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Kiswaili is both a culture and a religion, dominant in Njombia, Palan and the humans of Hanzatia.
This page is about the culture. For the religion, see Kiswaili Faith
Tribes and Clans
The dominant feature of Kiswaili is its tribal or clan nature. In Njombia it is mostly tribes, except for the south where, like in Hanzatia and Palan, the clan structure dominates.
The tribe or clan affiliation is so central to personal identity that names within Kiswaili begin with the tribe or clan name, followed by the personal name, followed by either the father's (for sons) or the mother's (for daughters) name to indicate position within the tribe or clan. For example, the full name of current King Garako is Mouma Garako, son of Sarolan, showing his affiliation to the Mouma tribe. In fact, the king is the only official who drops his tribe name upon ascension to the throne as he is considered to be "of all tribes". Lesser officials retain their full names, so the principal of the Nanalanda Territory is still named Principal Njagwe Sajala in offical documents, dropping only his father's name. At the Chief level, even the father's name is retained.
Tribal culture dominates Kiswaili daily life to the point that while in general Kiswaili are friendly to outsiders, the simple fact that foreign visitors are without a local tribe affiliation makes all aspects of life much more difficult for them. Social life as well as business is conducted first among tribe members and only afterwards with outsiders. This is not a law anywhere within Kiswaili areas, just a custom - there may be several markets in a large city, all of which are open to everyone, but they will tend to be tribe-segregated simply by both merchants and customers preferring the market dominated by their tribe.
One other aspect of the tribal culture is vital for everday life: Disputes and misbehaviour are things that are considered to taint not just a person, but their name, i.e. their tribe. Therefore, tribes generally police their members and attempt to solve problems before they leak out. This begins from an early age. Children will be watched over by neighbours and other tribe members, who will report back their behaviour to the parents. A misbehaving child will return home and find its parents well-informed about its deeds. This generally makes most Kiswaili people behave themselves well in public, as these childhood experiences stay with them through adulthood. It can also mean mob justice being served occasionally, especially in large places like cities where multiple tribes meet and each tribe watches out for its reputation.
Most Kiswaili are friendly and talkative people, open to outsiders to some degree. An "outsider" to the Kiswaili is anyone not of the same tribe. It makes little difference if he is from two cities over or the other side of the continent.
Kiswaili children are not named at birth, but rather on their first birthday, more or less. It is the nameday that is celebrated, not the birthday, and so the one-year is an approximation not an exact rule. Most importantly, the personal name is never given during illness or other periods in which the child isn't well, as tradition has it that a child should be named on a good day and that an ill or weak condition during the naming ceremony would carry over into the entire life. In fact, there is a phrase that Kiswaili people use to speak about sickly people: "He was named on a bad day."
Given names in Kiswaili also have a meaning and a story behind it, and are often used as a legacy. A child might carry an ancestor's name whom the parents admire, or that of a stranger who saved the father's life and without whom the child would not exist, or that of a person from legend whom the parents hope the child will aspire to be like, or a name that by its word has a meaning and a message. The story of the name is told to a child on its 12th and with more details on the 15th birthday, and asking for the story behind one's name is a sign of interest in a person, such as when a friendship becomes more deep. Questions such as "what is your name and why?" are used to show someone that you are seriously interested in them, and want to know them and their story.
It is common for both men and women to grow their hair long, except for soldiers and others going to war. For the tribe chiefs and nowadays kings and other lords, this has transformed into a tradition of growing your hair long during peacetime and cutting it short in wartime. Some rulers have sent their cut-off hair to the enemy as a declaration of war. Especially long hair on a ruler means this person has managed to keep the peace for many years, and is generally viewed as a sign of strength and competence.
Shaving the hair off completely is a common punishment for prisoners of war.
Stories are an important part of Kiswaili culture, and the telling of stories is part of most formal ceremonies, such as funerals (where stories about the recently departed are told) or marriages (where stories about the couple as well as their parents are told).
This is all true stories. Fantastic stories are far less common, most stories told and retold are about historical figures or one's own ancestors, and are supposed to be true, though over time many of them become more glorious and heroic.
There are also "location stories", which are the common stories of villages and other places, and who serve an important role in defining a place and recording its most important history. These stories are told to all children growing up in that place, and are known by heart by its adult inhabitants. In the larger towns and cities, due to the volume of stories, people have begun writing down these stories and compiling them into history books.
Marriage, Love & Birth
As in most cultures, marriages are typically arranged by parents, with political or economic advantages in mind. These arrangements and the following betrothals are commonly made when the child is between 13 and 16. Marriage then follows the next year, unless both children are very young as custom has it that at least one of them should be 15 at the time of the wedding. Among the nobility, children are sometimes betrothed even younger, though actual weddings to someone 14 or younger are exceptionally rare and generally frowned upon. Formally, the child has no say in picking their future spouse. Some parents do consult with their children and consider their wishes, some do not. In this regard, the peasants and middle class are more free and more often find their wishes considered while the nobility marries purely for political reasons.
