes deformed himself.
- Meno ya mbwa hayaumani.The teeth of a dog do not lock together.i.e brothers do not harm one another when they fight.
- Mfa maji hukamata maji.A drowning man catches at the water.
- Mficha uchi hazai.One who hides private parts wont get a child.
- Mfinyazi hulia gaeni.A potter eats from a potsherd.
- Mfuata nyuki hakosi asali.One follows bees will never fail to get honey.
- Mfukuzwa kwao hana pakwenda.He who is expled from home has no where to go
- Mgaagaa na upwa hali wali mkavu.A lazy person with a nephwe does not eat dry rice.
- Mganga hajigangui.A witchdoctor does not cure himself.
- Mgema akisifiwa tembo hulitia maji.If the palmwine tapper is praised,he dilutes the palm-wine with water.
- Mgeni ni kuku mweupe.A stranger is like a white fowl (noticeble)
- Mgeni njoo mwenyeji apone.Let the guest come so that the host may benifit.
- Mgonjwa haulizwi uji.A sick person is not asked for porridje.
- Miye nyumba ya udongo ,sihimili vishindo I am a mud hut, I can not stand shocks.
- Mjinga akierevuka mwerevu yupo mashakani.When a fool becomes enlightened,the wise man is in trouble.
- Mjumbe hauawi.A messenger is not killed
- Mkamatwa na ngozi ndiye mwizi.The one who is caught with the skin is the thief.
- Mkamia maji hayanywi.He who fixes his mind much on water ends up not drinking it
- Mkata (masikini) hana kinyongo.A poor man has no contempt.
- Mke ni nguo ,mgomba kupalilia.A wife is like clothes and banana plant needs weeding.
- Mkono moja hauchinji ngombe.A single hand can not slaughter a cow.
- Mkono moja haulei mwana.A single hand can not nurse a child.
- Mkono mtupu haulambwi.An empty hand is not licked.
- Mkono usioweza kuukata,ubusu.Kiss the hand you can not cut.
- Mkosa kitoweo humangiria.One who has little relish must eat sparingly.
- Mkuki kwa nguruwe mtamu,kwa mwanadamu uchungu.Its nice throw a spear to a pig,but painful when thrown to you.
- Mkulima ni mmoja walaji ni wengi.The farmer is one but those who eat fruits of his labour are many.
- Mla cha mwenziwe na chake huliwa.He who eats another mans food will have his own food eaten by others.
- Mla cha uchungu na tamu hakosi.He who eats bitter things gets sweet things too.
- Mla kuku wa mwenziwe miguu humwelekeya.He who devours his neighbour's fowl,its foot prints will give him away.
- Mla mbuzi hulipa ngombe.The eater of a goat pays back a cow.
- Mla mla leo mla jana kala nini?The real eater is todays eater not yesterdays.
- Mla nawe hafi nawe ila mzaliwa nawe.He who eats with you will not die with you except he who was born with you.
- Mlenga jiwe kundini hajui limpataye.He who who flings a stone amid a crowd,does not know the it hits.
- Mlimbua nchi ni mwananchi.He who enjoys the first fruit of a country is son of that country.
- Mnyamaa kadumbu.One who keeps silent,endures.
- mnywa maji kwa mkono moja,Kiu yake i pale pale.He who drinks water with one hand finds out his thirst is still there.
- Moja shika,si kumi nenda urudi.Take one,not that you may return with ten.
- Moto hauzai moto.Fire does not beget fire in the end it begets ashes.
- Mpanda farasi wawili hupasuka msamba.One who rides two horses at once will split asunder.
- Mpanda ovyo hula ovyo.He who sows disorderly fashion will eat likewise.
- Mpemba akipata gogo hanyii chini.If a native of pemba can get a log he does not relive himself on the ground.ie nothing but the best
- Mpemba hakimbii mvua ndogo.A native of Pemba does not run away fro a small shower.
- Mpiga ngumi ukuta huumiza mkonowe. He who fights with a wall will only hurt his hand.
- Mpofuka ukongweni,hapotewi na njia.He who becomes blind in his old age does not lose his way.
- Msafiri masikini ajapokuwa sultani.A traveller is poor,even though he being a ruler.
- Msasi haogopi mwiba.A hunter is not afraid of thorns.
- Msema pweke hakosi.One who talks to himself can not be wrong.Ie no one to correct him.
- Mshale kwenda msituni haukupotea.If an arrow goes into a forest it is not lost.
- Mshoni hachagui nguo.A tailor does not select his cloth.
- Msitukane wagema na ulevi ungalipo.Do not abuse palm-wine tappers while drunkness persists.
- Msitukane wakunga na uzazi ungalipo.Do not abuse midwives while child-bearing continues.
- Mstahimilivu hula mbivu.A patient man will eat ripe fruits.
- Mtaka cha mvunguni sharti ainame.He who requires what is under the bed must bend for it.
- Mtaka nyingi nasaba hupata mwingi msiba.He who boasts of his ancestry unduly will bring plenty of trouble upon himself.
- Mtaka unda haneni.He who desires to make something does not announce his intentions ,just turns them into actions.
