By Mwakwaya Raymond
An estimated 70,000 of locals, regional people and international tourists thronged the Port City of Mombasa for a three-day event to celebrate Swahili Day from July 7th to 9th, 2023.
Most restaurants, guest houses, hostels and hotels reported roaring business for the three days to entertain revelers and visitors from within and without Mombasa County.
Mombasa is considered the Swahili Culture pot that runs history of more than 500 years and a destination for beach and wildlife tourism at the comfort of one’s sitting hotel room.
The world Swahili Language Day and Culture celebrations kicked off at a high note as enthusiasts from all walks of life flocked to different Swahili pots and fanfares to enjoy history at its best.
This second Swahili festival dubbed ‘Swahili for Peace, Cohesion and Integration’ celebrated language, culture, calligraphy and heritage in the coastal city as organized by the National Museums of Kenya.
The Swahili Language and Culture got its recognition internationally when the 41st session of the General Conference of UNESCO in 2021 proclaimed 7 July of each year as World Kiswahili Day.
Kiswahili is among the 10 most spoken languages in the world, with more than 200 million speakers mostly in Eastern and Central Africa and parts of the Middle East.
The language is the first to be recognized in Africa in such a manner by the UN and calls were made for the people to embrace the beauty of Kiswahili and celebrate its shared heritage.
Kiswahili is a Bantu language with heavy borrowing from Arabic influences and other languages dating from the contacts of Arabian traders and Portuguese explorers with the inhabitants of the East Coast of Africa over the centuries.
The festivalists both locally and internationally sampled Swahili arts, cuisine, handicrafts, henna paintings, poetry, music and literature.
Different events were held at Forte Jesus, Swahili Pot Hub and Fort Jesus museum before officially opened by Wildlife, Tourism and Cultural Heritage CS Peninah Malonza.
Tourism stakeholders want to use the annual Swahili language and culture festival to include it in their global industry circuit so as to fork in more domestic and international visitors at the Port City.
Swahili Heritage Training Institute coordinator, Khalid Kitito, estimated the visitation at 50,000 and expected that to shoot up in subsequent Kiswahili annual festivities.
According to him the festival provided an opportunity for Swahili speakers and enthusiasts to come together to network and celebrate their shared love for the language and culture.
The festival enjoyed a diversity of people from different backgrounds who participated at its different offerings to visitors with the opportunity to explore the Kenyan coast and discover what makes it world destination.
Kitito, an Swahili culture expert, believes the annual festival is not only useful for promoting tourism but also useful in bringing integration among the diverse communities in Kenya and beyond.
Amira Msalem (Ms), a cultural enthusiast, says the Swahili food on display included pilau, samosa, mandazi, mishikaki, samaki wa kupaka among other delicious dishes prepared in Coastal recipes and ingredients.
On henna paintings, Zakiya Mohamed says it is a common Swahili culture feature for women, especially to use henna on their bodies for different ceremonies like weddings.
Swahili Development Initiative chair Alawy Abzein says the original dialects of Kiswahili are fast getting lost and that the festival was a good way of reclaiming and reviving them.
According to him Swahili culture is a fusion of influence from Arabia, Persia and India which came during the Indian Ocean Trade when Arabs, Persians and Indians would sail across the ocean to the East Coast of Africa for trading purposes.
He adds that there are three important dialects of Kiunguja, spoken in Zanzibar and in the mainland areas of Tanzania; Kimvita, spoken in Mombasa and other areas of Kenya; and Kiamu, spoken on the Island of Lamu.
“Swahili people are found along the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Mozambique.”
He wants deliberate efforts be made to promote Swahili language which he says is now spoken and taught in many African countries and global universities.
Interviewed international tourists say the event gave them an opportunity to sample Swahili foods, tour the Mombasa Old Town area and learn more about Swahili culture.