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Sultan Seyyid Said, ruler of Zanzibar, surrounded by his advisors
The Swahili is the name given to the coastal people who historically could be found as far North as Mogadishu (Somalia) and as far south as the Rovuma River (Mozambique). They share a common language, widely spoken by non-Swahilis, called Ki-Swahili, and enjoy a city-based fusion of African and Arab culture.

"Men of greatest stature, who are pirates, inhabit the whole coast and at each place have set up chiefs."
From Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 100 AD.

Main towns on the Swahili CoastThe contact between the East African coast and Arabia, Persia and even China, goes back long before Islam came in the 8th century. Greeks and Romans called the area Azania. The Arabs talk about the Land of Zanj. Arguably coastal Africans were closer to the people of Arabia and the Gulf of Persia than to African societies in the central interior.

"From of old this country has not been subject to any foreign power. In fighting they use elephant tusks, ribs and wild cattle's horns as spears, and they have corselets and bows and arrows. They have twenty myriads of foot-soldiers. The Arabs are continually making raids on them."
From Compendium of Knowledge, by Tuan Ch'eng-shih, 8th century.

The Coast of East Africa has had a long history of trade, involving constant exchanges of ideas, style and commodities for well over two thousand years. Marriage between women of Africa and men of the Middle East created and cemented a rich Swahili culture, fusing urban and agricultural communities, rich in architecture, textiles, and food, as well as purchasing power.

Listen HereListen to The Swahili Coast, the tenth programme in the BBC landmark radio series The Story of Africa, presented by Hugh Quarshie