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:
There is a group of ladies whom we consistently see gathering seaweed off the coast during low tide. They dry it, and then sell it to a business in town. A few team members have been discussing ways to reach out to and connect with these woman. Starting this week, 2 of us are going out hopefully once a week to find a woman who will welcome us and be willing to talk as she works. We hope to be able to share with her how she is loved and valued by God and how Jesus came to save her, and then read a Bible story demonstrating Jesus’ love for women, and also give her an audio Bible to listen to. Please pray that God would lead us to the right women whom He would have us share with, and for them to have open and receptive hearts to the Gospel of the God who sees, knows, and loves them very much!
This past week, a group of 34 local pastors got together and discussed how they were going to strategically reach out in our local area. Reports are that the conversations were good and fruitful. Our prayer is that each would actually put into action what was discussed and result in the word of God going out into areas it has yet to reach. Also, please be praying for continued unity and partnership in the Spirit for these churches and their pastors. May the way they love each other and the lost, and their boldness for the Gospel grow daily and result in much glory given to God.