African History 3: Swahili Language

Hakunamatata may be a wonderful phrase, but did you know it's actually a real word in Swahili? And since Swahili is the official language of four countries in Africa, you could certainly say it "aint no passin' craze."

LanguageEnglish Language
World HistoryAfrican History

Transcript

00:28

So Arab and Muslim traders would sail in ships down the coast, spreading their language and [Ships sailing down the coast of Africa]

00:33

religion.

00:34

And creating a new language in the process.

00:36

At first, Swahili was mostly confined to cities on the coast like Mombasa or Zanzibar City.

00:43

It makes sense when you think about it.

00:44

Say you were a trader from Baghdad who wanted to buy some ivory for an awesome musical instrument [Trader dancing]

00:50

you're making.

00:51

Oh, come on…just use your imagination.

00:55

Sure, you could sail inland up the rivers and try to buy some ivory directly from an [Trader stood by an elephant]

01:00

elephant hunter.

01:01

Or, for the low price of a middleman fee, you could swing by a city conveniently located

01:07

on the sea.

01:08

It was a dream.

01:09

The local lords were Muslim like you, everybody knew the Arabic word for ivory, and you weren’t

01:15

as likely to get gouged.

01:18

Why not save yourself the hassle?

01:20

For a while, inland East Africa remained largely rural, noncommercial, and non-Muslim. [African people in groups]

01:26

But the Swahili language penetrated even deeper into Africa as time went on.

01:31

During the 19th Century, trade and migration from the Swahili Coast started spreading the

01:35

language into the interior.

01:38

Somewhat ironically, Christian missionaries even helped spread the Muslim-inspired language, [Christian man preaching muslim language]

01:42

since Swahili is a language they used to spread the Gospel in Africa.

01:46

Eventually, the language reached a ton of areas, including the modern countries of Uganda,

01:51

Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Central African Republic, and Mozambique.

01:57

Today, Swahili is the official language of Kenya.

02:00

Although, thanks to English colonization, official correspondence is still done in English. [Man completing correspondence]

02:06

The English—once they come in, they don’t go out…

02:12

Swahili is also the official language of Tanzania, Kenya’s neighbor to the South. [Finger points to Tanzania]

02:18

It was declared so by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first leader after British rule.

02:24

Nyerere actually encouraged newly liberated Tanzanians to speak Swahili as a way to unify [Nyerere giving a speech[

02:31

them and give them a national identity.

02:33

In a lot of ways, it totally worked.

02:35

Though higher education is still in English…

02:37

…which sucks for a lot of people struggling for an education…. [African students studying in English]

02:40

…Swahili is the biggest language on the block.

02:43

And almost all Tanzanians speak it, along with their own tribal languages.

02:47

Swahili has even found its way into American pop culture.

02:51

Popping up in Michael Jackson songs and Disney movies.

02:54

If you've seen The Lion King, you know some Swahili already.

02:58

"Simba" means "lion." [Simba on stage]

02:59

"Rafiki" means "friend."

03:01

And "hakuna matata" means "no worries,"

03:04

But…you probably already knew that.

03:06

Unless you…just kinda block out any information told to you by talking animals… [Man shrugs shoulders at two horses]