Swahili Bantu of East Africa Coast
Population: 720,000 (Joshua Project)
“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.” Isaiah 42:9&10
Location: Along the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, Tanzania, & Mozambique
Religion: Folk Islam; Less than 1% of the Swahili are Christian.
History: The Swahili people came into existence after Bantu tribes along the coast of East Africa were invaded by and intermarried with Arab traders who settled permanently along the coast around the 11th century. The Swahili developed their own trade language which was a mixture of Bantu tribal languages and Arabic. The name Swahili even comes from the Arabic word meaning “coast.” The Swahili refer to themselves as the “Waswahili” – People of the coast. The Swahili seamlessly syncretized their traditional animistic beliefs when they converted to Islam, creating their own unique culture.
Culture: The Swahili-Bantu are predominately small scale fisherman, subsistent farmers, and tradesmen. Although the Swahili-Bantu identify primarily as the “Waswahili” (the people of the coast), a majority still know their traditional Bantu tribal ancestry. All Swahili speak Kiswahili as their primary language, but a few of the older generation know some of their traditional tribal language as well.
What remains of their ancestral Bantu ceremonies, rites and rituals has been syncretized with Islam and is performed in Swahili &/or Arabic. They are known throughout East Africa for their witchcraft and witchdoctors who have incorporated Arabic & the Koran into their rituals & incantations. They live in fear of their Islamic leaders and being cursed by one another.
Many spend their meager incomes to ward of the evil spirits and the curses they bring. Women and girls are quite vulnerable and are seen predominately as objects to be possessed or traded by men. Although there are Christian resources (including the Jesus Film) and multiple Bible translations available in the Swahili language, the Swahili are known for their strong resistance to churches, missionaries, and traditional ways of sharing the gospel. There are churches throughout the Swahili coast, especially in towns and cities, but their membership consists of a high majority of non-local Christians from reached tribes who have sojourned into the area for business or government work. These churches have been mostly ineffective in reaching the lost Swahili around them.
Latest Prayer Updates:
A team recently did a Jesus film outreach trip in a remote village in our district. Praise God for the ways the Gospel was shared through a children’s program, evangelism, tracts, preaching, spiritual films about Jesus and faith, prayer, and well repair on 3 broken wells, helping to provide water in those neighborhoods. People seemed so hungry for the Word – God is at work in a mighty way in this village! There were 22 confessions of faith! Praise God! Pray for these new believers and their young faith to grow. Especially pray for 6 young middle school girls who came to faith and destroyed their charms from the local witch doctor! May they grow strong in their faith and trust that Jesus is better and stronger than anything they may fear and that He is able to completely save, protect, and sustain them through all things.
A team member had a birthday this week, so we hosted a party at her home, inviting several of the local girls to come and join us. It was a fun time with 10 local girls and a local Christian friend from church. After some games we ended the afternoon eating cake and watching the Jesus film for women. We gave out New Testaments to all who wanted them. One woman told a teammate that the movie touched her heart. Let’s pray that the truth of the Gospel seen and heard at this birthday party would stick with those who heard and be a seed that bears fruit unto salvation in their lives. His word does not return void!