Introduction / History Swahili can refer to both an ethnic group and to Swahili-speaking people. It is one of Tanzania's official languages. The name, Swahili, means coastal dwellers, and is the name given to several people groups along the east coast of Africa. Originally Swahilis were mainly composed of Bantu-speaking people, but because of their coastal dwellings and trade with people of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, they have been influenced by, and in some cases, have intermarried with Arabic people. Swahilis historically have been a merchant class, trading spices, slaves, ivory, gold, and grain. They are mainly urban dwellers who adhere to a literate, Islamic civilization.
But there is a very ugly side to the Swahili coast, especially in Zanzibar. In the 19th century, Zanzibar was east Africa's main slave-trading port with as many as 50,000 slaves passing through each year. Zanzibar was a place of prosperity for some, but slavery and misery for others.
In time, the Swahili language gained a couple of dialects, including one that developed in Zanzibar. In today's world, people who speak the version of Swahili from Zanzibar are called Zanzibari Swahili. They consider themselves to be the ones who speak the best form of Swahili.
Where are they located? Most live in Tanzania or Kenya.
What are their lives like? In recent years Zanzibari Swahili speakers have demonstrated an interest in Western culture. For Instance, in addition to attending Islamic schools, most children also attend non-religious schools to acquire a Western-style education. Also, modern medicine is now replacing traditional folk remedies. Opening up to Western culture may provide an opportunity for Swahilis to hear the gospel message.
What are their beliefs? As coastal merchants, the Zanzibari Swahilis face toward Africa and toward Arabia and Asia. Their culture has observed very strict Muslim practices, especially with the seclusion of women and the religious schools for boys.
What are their needs? Zanzibari Swahili speakers need discernment to understand that Islam has failed them, and a spiritual hunger to seek and find Jesus Christ.
Prayer Points * Pray for spiritual hunger that will drive Zanzibari Swahili speakers to seek answers from Jesus Christ.
* Pray for a willingness to read the Bible, and sit at the feet of Jesus.
* Pray for a Disciple-Making Movement to emerge among Zanzibari Swahili speakers in Tanzania.