A Short History of the Swahili Coast

The Swahili Coast is a 1,800 mile long stretch of coastline in East Africa, made up of the modern nations of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. The Swahili Coast is an important area to study as it has been a thriving area that has been connected to the wider world for thousands of years. It is a very exciting and culturally diverse area and has one of the longest histories of literacy in Africa.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF TRADE ON THE SWAHILI COAST

The earliest communities on the Swahili Coast made their living through jobs such as ironworking, farming locally and fishing in rivers, as well as carrying out some trade with outsiders. From the 6th century onwards, the people of the Swahili Coast began to trade more by sea. The East African coast established trade links with regions such as Arabia, Persia and China and became the centre point of trade between these countries and central Africa. Items traded included gold, ivory and slaves.

There was an interesting mixture of people who lived on the coast to trade. This included Arabs, Africans and Persians. They created their own distinctive Swahili culture and developed their own language, known as Swahili or Kiswahili. African women married men from the Middle East, creating varied cultures and traditions. Many Muslims peoples came to the coast, and the Swahili people of the East African coast today are still mainly Muslim.

POPULAR TRADING ROUTES LED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF CITIES

Many cities were created on the coast in the 15th and 16th centuries. Mombasa is one example of an important city that grew up on the Swahili Coast due to trading links. Today Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya and is located on the eastern coastline of the country. Mombasa was originally inhabited by the African Bantu people and developed trading routes with the Arabs and Persians from the 6th to the 10th century. By the 15th century, Mombasa was a well-established city and an important centre for the trade in spices, gold and ivory. Mombasa was very well connected and had trade links reaching the Indian subcontinent and modern-day China.

CONTROL OVER THE SWAHILI COAST DIFFERED GREATLY OVER TIME

Over time, the Swahili Coast has been controlled by many different groups. In the 15th century, PortugUese explorer Vasco de Gama discovered Mombasa whilst on a voyage around Africa. A few years after his visit, the Portuguese returned to control both Mombasa and the wider Swahili region. However their control did not last long. By the late 17th century, the Sultanate of Oman took over control of many parts of the Coast, including Mombasa and Zanzibar. Many parts of the Swahili Coast were colonised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and became part of British East Africa. However, they gained independence in the mid-20th century.
Today, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam are the largest port cities on the Swahili Coast. Due to international trading over hundreds of years the Swahili Coast has been shaped by Islamic and Persian culture and is home to a unique mix of African and Middle Eastern influences.

JOANNA NAYLER

VIEW ALL POSTS

1 comment

  1. Kizito 4 years ago February 15, 2017

    I love history and that’s what I do for a living. I share the history of my country (Tanzania) and African with the tourist who come to visit!

    REPLY

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *