DER Documentary

The Swahili Beat: An Introduction to the History of the East African Coast

by Kenny Mann
color, 28 min, 2008



Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
See pricing information and conditions

The Swahili Beat is an upbeat look at the remarkable history of the Swahili people of Kenya and Tanzania's East African coast. Packed with the music and dance of its indigenous peoples, the film takes viewers along the coast from the fabled island of Lamu to Zanzibar, Mombasa, Kilwa, Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam, tracing the development of the Swahili culture through the intermarriage of Arab settlers, arriving from Oman in the 8th century, with local Africans. The resulting Islamic hybrid culture cemented economic and social stability. The emergence of the Swahili as prosperous merchant brokers in the Indian Ocean basin and in the growing East African slave trade made them a lucrative target for successive waves of settlers, invaders and colonizers, including the Persians, Portuguese, Arabs, Germans and British. The Swahili have withstood all these invasions and maintained their Afro-Arab Islamic culture until today. Can they survive in the face of globalization, the Internet and tourism?

This DVD also includes:
Swahili History (11 minutes) A ground-breaking interview with Dr. Stephanie Wynn-Jones, archaeologist, on new perspectives in the study of Swahili history.
Dreadlox (3 minutes) Alu Mohammed, resident of Lamu, illustrates the effects of the personal loss of culture and belief system.

The Swahili Beat is an ideal tool for social studies teachers in grades k6-12 as well as for first year college teachers in any African Studies program. Punctuated with plenty of Swahili music and dance, the film is easy to watch, its colorful visual elements seamlessly covering the history of the Swahili coast while offering viewers a new and dynamic perspective on this area that is well known as a travel destination for American and European tourists, but whose history is seldom revealed. The film is immensely appealing to younger viewers who relate to the music, particularly to the upbeat drumming and the more contemporary Swahili Rap that is heard toward the end of the film. In addition, the film's half-hour length makes it easily incorporated into any classroom curriculum.

The Swahili Beat raises many issues and questions on African history and Swahili history, and incorporates an understanding of general themes in social studies that are required in standard Social Studies Curricula, as follows: Belief Systems; Change; Conflict; Choice; Culture; Diversity; Empathy; Identity; Interdependence; Imperialism; Movement of People and Goods; Nationalism; Urbanization.

1) Historical perceptions of East African coastal culture and how these have changed over time
2) The development of Swahili culture as an Afro-Arab hybrid
3) The cultural connections between the Swahili and other Islamic peoples of Africa and the Middle East
4) The development of trade between the Swahili, the African interior and the Indian Ocean Basin
5) Swahili literature and poetry as a source for interpreting historic events
6) The significance of the Swahili coast to European explorers
7) The effect of various invasions on the culture and language of the Swahili people
8) The East African slave trade as compared to the West African slave trade
9) The significance of the Swahili Coast to international Colonial enterprise
10) The factors leading to the current economic marginalization of the Swahili coast

1) How do historians organize Time and Information? What are some alternative ways of viewing History and Time?
2) The use of primary and secondary sources in the interpretation of history
3) The use of maps to locate an area geographically and to explore the themes listed below
4) What aspects of a culture attract international trade?
5) How does international trade promote prosperity, communication and culture?
6) What factors lead to settlement in specific areas?
7) What are the differences between urban and rural settlements?
8) What diverse forces work together to raise any specific culture above others? (technology; immigrants; trade; migration)
9) How can a language reflect the history of a people?
10) What factors lead to the formation of a community or national identity?
11) How does globalization effect indigenous cultures?

Related Resources
Download the Swahili Coast PowerPoint presentation
Download the Swahili Coast curriculum
Study Guide

View more photos on

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