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The Swahili Coast of East Africa leaves a much more lasting
impression to the
visitor than your usual island destination. The
region is an amalgam of exotic history, ancient cultures, and white
sand tropical beaches. You have on
these ancient shores excellent
places to enjoy: the sun, exotic beaches, scuba diving, windsurfing,
golfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, clubbing, time
shopping, fine and spicy cuisines and much more.
Coast refers to a stretch of about 2,900 km along East Africa's
Ocean Coast, - from Mogadishu in Southern Somalia to northern
Mozambique. This has been the window through which -by means of
cultural exchange, East Africa's has interacted with the outside world since at least the 2nd century A.D.
it's heyday, between the 12th and
18th centuries, the Swahili Coast was
a collection of rich city-states whose prosperity was anchored on the
Indian Ocean trade. The trade mainly
involved Arabia, the Persian Gulf,
India, and even China. East Africa was able to participate in this
trade due to the blessings of the monsoon winds,
which eased navigation
from the Persian Gulf and the Indian subcontinent.
city-states were Mogadishu in today's Somalia, Lamu,
Malindi in Kenya, Kilwa and Zanzibar in Tanzania, and Sofala in
Mozambique. Today, the Swahili coast is almost exclusively
with Kenya and Tanzania. For the modern day traveller, there are many excellent hotels in Mombasa as well
as lodges and resorts in Zanzibar.
The original inhabitants of the East
African Coast were Bantu Africans,
who were fisherman, hunter-gatherer
and agricultural folk. They first encountered the outside world
slightly before 1st century AD. Over the centuries,
interaction with non-African societies saw the emergence of a unique
culture and people- the Swahili.
The Arabs and Persians were
first to dock the shores in their trademark dhows. The Arabs brought in
glassware, ironware, daggers, swords, blades, pots and pans while
supplied the market with carpets and rugs. Mercantile Asia also
ventured into the region, bringing in a variety of commodities. From
India came pepper,
cotton, hardware, spices, beads and cereals, and
from China: jade, silk, porcelain and rice.
The visitors went
back with foodstuffs,
ambergris, tortoise shells, rhino horn, leopard
skin, copper, gold and most importantly ivory. All wanted a piece of
African ivory, and trade sieved
into inland Africa where the elephants
dwelt. By 2nd century AD, the trade had come to the notice of the
Greeks and Romans alike; they called these
all the traders, it is the Arabs who brought Islam at around 8th
century AD that had the most lasting impression. Some
Omani Arabs and
Shirazi Persians fled south to East Africa to escape religious at home.
By the 9th century A.D, from the interaction of Africans,
Persians who lived and traded on the East African Coast, there had
emerged a language that they could all understand -Kiswahili. At
same time a distinct cosmopolitan and urban Swahili culture rose.
language is based on the Bantu language Sabaki- in structure
syntax, and uses Arab, Persian and even Hindi loan words. The borrowed
words have maintained heavy Bantu intonations. Swahili is distinctly
Bantu language and is linguistically closer to other coastal Bantu
languages, than to Arabic or Persian. Kiswahili was adopted as the main
language across this coastal belt and was spoken widely by the
people along the shoreline. The word Swahili is a Bantu form of
'Sawahil' - an Arabic
word meaning "of the coast".
Swahili language is the most widely spoken language in Sub-Saharan
Africa, and has an
estimated 45 million speakers spread over Tanzania,
Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Somalia, and the
Comoros Islands. The
language has numerous local dialects, but Standard
Kiswahili is based on Kiunguja, the dialect of Zanzibar town. The
British and German colonists can
be credited with the spread of
Swahili. It is the local language they chose to facilitate
administration over a region having more than 100
end of the 15th century saw the coming of the Portuguese with the
arrival of Vasco da Gama in 1498. His sailors were scurvy
badly in need of food and care. The hospitable Swahili allowed the
sailors to dock their shores and lavished them with food and
Little did they know that the Portuguese -who were a substantial
seafaring power, were anxious to dominate the Indian Ocean trade.
Portuguese attacked and plunderer the cities, starting with Kilwa
Kisimani, then Mombasa,reducing them to nothing.
was engulfed in turmoil between the 15th and 19th centuries.
Mombasa in particular saw plenty of war. For this reason, the city was
which in Swahili translates as Isle of War. Fort
Jesus, the permanent garrison established by the Portuguese in 1593,
changed masters 9 times before
1875. By the terror of war, the
Portuguese sought to control the East African coast. But as colonial
overlords, the Portuguese were deficient; they
were mostly interested
in plunder and trade, and did not establish robust systems of
The thrashing of Mombasa - the most
the Swahili city sates, meant the loss of Swahili independence across
the entire coast. The Portuguese were finally driven out by
emerging power of Omani Arabs in 1729, when the Sultan of Oman claimed
control over the entire coastline.
The Omani's were
profitably settled in East Africa that the Sultan moved his seat to
Zanzibar in 1832. Their prosperity was anchored on the slave trade- and
estimated that by the 1860's the notorious Zanzibar slave market
had a turnover exceeding 50,000 Africans each year.
takes on a slower pace, and the people are generally laid
back. Swahili men traditionally wear kikoi wraps around the waists and
white kanzu robes and
kofia (small religious hats) to the mosque. The
women are covered with bright and colourful cotton material known as
kanga or leso, wrapped around to
cover the whole body, including the
hair. Sometimes, they wear the buibui -a long black veiled garb worn by
heavily incorporates the use of
spices, like Arabs and Asians do. They also use coconut and palm oil in
their cooking. There is a distinctive Swahili
architecture and building
code; houses are built from coral stone crusted with limestone, and
coral rag spread over the mud and thatch buildings. The
large, with huge doors elaborately curved and ornamented with showy pattern.
Help and More Information for Kenya and Tanzania!
Planning for an East
African coastal beach holiday? Contact us
today and we will assist you in picking and booking the
best hotel and
flight, and all your travel arrangements in Kenya, or Tanzania.