Although the people of the coast do not have a common heritage, they do have a linguistic link — Kiswahili (commonly referred to as Swahili), a Bantu-based language which evolved as a means of communication between Africans and foreign traders such as Arabs, Persians and the Portuguese. As might be expected with such diverse input, the Swahili language borrows words from Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese and even English. The word Swahili is a derivative of the Arabic word for coast — sahel.
Arab traders first started plying the coast in their sailing dhows sometime before the 7th century, arriving with the north-east monsoon end sailing home on the south-west monsoon. The main exports were Ivory, tortoiseshell and leopard skins, while items such as glass beads from India and porcelain from as far afield as China found their way here.
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After the 7th century Islam became a strong influence as traders began settling along the coast. Today the majority of the coastal people are Muslims, although it’s a world away from the puritanical forms of islam which prevail in some places in the Middle East.
Swahili subgroups include Bajun, Siyu, Pate, Mvita, Fundi, Shela, Ozi, Vumba and Amu (residents of Lamu).