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:
Yesterday, our team leader went to deliver supplies to help a village a few hours away that has been severely affected by the flooding in our area, as many other villages have been. We are also seeing some of our local friends and neighbors becoming worried about COVID-19. Our prayer is that through all of these things, floods and viruses alike, the Lord would use them to reveal to these precious peoples that the only solid foundation in this crazy world is Christ and His Word. May the uncertainty and fear drive people to seek for truth that brings real and unshakable hope, to find the God who is truly sovereign over everything and will never leave or forsake us, and Whose perfect love casts out fear. May God use all these things to draw the lost to Himself.
Please pray for a teammate and I as we go out into a neighborhood in our community this week with the goal of making new connections, building relationships, and getting to know some of the ladies. We’re praying for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to lead us to the right ladies whose hearts He is already at work softening and that He would open doors for us to share about Jesus. Pray that the Lord would give us boldness in sharing and deep love for these neighbors, and that the Father would draw many to His Son!! We long for them to know the Savior we know!!