As marriages are mostly arranged, Kiswaili culture is accepting of the fact that love can be found outside marriage. In fact, naming your spouse your "husband and lover" or "wife and lover" is a great honour and shows that this marriage is made so well that it even found love. For most couples, both partners can find a lover outside the marriage without repercussions. Society accepts the fact and legally a lover is no reason to divorce a marriage as long as the marriage duties (work, children, etc.) are not neglected. The full range of this tradition varies by class and region. Nobles can often afford to flaunt their lovers, to the point of making official public appearances in their company. Among the ordinary citizens and peasants, lovers are more often an open secret. As a consequence, establishing the parenthood of children is an important step in birth. Children of lovers are not considered bastards and will inherit any property or titles, but stand behind all children born in marriage in this regard and where inheritances are split among the heirs will receive only half a share. In all other regards, they will be raised by the mother and her husband, though the lover/father is expected to support his child both financially and by participating in its education. Husbands are expected to raise these children according to their standing, i.e. give them at least half as much love and support as they do to their own. While lovers are accepted in this way, love as a concept is taken very seriously and having more than one lover at a time or in short succession is completely inacceptable at any level of society. Even for a king, news of a second lover would lead to questions about his fitness to rule. This acceptance of lovers also provides stability for homosexuals, who are expected to marry (and sire children) irrespective of their sexual preferences, but are permitted to find lovers more to their taste.
The Kiswaili bury their dead in cemeteries, where typically a family shares either a grave (for the poor) or a patch with several graves or even an entire section with a row or circle of graves. There is a phrase among the Kiwsaili - "buried alone" - which is an expression of the most utter and desperate loneliness, so lonely that you are not even buried with your family. Often used to express sorrow for those who travelled the world and never returned.
Death rites include the remains of the deceased being kept in a temple for three days. The rich will embalm their dead and display them openly while the poor will roll them in fabric soaked in oil to prevent rotting. It is strictly forbidden by custom to cry or wail in the presence of the deceased as nobody wishes to move on into the afterlife accompanied by the suffering of their relatives and friends. Once the body is in the ground, a three day period of mourning follows during which work usually rests or is reduced to the minimum.
An important part of the death rites in Kiswaili is to move on. Widows or widowers are expected to marry again within a year.
As the Kiswaili culture spans all climate zones, there is no uniform clothing style. What is the same across all Kiswaili is that pastel and earthen colours are most prominent and bright colours very rare. The most popular colours for official and special occasions are white and black, often in intricate combinations.
Ornaments in general are popular among those who can afford them. They are done in either contrast or identical colour and typically show patterns, waves and curving lines.
This page is still incomplete and missing content or details that are planned, but have not been added yet.
Art & Music
This page is still incomplete and missing content or details that are planned, but have not been added yet.
With the culture spanning such a vast geographic area, from the tropical south to the much colder north, no common style of architecture exists within Kiswaili. However, some common elements and terms have emerged, and local features.
The most common feature is that throughout Kisawili lands, doors and windows are most often closed off with cloth. Only in the northern regions are wooden doors and shutters common, but even there curtains still remain an addition. In the south, most doorways have a long curtain that serves as a door, while windows have short curtains. In more afluent houses, crochet with wide holes or thin and semi-transparent fabrics like silk are used to keep the curtains down but allow light inside. If the owner wishes to shut his house, two or three wooden bars are put in addition to the curtains. These provide little security against someone trying to break in, but since most Kiswaili houses are not enclosed entirely anyway, it makes little difference. Some shops and wealthy houses can be closed either with doors or with more bars or metal grids, secured by metal locks.
One common indicator is the Kisawili differentiation between houses into three categories: Open, half-open and closed.
- An "open" house is one where most rooms have at least one wall missing or at about a foot high, just symbolically marking the edge of the room. This style is very common in the south where the climate allows for it. Canopies or curtains provide protection against the occasional rain. It is also common for shops of all kinds to have a half-high wall and sell out of that opening instead of having an inside space.
- A "closed" house does not have this feature and is what most other cultures would consider a normal house - every room has four walls. This is the most common building style in northern Kiswaili regions.
- Obviously, a "half-open" house mixes these styles, with some rooms open and some rooms closed. The two most common types of half-open houses are courtyard houses which are closed on the outside but have open rooms towards an enclosed courtyard, and side-open houses where one side of the building is open while the other is closed, providing some closed and some open rooms. This later style is used in regions where the weather does not allow fully open houses, as it shelters half the house from the elements while still keeping the other half open for good days.
The Kiswaili religion and the Kiswaili Faith are strongly connected and you rarely see one without the other, except in the south (in and around Palan), where the Faith of Ikoyo has replaced the Kiswaili faith. Until about 50 AV the Faith of Ikoyo was expanding, but recently a return to the "old ways" has become fashionable and the situation has stabilized, with a few places even reverting back to being mostly Kiswaili Faith.
Kiswaili is the dominant culture in an area of half a million square kilometres and is home to about 6.3 million people.
It reaches from the furthest south all along the western coast of Auseka towards the far north, and covers all climate zones and biomes except for the highest mountains.