Swahili People: Language, Culture, City States & Symbols

The Swahili people are made up of around 500,000 people who also go by the name of Waswahili. This culture has been around for thousands of years, dating back to at least 100 AD when a Greek traveller wrote about the inhabitants and culture he found when he visited a place in East Africa.

Notable Facts about Swahili People, Language and Culture

Swahili Language 

The language that is primarily spoken by the Swahili is called KiSwahili or Bantu. This language has origins from the Arabic language but is considered Bantu because of the suffixes and roots of the language. Only five million people speak this language as their first language but around 140 million people use the language to communicate. Many Swahili people use their original language as a second language and use English as a first to communicate with others in school, work or other places.

Swahili City States

Swahili people can be found in a small coastal strip in Kenya down to Dar es Salaam. They can also be found in several Indian Ocean islands, Lamu, Tanzania, Mombasa and even in North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Also, between the coasts of Mogadishu and Sofala existed many Swahili towns which included Mogadishu, Pate, Malindi, Zanzibar, and Kilwa.

Swahili Religion

Almost all Swahili people are Muslim and practice the Islamic religion. Swahili Muslims practice the five pillars of faith that are universal to the Islamic religion worldwide.

1. The belief that Allah is the Supreme Being

2. Prayer five times a day

3. Fasting during the month of Ramadan

4. Giving to charity

5. Making a pilgrimage to the holy city.

There are also Swahili people that believe in spirits; men wear amulets around their necks to protect them from these spirits. Prophets and teachers of the religion are the only ones within the culture to become medicine men.

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Children are expected to attend religious classes called Madrassa where they learn the Arabic language, study Korean and learn about their religion.

Swahili Symbols and Flag

There are symbols attached to almost every culture and Swahili is not left out. However, there have been controversies on the internet regarding Swahili symbols. The Swahili alphabet is the same as that of the English language. This is where the controversy comes in. Some foreigners who know little about Swahilis have in one way or the other been mistaking the Swahili language to be written in symbols. This is not the case.

Swahili people do not have a country of their own and as such, shares the same flag (Bendera) with Kenya.

Swahili Culture

The Swahili culture is very modest, so, a big issue that comes up is with tourists or travellers that come into their communities. Many drink alcohol and dress inappropriately and this has caused some issues within the culture. Many men have taken up smoking pot which has also been a recent issue the culture has had to address.

Other things to know about Swahili


For a couple thousand years, the Swahili people have acted as a third party between Africa and the other parts of the world. In the 1900s they played a huge role in the trade of ivory and slavery. These days, many people still rely on the trading industry as well as the fishing and farming industries.

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Although there are still jobs within the trade, farming and fishing industries, many people cannot rely on these jobs to provide a reliable amount of income for themselves and for their families. Without education, many Swahili people are forced to work in the tourist industry. Those with an education can find jobs within the school or government system or even work in local businesses or shops. Wives earn income by cooking, sewing or selling other things from their home.

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Political System in Swahili

Since this culture is made up of mainly Muslims, their political system is less formal and written out than many other cultures. They tend to rely on the expertise and power of the elder male members of the community.


Swahili people participate in all the nation’s public holidays including Madaraka Day (Independence Day for Kenya), Farmers Day, and Union day to name a few. The most important holidays that they participate in are religious holidays including Eid al-Fitr.


Relationships are similar to those of other Muslim cultures. There is typically no dating and no mix of men and women within the Swahili culture. Women are encouraged to spend time with each other at home while men are encouraged to spend time with others in public places. The respect of elders is huge within the Swahili culture.


Family life among the Swahili people is also similar to other Muslim cultures; the husband and fathers have the authority within the house. Swahili women do have some power within the family and decisions as well. There are also many households that house grandparents, in-laws, aunts and uncles and other families within one household.


Weddings are the biggest form of entertainment for this culture. Women spend hours hand painting each other’s skin with henna on their feet and hands solely for the purpose of attending a wedding. Movies are also a very popular way of spending free time.

Past Times/Hobbies

Craftsmanship and other artistic things are very common in the culture. Men spend time creating hand-carved furnitures, such as doors and tables, and women hand paint intricate designs on these crafts as well.

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