- Mtaka yote hukosa yote.He who desires all,misses all
- Mtegemea nundu haachi kunona.He who likes to eat cows hump will not fail to grow fat.
- Mtembezi hula miguu yake.An aimless wanderer wears away his legs.
- mteuzi hashi tamaa.A connoisseur never comes to the end of desire.
- Mti hauwendi ila kwa nyenzo.A log can not move save by the help of rollers.
- Mtondoo haufi maji.An old man always keeps something in reserve.
- Mtoto akililia wembe mpe.When a child cries for a razor give it him.i.e. Let him learn by experience.
- Mtoto umleyavyo ndivyo akuavyo.As you bring up a child ,so he will be.
- Mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka.The child of a snake is a snake.
- Mtu hakatai mwito,hukata aitwalo.A person does not objects to being called, he objects to what he is called for.
- Mtu hujikuna ajipatiapo.A person scratches himself where his hand can reach.
- Mtu huulizwa amevaani ,haulizwi amekulani.A person is asked about his dress not what he has eaten.
- Mtumai cha ndugu hufa masikini.One who always depends on his brother will die poor.
- Mtumi wa kunga haambiwi maana.The carrier of a secret message is not told its meaning.
- Mtumikie kafiri upate mradi wako.Serve even an unbeliever to attain your own ends.
- Mtupa jongoo hutupa na mti wake.If you throw a millipede you should throw away the stick you picked it up with
- Mume wa mama ni baba.A husband of a mother is a father
- Mungu hamfichi mnafiki.God does not concell a(hypocrite) liar.
- Mvumbika changa hula mbovu.One who stores half grown fruit eats it rotten.
- Mvungu mkeka.The space under the bed is like a mat.
- Mvunja nchi ni mwananchi.The destroyer of a country is a citizen of that country.
- Mvuvi ajuwa pweza alipo.A fisheman knows where to look for an octopus.
- Mwacha asili ni mtumwa.He who renounces his ancestrey is like a slave.
- Mwamba na wako hukutuma umwambiye.He who spekes ill of someone close to you in your presence sends you to tell him so.
- Mwamini Mungu si mtovu.He who trusts in God lacks nothing.
- Mwana mkaidi hafaidi mpaka siku ya idi.An obstinete child does not suffer save on the day of festival.
- Mwana maji wa kwale kufa maji mazowea.To a seamen of Kwale,death by water is common experience.
- Mwana mkuwa nawe ni mwenzio kama wewe.The child who grows up with you is your fellow.
- Mwana wa kuku hafunzwi kuchakura.A chick is not taught how to scratch up the ground.
- Mwana simba ni simba.The child of lion is a lion.
- Mwanga mpe mtoto kulea.Give a wizard a child to bring up.
- Mwangaza mbili moja humponyoka.He who is after two things at the same time,one will surely escape him
- Mwanzo kokochi mwisho nazi.The begining is bud the end is coconut.
- Mwanzo wa chanzo ni chane mbili.The begining of a mat-making is two slips of raffia leaf.
- Mwanzo wa ngoma ni lele.The begining of a dance is" lele" i.e.just one man singing hu lalaaaa.
- Mwapiza la nje hupata la ndani.One who curses someone in public,brings it on himself in private.
- Mwekaji kisasi haambiwi mwerevu.He who nurses vegeance is not called wise.
- Mwenda bure si mkaa bure,huenda akaokota.One who walks with no reason is not like one who sits without reason,the one who walks might pick up something.
- Mwenda mbio hujikwa kidole.A person who is in too much of a hurry stubs his toe.
- Mwenda tezi na omo marejeo ngamani.He who goes to the quarterdeck and forecastle will return to the hold eventualy.
- Mwenye kelele hana neno.A noisy person is harmless.
- Mwenye kovu usidhani kapowa.One with a scar,do not think him healed.
- Mwenye kubebwa hujikaza.He who is carried on the back must cling on.
- Mwenye kuchinja hachelei kuchuna.He who slaughters a beast does not hesitate about skinning it
- Mwenye kuumwa na nyoka akiona jani hushtuka.One who has been bitten by a snake,when he sees grass he he gets afraid.i.e.Once bitten twice shy.
- Mwenye macho haambiwi tazama.One who has eyes is not told to look(he does it himself)
- Mwenye nguvu mpishe. Let a strong man pass
- Mwenye njaa hana miiko. A hungry man observes no taboos.
- Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu. A hasty person misses the sweet things (because he cannot wait for the fruit to ripen).
- Mwenye shibe hamjui mwenye njaa. A satisfied person does not know the hungry man. cf. He that is warm thinks that all are so.
- Mwenye shoka hakosi kuni. He who has an axe does not lack firewood.
- Mwenye tumbo ni tumbole, angafunga mkaja. She who is pregnant, is pregnant-even though she wrap herself in an 'mkaja' (i.e you don't achieve something by merely pretending you have achieved it.) (Mkaja is the cloth a woman wears round her stomach after giving birth).
- Mwenzako akinyolewa wewe tia maji. When your Companion is being shaved, put water (on your head). ('Be prepared-eg. when you see a neighbouring country being invaded prepare to face the same situation yourself) cf. When your neighbour's house is on fire, take care of your own.
