Literature and readings on the past and the present as curated by Hiistoriya which focus on culture and history of the East African coast.

  • Lesser-Known Heroes of The Pre-colonial Coast of Kenya
    20th October is Mashujaa day in Kenya. On this day, Kenya celebrates heroes who have stood up for our country and the values of humanity and dignity that define our nation. Every year, I notice a massive gap in our celebrations. National media coverage rightfully recognizes freedom fighters who fought against British colonialism, but it often neglects those who resisted Omani, Portuguese, and other invaders long before Britain imposed their rule.  Because all Kenyan imperial invaders came through the Coast, it follows that the first resistance to these invaders was at the Coast. The Portuguese first arrived at East Africa’s […]
  • Yaseen Mohamed: Kenya’s Japanese Harp player
    Yaseen Mohamed was a popular Taarab artist born in Mombasa, Kenya in the 1920s. In the early ’50s, while working for Assanand & Sons, a Mombasa record shop and music studio, Yaseen Mohamed learnt how to play the Taisho koto – a Japanese string instrument. The Taisho koto was introduced into Kenya in the 1940s and Yaseen helped popularise it. It was first used acoustically and later amplified. It has been referred to as a type-writer banjo’, with strings being stopped by an armature akin to a typewriter’s, with a piano-like outline of black and white keys.  Yaseen had his […]
  • The Evolution of Numbers in Kiswahili
    Swahili is a Bantu language that has evolved over time and space due to factors such as religion, trade, colonisation and governance and technology. The numbers as known today in present-day standardised Swahili are as a result of evolution and influence.  Besides the core language structure, Arabic had the most apparent influence on the numbers, due to centuries of trade with the East African Coast.  In order to simplify numbering and possibly create uniformity in the syllabic pattern of the numbers, Bantu words for numbers such as six, seven, hundred, thousand and the multiples of ten between twenty and ninety […]
  • The Mysterious Kilua
    The kilua or kiluwa (pl. Vilua/viluwa) is a small fragrant magnolia-like flower found on the East African coast. The flower’s tree is known as mlua, mkiluwa or muuwa by the Swahili and mlua, mrua, mchilua, and chingade by the Digo1. They are quintessentially East African. Kilua flowers have six yellow-green tongue-shaped petals with purple highlights at their inner base. The petals alternate between two sizes along the rounded centre, forming a cup shape. The flower hangs upside down on the trees’ branches, hidden by leaves from the eyes and hands of curious women. If you would like to know just […]
  • Vidaka
    Vidaka/Zidaka (singular: kidaka/idaka)1 are small niches carved into the walls of stone structures.  Vidaka comes from the root word daka, which translates into niche or indentation. Daka is also the name for the front porch in Swahili stone homes, which were nooks by the main entrance where male guests were received. The prefix ki- is used in the singular form of the word, making it a diminutive, which reflects a kidaka’s small size. 
  • Limestone vs. Tiles: Changing Swahili Aesthetics Through The Eyes of Master Craftsmen
    Ahmed Yusuf Suleiman is one of the most sought-after Swahili plasterwork artists and a well-known building contractor on the East African coast. One afternoon in his hometown, Lamu, he gave me a tour of his ongoing contracts, describing the ancient methods that he’s mastered. The majority of his clients are wealthy European developers, some of who have made a hobby out of purchasing ancient upper-class properties and restoring them.