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:
Off the coast several kilometers, there is a lighthouse which can only be accessed during a specific time of the month when the tide is so low that there is enough open ground to walk out to it. There is a small group of local men who live there that we have been trying to make contact with. Recently, some Christians were able to walk out during low tide and briefly meet the 4 men who live out there and give them audio Bibles. They were not able to stay long as the tide was quickly coming back in and they needed to walk back to shore. Praise God that the group was able to meet the men from the lighthouse! Pray with us that they would listen to God’s word, that the Holy Spirit would help them understand and believe, and that God would open the door for future opportunities to meet and share with these men from the lighthouse. They live at a lighthouse, may their eyes be opened to their own need for the Light only Jesus can give!
Praise God on weekdays and Sundays, Swahili children come to our home and/or church to hear God’s Story being told. Many have shared they no longer want to attend the daily Islamic classes. However, some parents are now refusing to allow their children to come to church anymore. Today some adults came and took away the children from church and went right to madrasa. Please pray the seeds of the Gospel will remain and bear fruit!