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LOCATION: Eastern Africa from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique

POPULATION: About 500,000

LANGUAGE: KiSwahili; English

RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim); spirit cults


For at least a thousand years, Swahili people, who call themselves Waswahili, have occupied a narrow strip of coastal land extending from the north coast of Kenya to Dar es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania). They also occupy several nearby Indian Ocean islands, including Zanzibar, Lamu, and Pate. Over the past few hundred years, the coastal area has been conquered and colonized several timesby Portuguese in the sixteenth century, by Middle Eastern Arabs who ran a slave trade in the nineteenth century, and by the British in the twentieth century. Thus, Swahili people are accustomed to living with strangers in their midst, and they have frequently acted as middlemen in trade relations. In addition, they have incorporated many people and practices into their vibrant social world.

Swahili are all Muslims. They became Muslim through the influence of people coming from the north and also from across the Indian Ocean. They have forged extensive economic, political, and social ties with Middle Eastern Muslims.

During the colonial period and since independence in the early 1960s, Swahili people have been a minority Muslim population in the secular states of Kenya and Tanzania.


The deep harbors along the east African coast have long sustained a profitable fishing and shipping economy. The lush coastal plain provides a fertile environment for growing coconut palms, fruit trees, spices, and mangrove in swamp areas. Today, Swahili people live primarily in the urban areas of Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Tanga (mainland Tanzania), the island of Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam.

Hundreds of Swahili people left for the Middle East after the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. Over the past several decades, thousands have migrated to the Middle East, Europe, and North America largely for economic reasons. The Swahili population is about half a million.


KiSwahili, the Swahili language, is widely spoken across East Africa. For most Kenyans and Tanzanians, KiSwahili is learned as a second language. Swahili people speak KiSwahili as their "mother tongue," and it reflects their mixed origins and complex history. The language includes many words borrowed from Arabic (and other languages), yet its grammar and syntax place it in the Bantu language family, which has roots on the African continent. Like many Kenyans, Swahili people also use English in their daily interactions, particularly in schools, government offices, and the tourist industry.


Myths and heroes are generally from Islamic sources. For example, many people tell short, moralistic tales based on the Prophet Muhammad's life.


Being Swahili is inextricably connected to being Muslim. Swahili Muslims recognize the five pillars of faith that are basic to Islamic practice worldwide: 1) belief in Allah as the Supreme Being and in Muhammad as the most important prophet; 2) praying five times a day; 3) fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan; 4) giving charity; and 5) making a pilgrimage (hajj) to the holy city of Mecca, if feasible. For Swahili people, Islam encompasses more than just spiritual beliefs and practices; Islam is a way of life.


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.


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.

Marriage marks the transition to adulthood. Marriages are usually arranged by parents. A young woman cannot get married without her father's permission, but she has the right to refuse someone chosen for her. Weddings can include several days of separate celebrations for men and women. Only men attend the actual marriage vows, which take place in a mosque. A male relative represents the bride.


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.

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.


Houses vary depending on a family's means and the type of town in which they reside. "Stone towns," like Lamu and Mombasa, are characterized by large stone houses, some divided into apartments. Some Swahili people living in "country towns" still occupy houses made of hardened mud and stones, although these are less common than houses of stone or coral. Most homes have electricity, indoor plumbing, several bedrooms, and a living room furnished with a couch and chairs. Access to water is critical for Muslims who must wash before prayers. In comparison with many people in Kenya, Swahili people enjoy a relatively high standard of living.


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.


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.

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. 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.


Sweet Tea with Milk


  • 2 teaspoons loose, black tea
  • 1 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) sugar
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground cardamon


  1. Combine tea, milk, and water in a saucepan. Heat until the mixture is just beginning to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Increase the heat and bring the mixture just to the boiling point again. Stir in sugar (at least 2 teaspoons) and the ginger and cardamon.
  3. To serve, pour tea through a strainer into cups.


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.


Through Islam, literacy (the ability to read and write) came to the East African coast much earlier than to most other parts of the continent. Knowing how to read the Koran (Islam's holy book) is important. Some people are literate in Arabic as well as KiSwahili. Those who have been to secular school are literate in English as well.

Young people today tend to finish primary school, and some go on to secondary school. Most parents, particularly in urban areas, recognize the value of education in preparing their children for employment. Families vary as to whether they believe that girls should be educated as extensively as boys.


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.

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.


Some Swahili still fish, farm, and trade as they did in previous generations. However, the difficult local economy has meant that many people are unemployed or dependent on the unpredictable tourist industry. Educated men and women enter the civil service (government administration) and work in offices, shops, and schools. Although husbands are obligated to provide for their families, many wives earn money through cooking food, sewing, or trading from their homes.