- Mwibaji na watwana, mlifi ni mwungwana. A thief is a rogue but the one who repays is a gentleman
- Mwili wa mwenzio ni kando ya mwilio. Your companion's body is beside (i.e. not a part of) your body.
- Mwizi hushikwa na mwizi mwenziwe. A thief is caught by his fellow thief. cf. Set a thief to catch a thief.
- Mwomba chumvi huombea chunguche. He who asks for salt does so for his own cooking pot
- Mwosha hadhuru maiti. The washer of corpses does no harm to the dead.
- Mwosha huoshwa.The corpse-washer is washed (in his turn). Cf. Tit for tat.
- Mwosha husitiri maiti.The washer conceals the corpse (i.e gives nothing away).
- Mzaha,mzaha, hutumbuka usaha. Joke, joke, discharges pus (i.e. do not dismiss even a small scratch as if it were only a joke-it may go bad) cf. A stitch in time saves nine.
- Mzazi haachi ujusi. One who gives birth cannot avoid (ritual) defilement
- Mzigo Wa mwenzio ni kanda Ia usufi. Your companion's burden is (no more than) a load of kapok (to you). cf. The burden is light on the shoulder of another.
- Mzika pembe ndiye mzua pembe.The one who buries ivory is the one to dig it up
- Mzowea kutwaa, kutoa ni vita. (For him) who is accustomed to taking giving away is a battle.
- Mzowea kunyonga, kuchinja hawezi. He who is used to strangle, cannot slaughter.
- Mzungu Wa kula hafundishwi mwana. The process of eating is not taught to a child.
- Nahodha wengi, chombo huenda mrama. Too many captains (and) the ship rolls. cf. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
- Natuone ndipo twambe, kusikia Si kuona. Let us see then tell; hearing is not seeing cf. Seeing is believing.
- Nazi mbovu harabu ya nzima. A rotten coconut in a heap spoils the wholesome ones. cf. A rotten apple spoils its neighbours. cf. A sickly sheep infects the whole flock.
- Ndege mjanja hunaswa na tundu bovu, An artful bird can be trapped in a rotten cage.
- Ndege mwigo hana mazowea. A bird that imitates others does not get used to a place.
- Ndugu chungu, jirani mkungu. (Alt. Ndugu kitu.... .) A brother is (as useful as) a cooking pot, and a neighbour is (as useful as) a cooking pot lid.
- Ndugu mwui afadhali kuwa naye. A bad brother is far better than no brother. cf. Blood is thicker than water.
- Ndugu wakigombana, chukua jembe ukalime, wakipatana chukua kikapu ukavune. When brothers quarrel, take a hoe and go and dig; and when they make it up, take a basket and patter the crop (i.e. never interfere with a dispute between brothers except to fly and settle it amicably).
- Ngoja! ngoja? huumiza matumbo. Wait a minute! wait a minute! harms the stomach
- Ngoma ivumayo haidumu. A noisy drumming does not last long.
- Ngoma ivumayo haikawii kupasuka. A drum that is sounded loudly will soon split cf. A pitcher that often goes to the well, is broken at last.
- Ngozi ivute ili maji.Stretch hide while it is still green. cf. Strike while the iron is hot.
- Nia njema ni tabibu, nia mbaya huharibu. A good purpose is like a doctor (it heals or keeps you well) and evil purpose corrupts.
- Nifae na mvua nikufae na jua. Do me a favour during a rainy season and I shall do the same to you during the dry season.
- Nimekula asali udogoni, utamu ungali gegoni. I ate honey in my childhood, and its sweetness is still in my tooth.
- Nimekupaka wanja, wewe wanipaka pilipili. I have anointed you with kohl, do you, in return, anoint me with pepper?
- Njia ya mwongo fupi.The way of a liar is short (i.e. he soon comes to grief).
- Njia ya siku zote haina alama. A regular path has no signpost. cf. A used key is always bright.
- Ng'ombe avunjikapo guu hurejea zizini. When a bull gets his leg broken, he is sure to go back to his yard.
- Ng'ombe haelemewi na nunduye. A cow is not oppressed by its own hump.
- Nta Si asali; nalikuwa nazo Si uchunga. Wax is not honey; 'I had them' (i.e. cattle) is not herding.
- Nyani haoni kundule, huliona la mwenziwe. The ape does not see his own backside, he Sees his companion's.
- Nyimbo ya kufunzwa haikeshi ngoma. Songs learnt from outside sources (foreign importations) are not used at a dance so long.
- Nyumba usiyolala ndani huijui ila yake. You cannot know the defects of a house you have not slept in. Cf. It is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches.
- Nyumba ya udongo haihimili vishindo. A mud hut cannot withstand great shocks.
- Nzi kufa juu ya kidonda Si haramu. For a fly to die on an ulcer is not bad (after all, he got what he wanted).
- Pabaya pako Si pema pa mwenzako. Your own bad place is far better (so far as you are concerned) than your companion's place (which will do you no good).
- Padogo pako Si pakubwa pa mwenzako. Your own small place is not like a big place of your companion. cf. A poor thing but mine own.
- Painamapo ndipo painukapo. Where it slopes down is where it slopes up.
- Paka akiondoka, panya hutawala. when the cat goes away, mice reign. cf. When the cat's away, the mice do play.
