Swahili is the name given to the coastal people who historically
could be found as far North as Mogadishu (Somalia) and as far
south as the Rovuma River (Mozambique). They share a common language,
widely spoken by non-Swahilis, called Ki-Swahili, and enjoy a
city-based fusion of African and Arab culture.
"Men of greatest stature, who are pirates, inhabit
the whole coast and at each place have set up chiefs."
From Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 100 AD.
The contact between the East African coast and Arabia, Persia and
even China, goes back long before Islam came in the 8th century.
Greeks and Romans called the area Azania. The Arabs talk about the
Land of Zanj. Arguably coastal Africans were closer to the people
of Arabia and the Gulf of Persia than to African societies in the
"From of old this country has not been subject to
any foreign power. In fighting they use elephant tusks, ribs and
wild cattle's horns as spears, and they have corselets and bows
and arrows. They have twenty myriads of foot-soldiers. The Arabs
are continually making raids on them."
From Compendium of Knowledge, by Tuan Ch'eng-shih, 8th century.
The Coast of East Africa has had a long history of trade, involving
constant exchanges of ideas, style and commodities for well over
two thousand years. Marriage between women of Africa and men of
the Middle East created and cemented a rich Swahili culture, fusing
urban and agricultural communities, rich in architecture, textiles,
and food, as well as purchasing power..