Culture is undeniably a beautiful thing. Our culture gives us a sense of identity and belonging and there’s always some sense of pride when one identifies themselves with their culture. Malindi is known to have been a Swahili settlement since the 14th century after the Arabs, Portuguese, and Indonesian traders started intermarrying with the indigenous people and gave rise to a new culture and people – the Swahili. Since then, the Swahili culture flourished and continues to be passed from one generation to the next up to date.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Religion in Swahili Culture
Most of the Swahili traditions were influenced by the Arabs, hence the prevalence of the Islamic religion among the Swahili people. Children must attend Madrassa, religious classes, from as early as they turn six years old where they are taught how to recite verses in the Quran and how to speak in Arabic.
Rites of Passage in Swahili Culture
Unlike many other cultures in Kenya where boys are circumcised when they hit puberty, Swahili boys are usually circumcised on the 7th day after they are born. The main rite of passage that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood among the Swahili people is marriage. Marriage is usually arranged, with the bride’s parents choosing a groom for their daughter. Though rarely, the bride has a right to refuse her parents’ choice and choose her own groom. Swahili weddings may last for up to a week, with ornate celebrations and merry-making.
Mode of Dressing in Swahili Culture
The Swahili culture has clearly defined dressings for both genders. A Swahili man dresses in a special long robe called kanzu that is normally complemented by a small round cap, skillfully knitted with intricate embroidery to add some decorative touch to it. A Swahili woman dresses in a long black dress known as buibui. She is also expected to cover her head with a piece of cloth known as hijab. These attires are mostly worn on Fridays, the official prayer day for Muslims, or during special holidays and celebrations in the Muslim calendar.
On regular days, a Swahili man will dress in normal casual clothes and a Swahili woman will dress in a dera, a simple, long, loose dress made from light material. Occasionally, a Swahili woman will throw on a khanga around her waist, especially when doing house chores. The hijab is constant and a Swahili woman is always expected to cover her head.
Food in Swahili Culture
Rice is the staple food among the Swahili people. It is normally served with a variety of stews and curries enriched with spices and mostly cooked in coconut sauce. The main serving of rice is usually in the form of pilau or biryani. Either one of these two dishes must always be prepared in Swahili homes on Fridays or during religious ceremonies. The Swahili people hardly use cutlery while eating – their hands are just enough. It is even believed that you wouldn’t feel the full taste of a Swahili-cooked meal if at all you will use cutlery while eating it.
Other Swahili dishes that serve both as snacks and full meals include: viazi karai, mahamri, mbaazi, bhajia, uji wa ngano, mkate wa sinia, tambi, and many others. Most Swahili people are also very fond of chili peppers and can hardly have a meal without them.
Food is normally served in large aluminium plates known as sinias and up to 4 or 5 people can eat from one sinia, depending on its size. Due to the generally hot and humid climate in Malindi, the Swahili people mostly prefer eating outside their houses on a veranda seated on a traditionally woven mat called mkeka.
Language in Swahili Culture
The Swahili people speak Kiswahili, a language that came as a result of intermarriages between the Bantus, Arabs, Portuguese, and Indonesians. The Swahili language was later adopted and is now Kenya’s and Tanzania’s national language. It is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Comoros, and some parts of Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
If you have never visited Malindi, make a plan to do so, and enjoy the Swahili culture experience firsthand. Why should you keep on hearing about it if you can go and experience it?