- Paka hakubali kulala chali. A cat can never he made to lie on its back.
- Paka wa nyumba haingwa. A cat belonging to the house is not chased away.
- Panapo wengi hapaharibiki neno. Where there are many, nothing goes wrong. (A council of many people ensures that things are kept on the right tines.) cf. Many hands make light work.
- Papo kwa papo kamba hukata jiwe. Constant rubbing of a rope will cut a stone. cf. Constant dripping wears away a stone.
- Pele hupewa msi kucha. Scabics are given to him who has no fingernails (i.e. who cannot scratch himself).
- Pema usijapo pema; ukipema Si pema tena. A good place you don't go to is a good place: if you go too often, it isn't a good place any longer. cf. Familiarity brings contempt; or, Outstay one's welcome.
- Penye kuku wengi hapamwagwi mtama. Where there are many fowls, millet is not scattered (i.e. it is not advisable to disclose a secret in the presence of a number of people).
- Penye mafundi, hapakosi wanafunzi. Where there are experts there will be no lack ot learners.
- Penye mbaya wako, hapakosi mwema wako/na mwema wako hakosi. Where you have an enemy, you will also surely arid a friend.
- Penye miti hakuna wajenzi. Where there are plenty of trees there are no builders.
- Penye nia ipo njia. Where there's a will there's a way.
- Penye urembo ndipo penye urimbo. Where there is finery, there lies the snare (Lit: birdlime).
- Penye wazee haliharibiki neno. Where there are old people, nothing goes wrong.
- Penye wengi pana mengi. Where there are many (present) there is much (said).
- Penye wengi pana Mungu. Where there are many people, there God is
- Pilipili usozila zakuwashiani? How can you be burnt by chilies which you have not eaten?
- Pofu hasahau mkongoja wake. A blind person does not forget his walking stick.
- Pwagu hupata pwaguzi. A thief finds another one (who is a bigger and better thief than he is). Cf. When Greek meets Greek.
- Radhi ni bora kuliko mali Blessings are better than wealth,
- Sahani iliyofunikwa, kilichomo kimesitirika. When a plate is covered, its contents are hidden.
- Samaki mmoja akioza, huoza wote. If one fish rots, they all rot. cf. A rotten apple spoils its neighbours. A sickly sheep infects the whole flock.
- Shika! Shika! na mwenyewe nyuma. Hold him! Hold him! and you yourself after him (i.e. you shouldn't expect others to do all the work).
- Shimo Ia ulimi mkono haufutiki. A pit of (dug by) the tongue cannot be covered up by the hand (words are more dangerous). Cf. The pen is mightier than the sword.
- Shoka lisilo mpini halichanji kuni. An axe with rio handle does not split firewood.
- Si kila mwenye makucha huwa simba. Not all that have claws are lions. cf All that glitters is not gold.
- Sikio halilali na njaa. An ear dots not go to bed hungry (there's always plenty of gossip).
- Sikio halipwani kichwa. Alt: Sikio halipiti kichwa. The ear does not surpass the head.
- Sikio Ia kufa halisikii dawa. A dying ear does not feel the medicine.
- Siku njema huonekana asubuhi. A good day becomes evident in the morning.
- Siku utakayokwenda uchi, ndiyo siku utakayokutana na mkweo. The day you go naked, is the day you will meet your father/mother.in-law.
- Simba mwenda kimya(pole) ndiye mla nyama. The lion which moves silently is the one that eats meat.
- Simbiko haisimbuki ila kwa msukosuko. A thing that is firmly fixed cannot be dislodged except with much trouble.
- Sitafuga ndwele na waganga tele. I shall not suffer illness while doctors abound.
- Subira ni ufunguo Wa faraja. Patience is the key to tranquility.
- Subira yavuta heri, huleta kilicho mbali. Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far.
- Sumu ya neno ni neno. The poison for a word is a word. cf. Tit for tat.
- Tamaa mbele, mauti nyuma. Desire first, death afterwards, (i.e. 'No one ever thinks of the possibIlity of death when concentrating on achieving a particular end).
- Taratibu ndiyo mwendo. Slowly is indeed the way to walk. Cf. He that goes slowly goes surely, or, Hasten slowly. or, Slow but sure.
- Teke Ia kuku halimwumizi mwanawe A hen's kick does not hurt her chick.
- Tonga si tuwi The juice of an Immature coconut Is not like the real coconut juice.
- Ucheshi wa mtoto ni anga Ia nyumba. The laughter of a child lights up the house.
- Uchungu wa mwana, aujua mzazi. The Iabour of childbirth is known to the mother.
- Udongo uwahi ungali maji Work the clay while it is still wet Cf. Strike while the iron is hot
- Udugu wa nazi hukutania chunguni The brotherhood of coconuts is a meeting in the cook- in pot (said of people who do not cooperate until it is too late).
- Ukenda kwa wenye chongo, vunja lako jicho. When you go among one-eyed people, put out your own eye. Cf. Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise, or, When in Rome, do as the Romans do (?).
- Ukiona kwako kunaungua kwa mwenzako kunateketea. If you find your own house is on fire, you may be sure that your neighbour's house is burning much more fiercely.
