Swahili is the official language of Tanzania and Kenya and is spoken as a lingua franca throughout most of East Africa, as well as parts of Central Africa. The language is heavily influenced by Arabic—a result of the long-standing trading relationships in the region—while many contemporary words are adapted from English. The main dialects of Swahili, or Kiswahili, as it is also called, are Kiunguja, Kimvita, and Kiamu.
Swahili has a long tradition of literary production, and poetry has been written in Swahili since at least the middle of the seventeenth century. It draws on Arabic, Persian, and Urdu literary sources. Though Swahili was originally only written in Arabic script, Latin script became more popular in the mid-nineteenth century and has since become standard. The oldest survivng Swahili epic is the Hamziya, which was written by Sayyid Aidarusi in Arabic script in the old Kingozi dialect in 1749 ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.