Few adults play sports. Many boys join soccer teams and play in hotly contested competitions. Soccer matches involving Kenyan regional teams or local boys' clubs provide rare, exciting entertainment, mostly for men. In school, girls play sports such as net-ball (similar to basketball) and track. Children are sometimes taken to swim at the ocean.


Weddings and holiday celebrations are the most important forms of entertainment. Traveling to and from weddings, people sing songs and celebrate with vigor.

Watching videos is a favorite pastime, especially for women and young people. Action films from Japan, romances from India, Islamic epics, and detective stories from the United States are popular. If a video contains love scenes, an adult might fast-forward to protect the modesty of those present. Local and foreign soap operas, news, and sports are popular on television. On the weekends, young people sometimes go to discos, and women enjoy walking on the beach or going for a picnic.


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 view the declining economy and erosion of their culture by tourism as significant social problems. Tourists who walk around in immodest clothing (such as shorts and bikinis), drink alcohol in public, and encourage loose behavior among young people have threatened the proper Islamic life that many Swahili people struggle to maintain.

Swahili face some discrimination by Kenyans who have resented their connection to the slave trade and their ties to Middle Eastern wealth. Their role in Kenyan politics, though marginal, is increasing as Kenya moves forward in multiparty democracy.

A worrisome problem is the growing prevalence of marijuana use among young men, which is condemned as antisocial. However, chewing miraa, a plant grown locally that contains a mild stimulant, is regarded as an acceptable social activity.


Allen, James de Vere. Swahili Origins. London, England: James Currey, 1993.

Bakari, Mtoro bin Mwinyi. The Customs of the Swahili People. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Caplan, Patricia. African Voices, African Lives: Personal Narratives From a Swahili Village. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Kaula, Edna Mason. The Land and People of Tanzania. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.

Knappert, Jan. Four Centuries of Swahili Verse: A Literary History and Anthology. London, England: Heinemann, 1979.

Margolies, Barbara A. Rehema's Journey. New York: Scholastic, 1990.


Interknowledge Corp. Tanzania. [Online] Available, 1998.

Internet Africa Ltd. Tanzania. [Online] Available, 1998.

Southern African Development Community. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Tanzania. [Online] Available, 1998.

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The people known as Swahili (sing. Mswahili, pl. Wa Swahili) live along the narrow East African coastline and the adjacent islands (Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia) between southern Somalia and northern Mozambique; they also live in the Aomoro Islands and northwestern Madagascar, and there are Swahili settlements in the far African interior near Lake Tanganyika. On the coast, they live in distinct settlements within approximately 2 kilometers of the seas, placed on creeks and on the leeward sides of the many small islets that are protected from the Indian Ocean. Their language, KiSwahili, with its many dialects, belongs to the Sam Family of North-eastern Bantu and has many loanwords from Arabic. It has long been used in a debased form as a lingua franca throughout eastern Africa. It was traditionally written in Arabic script but today Roman script is mostly used. The name "Swahili" comes from the Arabic swahili ("coast" or "margin"). The term was first used to refer to the eighteenth-century coast dwellers by the colonial rulers of the time, the Omani of the sultanate of Zanzibar; they prefer to use the names of their local settlements, such as Mvita (Mombasa), Unguja Zanzibar, or Amu (Lamu). "Swahili" is essentially the name others have given them. They number between 200,000 and 400,000, censuses being unreliable because self-designations have varied from one period to another.

History and Cultural Relations

Pre-Swahili settlements are reported from the first century onward, mainly in Arabic and Chinese medieval records, and later in those of the Portuguese and other Europeans. Many Swahili claim Arabic and other Asian origins, but these claims, rather than having a historical basis, reflect ambitions to deny African origins (i.e., those of their slaves). They suffered under Portuguese rule from 1498 until 1729, when they were forcibly incorporated into the sultanate of Zanzibar. In the nineteenth century they came under the rule of Britain and Germany, and in the 1960s they were incorporated into the independent states of Kenya and Tanzania, not always with their approval. As Muslims, the Swahili have felt themselves distinct from the non-Muslim majorities of these countries, which have rarely supported the social and political wishes of the Swahili, who are remembered as slave traders and owners.


The basis of Swahili economy has been the long-distance commerce between the interior of Africa and the countries of the northern Indian Ocean, in which they played the role of middlemen merchants. Their settlements, strung along the coastline, have been urbansome closely built-up places and others more like large villagesbut all are known by the same Swahili term, mji. The commerce, now virtually extinguished, lasted for almost two thousand years. Raw and unprocessed items from Africa (e.g., ivory, slaves, gold, grain, mangrove poles) were exchanged for processed commodities from Asia (e.g., textiles, beads, weapons, porcelain). The oceangoing sailing vessels from Asia and the foot caravans from the interior met at the coast, where the Swahili merchants provided safe harbors and the many complex skills and facilities needed for mercantile exchange.