- Ukiona neno, usiposema neno, hutapatikana na neno. If you see something and say nothing, you will have nothing to suffer for. Cf. Mind your own business, or, Hear all, see all, say nothing.
- Ukiona vinaelea, vimeundwa. If you see vessels afloat, remember that they have had to be built.
- Ukiona zinduna, ambari iko nyuma. If you see amber, ambergis is (not far) behind, (i.e. Where there is a jealous husband, there will be jealous wife). (Sauce for the goose . . .?)
- Ukipewa shibiri usichukue pima. If you are offered a span, do not take a couple of yards. Cf. Give him an inch and he will take an ell.
- Ukupigao ndio ukufunzao. What beats you is what teaches you. Cf. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
- Ukistaajabu ya Mussa utaona ya Firauni. If you are astonished at Moses' deeds, you will be more astonished at Pharaoh's. Not-Moses declared himself to he a prophet, but Pharaoh declared himself to be God.
- Ukitaja nyoka, shika fimbo mkononi. When you mention a snake, have a stick ready in your hand. Talk of the devil, and you'll hear the rustle of his wings.
- . Ukitaka kula nguruwe, chagua aliyeno,na. If you want to eat pig, choose one which is fat. Cf. As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. (Muslims are forbidden pork).
- Ukitaka uzuri sharti udhurike. If you want beauty, you must (first) be injured
- Ukuukuu wa kamba Si upya wa ukambaa. A well-worn coir-rope is better than a new rope made from raffia.
- Ulimi hauna mfupa. A tongue has no bone (i.e. it can get round anything, both literally and metaphorically).
- Ulimi unauma kuliko meno. The tongue hurts more than the teeth.
- Ulipendalo hupati, hupata ujaliwalo. You will not necessarily get what you desire, you will get what is appointed you (by God). Cf. Man proposes, God disposes.
- Ulivyoligema utalinywa. As you tapped it (palm-wine) you will (have to) drink. Cf. As you sow, so shall you reap, or, You have made your bed and now you must lie on it.
- Umejigeuza pweza, unajipalia makaa? Have you changed into a cuttle-fish, (that) you heap live embers on yourself?
- Umekuwa bata akili kwa watoto? Are you a duck (that) your mind is with your children?
- Umekuwa jeta hubanduki? Are you a Jeta, (that) you do not move?
- Umekuwa nguva, huhimili kishindo? Are you a dugong, (that) you cannot bear a wound?
- Unamlaumu mwewe, kipanga yuwesha kuku. You are blaming the hawk, (while) the falcon is killing the chickens.
- Ungalijua alacho nyuki, usingalionja asali. Had you known what bees eat, you would not have tasted the honey.
- Ushikwapo shikamana. When you are seized, hold on yourself.
- Usiache kunanua kwa kutega. Do not neglect the undoing (of a trap that has caught) for the setting (of others). cf. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Usiache mbachao kwa msala upitao. Never give up your own old mat for a better prayer mat which you see passing.
- Usicheze na simba, ukamtia mkono kinywani. When you play with a lion, do not put your hand in its mouth (that would be going too far!).
- Usigombe na mkwezi, nazi imeliwa na mwezi. Don't quarrel with the coconut-palm climber: the coconut has been eaten by the moon.
- Usijifanye kuku mweupe. Do not pretend to be a white fowl (you're only an ordinary chap).
- Usikaange mbuyu ukawaachia wenye meno watafune. Do not roast baobab kernels and leave those who have teeth chewing (them). Don't start quarrels among other people (bv telling tales).
- Usile na kipofu ukamgusa rnkono. When you are eating with a blind man, do not touch his hand. (to do so will lead him to suspect that either the food is finished or you are trying to play a trick on him. In other words, with a simple person you must be very careful lest you might do something to make him suspicious of you)
- Usimwamshe aliyelala utalala wewe. Do not wake one who is sleeping; you will fall asleep yourself.
- Usinivishe kilemba cha ukoka. Do not put a grass turban on my head, (i.e. do not flatter me).
- Usipoziba ufa utajenga ukuta. If you do not fill up a crack, you will have to build a wall. cf. A stitch in time saves nine
- Usisafiriye na nyota ya mwenzio. Don't travel under another's lucky star (i.e. do not rely on someone else's good fortune).
- Usisahau ubaharia kwa sababu ya unahodha. Do not forget what it is to be a sailor because of being a captain yourself.
- Usishindane na Kari; Kari ni mja wa Mungu. Do not compete with Kari, Kari comes from God.
- Usitukane wagema na ulevi ungalipo. Speak no ill of palm-wine tappers as long as drinking persists
- Usitukane wakunga na uzazi 'ungalipo. Speak no ill of midwives while childbirth still continues.
- Usiyavuke maji usiyoweza kuyaoga. Do not cross water that is too deep for wading.
1. Chiiko lakini hichiwoni. 'It is there ·out one does not see it'.
Lkosi. 'Nape of the neck'.
2. Chint'u chimooyi huzaloo mia. 'One thing which gives birth to a hundred'.
Awuuri. 'The seed'.
3. Tala haako masku mazima bila mafta na ltaambi. 'A lamp which burns all night without oil or wick'.
Mwezi wa weelu. 'The moon•.
