Swahili Cultural Objects
by Kassim O. Ali
There are a number of objects that
characterize the daily
life of the people living in the coast of East
Africa. On this page you have a chance to read about these cultural
objects. Our page is devoted primarily to Swahili handicraft
particularly to those objects made by amateur artisans. Unfortunately those
objects are disappearing and largely displaced by cheaper
Readers interested in other works of art should visit our Swahili Resources page
to obtain links to other sites. The list is not exhaustive as it is
difficult to cover all Swahili settlements stretching from
southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. However we hope you can learn
something about Swahili cultural objects. Furthermore, by documenting
Swahili cultural objects we may contribute in conserving the rich
- Chano (pl. Vyano) - a thick wooden tray
used for food serving, and for washing clothes.
- Chungu (pl. Vyungu) - a clay cooking pot.
- Kawa (pl. Makawa) - a food cover made of straw. Usually
decorated with patterns of different colours and/or inscribed
with a message just like kanga.
- Kata (pl. Kata) - a large scoop made of a coconut shell and a
wooden handle for fetching water from shallow wells or
from water vases (mitungi).
- Kinu (pl. Vinu) - a mortar, usually wooden, used to grind
grains, pulses, spices, etc. and may be of different
shapes and sizes depending on the nature of the material to be ground.
- Kumba or Kumbesa (pl. Makumba or Makumbesa) - makeshift
doors made of wooven coconut leaves and a rope-supported
frame of sticks.
- Mbuzi (pl. Mbuzi) - a coconut grater made of a wooden seat
and a stainless steel plate with saw-like teeth around its edge.
- Mkeka (pl. Mikeka) wa Chole - a straw wooven mat. A must have
for a new bride.
- Mkungu (pl. Mikungu) - a cooking pot lid made of clay. It is used to cover
- Mtungi (pl. Mitungi) - a large clay vase for keeping drinking water.
- Mwiko (pl. Miko) - a wooden stirrer, a must have for newly
- Upawa (pl. pawa) - scoop(s) made of a lower cone of coconut
shell and a wooden handle for stirring and serving soups,
stews, porridges, etc.
- Kingoe (pl. Vingoe) - a hook made
from tree branches used in harvesting fruits, cloves, and other crops.
- Panga or Mndu (pl. Mapanga or Mindu) - a machete.
- Tasa or Susu or Tenga (pl. Matasa or Masusu or Matenga) - a loosely
woevn container for
carrying fruits or transporting chicken made. It's made of raffia or other palm tree fronds.
- Tungu (pl. Tungu) - a gourd for keeping seeds or churning
- Ujamu (pl. Majamu) - a halter for restraining cattle
originally made from natural fibres. It usually contains a piece of
rope that is looped through a holed nose septum.
- Ungo (pl. Nyungo) - straw- or palm-frond wooven tray with a
curved surface for winowing grains.
- Peku (pl. Mapeku) - just like "Ungo" but deeper and with a larger
- Gari (pl. Magari) la shamba - an up-country
truck with a wooden body and wooden passenger benchs, used especially in Zanzibar. This
is also locally known as "mbavu za mbwa" literally meaning
"dog's ribs" due to its shape.
- Ngalawa (pl. Ngalawa) - a canoe with balancing and floatation flaps
on either side.
- Dema (pl. Madema) - fish trap made of
the fronds of raffia or other palm trees.
- Fyuka (pl. Fyuka) - A swing trap for rabbits, duikers, birds and
other small wild animals. It is made of a strong elastic stick with one end securely
planted on the ground and the other end bent in a semi-circular
curve, held loosely in that position by a set of small sticks. The trap when
disturbed, swings up and holds the catch by the noose.
- Tenga (pl. Matenga) - a trap for monkeys, civets, and other
wild animals. It is made of wood.
- Bweta (pl. Mabweta) - wooden safe.
- Pishi (pl. Pishi) - wooden or metal volumetric measure for
grains, pulses, spices and cloves.
- Tajuri (pl. Matajuri) - boxes made of wood and/or metal
used to keep valuables.
- Susu or Tundu (pl. Masusu or Matundu) -
cages made of raffia fronds for keeping birds as pets. They may contain
a trap that can be used to catch birds of a similar nature.
- Matarawanda - a pair of wooden sandals.