"Stone-towns"permanent houses built with "stone" (coral block), set in narrow streets, and often surrounded by wallsprovided these services. Interspersed with these are the "Country-towns," large villagelike places of impermanent housing that have provided the Stone-towns with foodstuffs and labor but have not themselves taken direct part in the long-distance commerce. The whole has formed a single oikumene, never a single polity, but a congeries of towns with a single underlying structure. Country-towns grow foodstuffs in gardens and fields; Stone-towns once had large plantations worked by slave labor for the growing of export grains, their own food coming mainly from the Country-towns.

The staple foods are rice and sorghums; the most important of the many other crops and trees are the coconut, banana, tamarind, mango, and clove (the last grown mainly in large plantations formerly owned by Omani Arabs). Fishing is important everywhere, and few livestock are kept.

Labor has been provided from three sources: the family and kin group, slaves, and hired laborers. In the Country-towns, men and women are, in most respects, considered equal and their respective labor as being complementary: men have the heavier workas contract laborers on clove plantations and in the largest towns such as Mombasa, Zanzibar City, and Dar es Salaam. In the Stone-towns, domestic and agricultural work was carried out by slaves until the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, it has been done in most towns by hired and "squatter" labor from the Country-towns and by non-Swahili immigrants. Shortage of seasonal labor has always been a serious problem in all the Swahili settlements; this remains true today.

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.

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.

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.

Sociopolitical Organization

Swahili towns have traditionally been autonomous, many at one time being ruled by kings and queens. (Lamu Town, ruled by an oligarchy, was an exception.) Country-town local government remains largely in the hands of small, indigenous government organs, known as "the Four Men" and similar titles, representing constituent wards.

The Swahili patricians kept and traded in slaves; the Country-towns did neither. Slaves, numbering between 25 percent and 50 percent of the total population, were obtained from the interior from indigenous rulers and used as trade commodities, for house- and fieldwork, and as concubines. Slavery was abolished under the British in 1897 in Zanzibar and Tanganyika and in 1907 in Kenya. Its abolition brought the traditional mercantile economy largely to an end.

Open conflict has beenand remainsunusual among the Swahili, and institutions such as the feud are not known; however, fitina, intrigue and backbiting, is a well-recognized aspect of Swahili domestic and social life. Nevertheless, the towns have frequently waged war against one another, as part of wider processes of colonial subordination. The Omani sultanate of Zanzibar extended its sway along the coast during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by attacking towns in turn, using other towns as allies; local opposition to Zanzibar hegemony was soon put down by the sultans' forces of mercenary troops from outside eastern Africa. The Swahili also revolted against German rule in Tanganyika in the early years of the twentieth century and were put down with great brutality by German-led troops. The Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 removed the Omani colonial administration, and there have since been many small clashes, often couched in religious terms, with the forces of independent Kenya.

Religion and Expressive Culture

The Swahili are Sunni Muslims; even though their former Omani rulers of the sultanate of Zanzibar were Ibadhi, the Swahili were shown religious tolerance. The first mosques on the coast date from about the mid-tenth century, the identity of Swahili as Muslims dating also from that period. The central building of every town is its mosque, typically placed in a space between the two moieties; the male population assembles there on Fridays (women are not permitted to attend). In most towns, a Muslim school is built next to the mosque. There may be many mosques in a large town, built and administered privately and entailed for charitable purposes. Swahili religion is comprised of two aspects: orthodox Islam, or dini, and the set of local beliefs and practices known as mila, which are perhaps almost always originally pre-Islamic. It is often held that the dini is Arabian and associated with men, whereas the mila is African and associated with women. Both men and women, however, see themselves as orthodox Muslims, and in fact almost all observe the practices of the mila. An important part of the mila is spirit possession, which is largely practiced and controlled by women, even though they stress their Islamic purity. Women who are possessed typically join associations, even though these are in most case controlled by men, and most such associations have members of both free and of slave ancestry.

The Swahili recognize as crucial to the maintenance of their identity the concepts of ustaarabu ("civilization") and utamaduni ("urbanity"), both linked to Islam and contrasted to what they see as the ushenzi ("barbarism") of the other, non-Muslim peoples of eastern Africa. Important rites that maintain these concepts include the originally pre-Islamic "New Year," Mwaka or Nauroz, at which the towns are symbolically purified, and the regular Islamic ceremonies of Id-al-Fitr and other occasions, along with the regular public reading known as maulidi, that deal with the life and deeds of the Prophet.