4. Halaali wala ha'ineendi, uko naxulangala tu. 'It doesn't sleep or walk, it is just there look;,,. at you'
Piicha. 'A picture'
5. Hujoowa huja huja hujoowa.. 'It is eaten, it eats: it eats, it is eaten'
Mp`aam'a 'A shark'.
6. Lkaambala nii lil.e laa.kini halxaa£iri xfunga skunyi. ' The rope is long, but it cannot tie firewood'
Ndila 'A road'
7. Ntunglini kaaka kata hayiingili, 'In my water jar a ladle does not enter
8Nuundawa ni mkul.u, laakini mavunoye hayayezi lkusi' My farm is big, but its harvest does not fill the hand'.
9. Nk'ukuwa zazil.e miwaani. 'My hen has laid among thorns'.
10. Polpoloo mbili hugudhbaloo wowi. 'Two areca nuts which cross a river'.
ll. Saa'aya nt'aixsimama nt'angu itila lfuungul,o. 'My watch never stopped since it was wound up'.
Mooyo (or, qalbi) 'The heart'.
12. Si humkasa laa.kini hachimwoni. 'We hear him but we do not see him'
Sooti' 'The voice'.
This ancient Swahili hero Liyongo is perhaps the most famous character in Swahili classical poetry. His songs are recorded in many manuscripts including Alien (1971) and Kijumwa (1913). About Liyongo’s physique we are told that he was an unusually huge man,even so that he could not be compared to any other human.
Liyongo kitamakali Liyongo grew up
Akabalighi rijali Into a strong young man
Akawa mlu wa kweli He became a real man
Na haiba kaongeya. He became more beautiful
Kimo kawa mrefu He grew tall
Mpana sana mrefu Huge and tall
Majimboni yu maarufu Famous throughout the land
Watu huya kwangaliya People came to know him
(Mulokozi 1999: 23–24)
Apart from the exaggerated physical features, Liyongo is also described as humble, respectful and obedient. Although the ruling Sultan was oppressing him, Liyongo responds positively and urgently when the ruler invites him to visit Pate City. He obeyed both man and God.
Na Liyongo akajibu And Liyongo answered
Kwa hishima na adabu Respectfully
Nitakuja kwa karibu And with honour
Nitwiiye maulana I swear this to God
The mystical powers and supernatural abilities of the hero Liyongoare outlined in many episodes in the epic. For instance, he is able to outsmart Wagulla warriors who trick him into climbing a Mukoma tree intending to shoot him. Likewise, he tricks jail guards and escapes from prison by cleverly using his gift to sing and dance.
Finally, the popularity of Liyongo as a protector of his community is widely highlighted.
Liyongo silaha yetu Liyongo is our weapon
Kwa wuste khasimu zetu Against all our enemies
Alikuwa ngao yetu He was our shield
Wute wakinena haya All people said this
Mui walisikitika The entire city was in mourning
Hakuna wa kutosheka There was no exception
Kwa Liyongo kutoweka They mourned the loss of Liyongo
Imeanguka paziya The curtain had fallen.
In the last three stanzas, the poet reveals the particulars of Liyongo, the subject of his biographical epic, Utendi wa Liyongo (‘The epic of Liyongo’) Ya Liyongo hukwambiya This is the story of Liyongo
Sin alikozaliwa Who was born at Siu
Pate akitembeleya When he visited his son at Pate
Kwa mwana akafiliya There he met his death
Na kwa mwana ni Rasini And his son lived at Rasini
Ya shaka iyuweni A village in Shaka, get it clearly
Ni mui hapo zamani An ancient city
Ni mkuu hukwambia One of the greatest towns of the time
SEYYID ALI BIN NASSIR (1720 –1820)
The most famous work by this Lamu poet is Inkishafi (Hichens 1939) and Takhmis ya Liyongo. Using an extremely impersonal style and language, the poet concludes the epic of Inkishafi by giving thanks to God and interceding for the blessing of his audience; the text contains no mention of the poet’s identity:
Sasa takhtimu-, tatia tama I will now stop and put an end to the poem
Atakaofuata na kuyandama Whoever reads and follows it will be blessed by
Tapata khatima na rnwisho mwema God even unto death we pray oh God that you
Rabbi, hukuomba, tujaaliye. may bring this to pass for us.
Rabbi, mrahamu,, mwenye kutunga Oh Lord, bless the post who composed
Na mezokhitimu, mja malenga Up to the end here, a humble being
Sala na salamu, nizao kinga May peace and mercy attend to them
(Hichens 1939: 104)
However, in Takhmis ya Liyongo Nassir seems to have relied heavily on oral songs about the popular hero Fumo Liyongo: he uses the archaic Kiswahili dialect Kiongozi and words from his native Kiamu dialect. There are no hints of authorship until at the very end of the poem where the poet signs off by revealing his name and qualification as a poet.
