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February 25, 2021

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Swahili people -7 facts you should know

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Swahili people -7 facts you should know

Swahili peoples

You will find them along the coast of Southeast Africa, in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. They also inhabit several Indian Ocean islands, including Lamu, Zanzibar, and Pate.

 The term “Swahili” comes from Arabic, and it means “[people] of the coast.”


Swahili peoples speak Kiswahili as their “mother tongue,” reflecting their mixed origins and complex history. The language includes many words borrowed from Arabic and other languages including English.

Swahili Clothing

Modesty is highly valued when it comes to dressing.
The Kanga (or leso) is an artefact of the Swahili culture. It is a rectangular, brightly coloured piece of cloth with messages written on them.

The messages are normally proverbs, metaphors, riddles or poetic phrases. Women wrap it around their waists and upper bodies and drape it over their shoulders and heads.

They also wear Western-style dresses in many colours, patterns, and fabrics. When going outside the house, women wear a black, floor-length cloak known as a buibui with an attached veil, the hijab.

The kikoi, a striped cloth is worn around the waist by men and as a mark of being Muslim, some men wear small white caps with elaborate tan embroidery.

The men also wear Western-style trousers and shirts. Fridays are a special day for the Muslims and you will find men in long, white caftans.

The dera is a colourful long Somali dress that’s common among Muslim ladies. They are worn with matching hijabs.

A suggestion for you: If or when you visit Kenya, Tanzania or Mozambique, buy yourself a kanga. Remember to ask the locals the meaning of the message written on it. If you would prefer something manly, buy a kikoi, you can wear it on your neck or hang it on your wall.

Swahili Cuisine

Swahili cuisine is highly spiced and has African, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences. Rice with coconut milk (wali wa nazi) is a staple and served with a meat stew, beans, or vegetables.

The most common meats include fish, chicken and goat.
The Swahili peoples do not eat pork or drinking alcohol as these are prohibited in Islam.

A recommendation for you: You must eat the Swahili pilau. It is a deliciously spicy meal among the Swahili peoples. It is a menu-must during special occasions and festivities like Eid-ul-Fitr (end of the Ramadan fasting period) and weddings.

Swahili Music

Swahili culture’s most typical musical genre is taarab (or tarabu), sung in the Swahili language. Its orchestration and melodies have Arab and Indian influences. The music performed during weddings and concerts in the Swahili community. Popular instruments include keyboards, bass, and drums.
Your visit would be incomplete if you didn’t spend an evening listening to the evocative strains of taarab.

Swahili Family Life

Under Islam, the head of the family is the husband or father. They can make decisions for the family and compel them to behave appropriately to preserve the family’s honour. However, women also wield considerable power in the daily life of the family.

An individual household may host the nuclear family and many people beyond the immediate family, such as grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews. 

Swahili Religion

Swahili people are 100% Muslim despite having lived with people of other religions for over a century.
The Swahilis have had a proud, generally peaceful history and a high cultural heritage, primarily identified with Islam. They are very tolerant people and have lived in peace and harmony with their traditional religion neighbours and Christians over the last century.

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