Swahili - History and Cultural Relations

Pre-Swahili settlements are reported from the first century onward, mainly in Arabic and Chinese medieval records, and later in those of the Portuguese and other Europeans. Many Swahili claim Arabic and other Asian origins, but these claims, rather than having a historical basis, reflect ambitions to deny African origins (i.e., those of their slaves). They suffered under Portuguese rule from 1498 until 1729, when they were forcibly incorporated into the sultanate of Zanzibar. In the nineteenth century they came under the rule of Britain and Germany, and in the 1960s they were incorporated into the independent states of Kenya and Tanzania, not always with their approval. As Muslims, the Swahili have felt themselves distinct from the non-Muslim majorities of these countries, which have rarely supported the social and political wishes of the Swahili, who are remembered as slave traders and owners.

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