YALA BIN HAJI (1776–1840)
As is the case with other classical Swahili poets, information on the life of Muyakan bin Haji (also called Muyakan bin Ghassany – see Hichens 1940) is both scanty and disjointed. He is traced to have
lived between 1776 and 1840. According to Hichens (1940), Muyaka came from a poor family. This
can be concluded also from a poem in which the poet bids farewell to his wife as he heads south to Pemba island on a trading trip (see Kwa heri mwana kwa heri in Hichens 1940: 108, 264). The poet says
he will travel on a small canoe made of a hollowed-out log and a sail of cloth and ropes – an indicator of poverty. He persuades the wife to be brave because even though their condition is humble, nothing is impossible if only they have faith and hope for a better future.
This theme of hope in the power of God the Provider runs through all Muyaka’s poetry. For example in the poem Wa mbili havai moja ‘He who has two can not use only one’ (Hichens 1940: 256) states that a rich person cannot live like a poor one and vice versa; Licha Kifupa kifupi ‘Let alone a lean piece of bony meat’ (Hichens 1940: 4) carries the meaning that one should stick to a lean and bony piece of meat even if fatty meat could be obtained with the cost of bearing an insult (Muyaka was obviously insulted by a butcher from whom he asked for credit). The majority of Muyaka’s poetry is dedicated to the moral values of the religious and social attitudes and practices of his time; very little of the poet’s work concerns his personal life.
The socio-political situation of Mombasa in Muyaka’s time is captured in the works of the poet. For example, the traditional Swahili royal cities are referred to by their historical names: Gongwa la Mkisi, or Gongwa la Mwana Sururu (Royal city of the queen of Mombasa), and Zinj ya Mwana Aziza (Zanzibar, the city of Queen Susuru). Similarly, the expression Kiwa Ndeo ‘island of pride’ is used to refer to Lamu whose rulers, artists and fighters thought themselves invincible.
Muyaka also depicts the historical battles between the Swahili towns of Lamu, Pate, Zanzibar and Mombasa as well as battles against invaders – the Oman Arabs and the Portuguese. For instance, the poem Ngome elaborates on the relationship between the local Swahili community of Mombasa and the ruling Mazrui administration whose main military, residential and official seat was Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in the 1490s. Inter-city wars are commented on in many poems, e.g.:
(a) Kongowea Ja Mvumo (Also called Mwina wa chiza ‘A dark hole’)
(b) Ndiswi Nyali kuu ‘We are the residents of Nyali Kuu’
(c) Gongwa ‘Fort’
(d) Vikija mtavimeza ‘Will you fight the war?’
The cultural set-up of Mombasa, including dress code and food is also alluded to. Muyaka has composed many memorable poems outlining the popular dishes of the time and even where some of the food was imported from. One of the best examples of such poems is Itakapokukutana:
Ai ngano na samli, viliwa vyema khiyari Oh, wheat and ghee! Delicious selected food
Vitu viawavyo mbali, Renu na Baunagari Things imported from far lands, Portugal and India
Apao mwende akari, mola humjazi kheri He who shares a little with fellow beings, God blesses him
Ai ziwa na sukari, itakapo kukutana Oh milk and sugar! When the two are used together.
Perhaps the only known classical Swahili epic composed by a woman is Uandi wa Mwana kupona, a popular and one of the most widely studied epics of the Swahili epic tradition (Alien 1971: 55). The text
of the poem provides some details about the author. From the first stanza we learn the author has a daughter to whom the poem is addressed:
Negema wangu binti Come near me, my daughter
Mchachefu wa sanati I am unworthy of God’s award
Upulike wasiati Listen to my advice
Asa ukazingatia May be you will follow it
We also gather that the author wrote the poem when she was still ill, having fallen sick more than a year ago:
Maradhi yamenishika I have fallen ill
Hata yametimu mwaka It is a year now since I became sick
Sikupata kutamka I have not taken time
Neno lema kukwambia. To offer you advice
(Sheikh & Nabahany 1972: 1)
It is in the fifty-second stanza where the reader discovers the author of the epic is a woman.
Alinioa babako Your father married me
Kwa furaha na kicheko In a joyous ceremony
Tusondoleane mbeko We respected each other
Siku zote twalokaa All the days we lived together
And in the fifty-fourth verse, it is revealed that the husband of the poetess has since died:
Yalipokuya faradhi When his fate came
Kanikariria radhi He blessed me repeatedly
Kashukuru kafawidhi He thankfully and peacefully died
Moyo wangu katoshea And I was contented in my heart
(Sheikh & Nabahany 1972)
However, the reader of this epic has to wait till the very end to learn the name of the poetess and date of the epic’s composition.
Mwenye kutunga nudhumu The composer of this work
Ni gharibu mwenye hamu Is a sorrowful widow
Na ubora wa ithimu The worst of her sins.
Rabbi tamghufiria The lord will forgive
Ina lake mufahamu Her name, take note
Ni mtaraji karimu She is
Mwana kupona mshamu Mwana Kupona Mshamu
Pate alikozaliwa Born at Pate
Tarikhiye kwa yakini The date
Ni alifu wa miyateni of the poem
Hamsa wa sabini is 1275
Hizi zote hirijia A.H. (ca 1858)
SWAHILI HENNA DECORATIONS
Lamu Swahili woman With nice henna designs!