Closely linked to religious beliefs and practice are forms of medical healing. Herbal medicines and possession by "doctors" are employed, as well as prayer and ritual purification. In the latter, the main practitioners are members of the clans known as Sharifu, composed of people who claim to be direct descendants of the Prophet and who live scattered in the coastal towns. All Swahili believe in the existence of many categories of both evil and good spirits, and also in that of witches and sorcerers, whose activities can be controlled by recourse to "doctors" who use both pre-Islamic and Islamic means.

The Swahili practice certain forms of visual artthe carving of elaborate wooden doors and furniture, the making of gold and silver jewelrybut the art most highly regarded is poetry. Swahili poetry is complex and of many kinds; like Islamic scholarship and knowledge, it is open to both women and men (and formerly, also to slaves). Poetry is used for both devotional and historical writings, the latter taking the form of the "chronicles" that relate the founding of the various towns and other key historical events. Today poetry is composed for both domestic and town occasions, such as weddings and competitions at New Year, and also for political purposes on radio and television.


Cooper, Frederick (1977). Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Middleton, John (1992). The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Pouwels, Randall L. (1987). Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sheriff, A. M. H. (1987). Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar. Athens: Ohio University Press.


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SWAHILI, also Kiswahili, KiSwahili. A BANTU language spoken as a mother tongue or a second language in the East African mainland and islands, from Lamu Island in KENYA in the north to the southern border of TANZANIA, and west to Congo. It may have arisen from a Bantu language pidginized through contact with ARABIC. As a language of trade, it spread inland from the coast during the 19c. It is the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and a LINGUA FRANCA in UGANDA and Grgo (Zaire). Arabic has provided many LOANWORDS, and the earliest Swahili literature, from the 18c, is in Arabic script. The British colonial administration in the 1930s encouraged the development of STANDARD Swahili. Swahili nouns are divided into classes according to the grammatical prefixes they take. Such PREFIXES also bring verbs, adjectives, demonstratives, and possessives into concord with the subject of a sentence: for example, in Watu wetu wale wakubwa wamekuja (Those big people of ours have come), watu is the plural of mtu (person), and other words harmonize by beginning with wa. Comparably, mbenzi is a rich person (who owns a Mercedes-Benz), plural wabenzi. Swahili is one of the few indigenous African rivals to English. Because it is used over such a wide area, it tends to be ethnically neutral. See AFRICAN ENGLISH, EAST AFRICAN ENGLISH, WORD.

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Swahili language

Swahili language, member of the Bantu group of African languages (see African languages and Bantu languages). Swahili is spoken by 30 million people, chiefly in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo (Kinshasa), Burundi, and Uganda, and serves as a lingua franca for additional millions in E Africa, including Europeans, Arabs, and Indians as well as Africans. It is also now the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and has the largest number of speakers of the Bantu group of languages. Although grammatically a Bantu tongue, Swahili has been greatly influenced by Arabic, from which it has borrowed many words. It is the vehicle of a noteworthy literature that goes back to the beginning of the 18th cent. and is written in a form of the Arabic alphabet. In the second half of the 19th cent., missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet for recording Swahili. Since then writing has flourished, and some native authors of distinction have appeared.

See E. C. Polomé, Swahili Language Handbook (1967); E. N. Myachina,The Swahili Language (1981).

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Swa·hi·li / swäˈhēlē/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a Bantu language widely used as a lingua franca in East Africa and having official status in several countries. Also called Kiswahili. 2. a member of a people of Zanzibar and nearby coastal regions, descendants of the original speakers of Swahili. • adj. of or relating to this language or to the people who are its native speakers.

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"Swahili." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Swahili (swähē´lē) [Arab.,=coast people], name for some of the inhabitants of the Kenya, Tanzania, Somali, and Mozambique coasts, Zanzibar, and E Congo. Descendants of black Africans and Arab traders (who came to the E African coast about AD 500), the Swahili do not form a cohesive ethnic group but are loosely united by common economic pursuits (especially trade), by cultural traditions, and particularly by the use of the Swahili language.

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Swahili Bantu language of the Niger-Congo family of African languages. It developed as a lingua franca and trading language in most of e Africa, becoming the official language of Tanzania in 1967, and of Kenya in 1973. It is also in use in parts of central Africa. It has a large body of literature.

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Swahilicampanile, dele, eely, Ely, fusilli, Gigli, Ismaili, Keeley, Keneally, KwaNdebele, Lely, Matabele, mealie, mealy, Ndebele, sapele, Sindebele, steely, Swahili, wheelie •biweekly, weakly, weekly •seemly •cleanly, queenly •beastly, Priestley, priestly •Keighley • measly

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