Used for several millenaries for its dying proprieties, the henna became famous for the temporary brownish tattoos it allows to make harmlessly on the skin. Extracted from the homonym plant by crushing its fresh leaves, Henna is broadly used in Africa, Southern Asia and the Middle East. Cleopatra and Nefertiti are known for having used henna and in Egyptian beliefs, it was part of the afterlife journey preparation, since it has been discovered on several mummies' toenails by archeologists.
In India, the henna has been introduced by the Mughal conquerors in the 12th Century. From this moment on, it has been used by the people that live in the Thar desert to paint their hands and feet, which would maintain their body temperature low.
A paste made with a mix of the power obtained by crushing the leaves, water and essential oil is applied on the body with the help of a little cone or syringe by artists or designers. Making a tattoo on each arm with a lot of details can last up to 5 hours. Then count another 4 hours to dry the skin, during which you cannot do anything. On the hair, you must make a coating and let the henna act for several minutes. The result can vary from auburn to darker colors: brown and purple, depending on if used on combination with indigo dye or alone, the original color of the hair and the originating place of the henna. Muslim males also use henna for dying their beards, following the tradition of prophet Muhammad, Koran writes.
The night of Henna -or Bridal henna- is undoubtedly one of the most widespread tradition among Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus in the countries where the henna is present enough (Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, India, etc.). It is a women's party that usually takes place the night before the wedding. The brides closest friends and female parents gather to eat, dance and have the bride's hands painted with henna patterns: flowers in the Muslim culture; a circle of dots with a bigger dot in the center called Mehndi in India. This ritual symbolizes the passing of the bride under her husband's care and the leaving from paternal authority.
A more superstitious tradition is henna averts malevolent spirits and the so-called Evil eye in Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the Levant. It is also supposed to attract or repel helpful or harmful Jinns, sort of supernatural creatures in Arab folklore.
Over the passed two decades, the tradition of henna has been spreading to the West in a trendy manner: in Cornwall, U.K., a Princess had herself henna-tattooed before her wedding, reproducing the Night of Henna ritual described above.
Black Henna is alternately used to talk about Indigo blue, a natural dye used in the same manner than the henna, and about a harmful chemical that can leave lifetime scars and have heavy after-effects.
Mrembo: Traditional Swahili Style Spa
Like everywhere in the world, the “wellness” phenomenon has taken over the island of Zanzibar. Spas are popping up across the island in the hotels often run by Thai therapists, offering a dizzying choice of treatments. However, on the Archipelago of Unguja and Pemba (Zanzibar) both women and men have been using the indigenous flowers, herbs and spices in their traditional treatments for centuries. If you want to try something different, head over to Mrembo in Stone Town for a Zanzibari experience.
One of the beauty treatments offered at Mrembo is called singo, a natural scrub traditionally used when a Zanzibar girl is preparing for her marriage. Singo is prepared by Swahili women; it is a magically scented mix of different flowers like fresh Jasmin, Kilua, Ylang Ylang flowers and rose petals combined with cloves and sandalwood. Prior to applying a little “Mrashi” (rosewater) is added and than the mix is applied to the bride to be a few days before she gets married. This is a big ceremony exclusively for women who all gather in much excitement and apply the “Singo” to the bride. The bride to be undergoes a daily singo, the scrub exfoliating her skin, leaving her fragrant and glowing, with skin as soft as silk. Many of the ingredients of the Singo are also used in daily life like garlands for weddings or to seduce one another by arranging them on the bed.
On Pemba, couples scrub each other at the same time; men rub their beloved with singo, while women use the invigorating clove based scrub known as vidonge for their husband. Vidonge is another important Swahili treatment derived from the past. It is made from the remains of clove stems and buds, after they have been distilled to make clove oil. The stems and buds are pressed into a small ball, with a little rose water. The result is a coarse, warming scrub, leaving skin energized and fresh. Men enjoy a heat sensation after which they feel completely invigorated.
The vidonge is said to increase men’s libido and stamina and could be a perfect gift to take home.
Swahili massage treatments include hot sand massage and kukandwa. In a hot sand massage, sand is heated and tied into a muslin parcel, then applied to the skin to alleviate pain or inflammation, opening the pores and bringing a medicinal heat to the muscles. Elderly Swahili people use the old, traditional massage kukandwa using mbarika leaves (castor seed). The leaves are soaked in hot water prior to applying them, which opens up the pores and relieves fatigue after giving birth, sport injuries and exhaustion.
Henna is also an important beauty ritual on the archipelago of Unguja and Pemba and is made of the dried leaves of the henna tree. Nowadays many places unfortunately use the very aggressive piko which has absolutely nothing to do with natural henna and is actually nothing more than hair dye. Real henna painting takes time, with Zanzibari patterns combining elements from Arabic, Indian and African styles. The henna powder is mixed with black tea and lime juice to retrieve a darker color and must be applied at least twice to get a good result.
At Mrembo Traditional Spa, you can try most of these little known and 100% natural treatments, which make you feel relaxed and fulfilled. You will also be able to spend an entire day pampering yourself with various treatments, sip ginger/lemongrass tea, and learn about Henna and other Zanzibari beauty traditions, whilst listening to the melodious sounds of Taarab music.
By Stefanie Schoetz
Nillah Nyakoa, Swahili woman
Kids singing for Maulidi - Lamu Kenya