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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c.

1500

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History


The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to
c. 1500  
Abdul Sheriff
Subject: East Africa and Indian Ocean, Economic History, Historical Linguistics
Online Publication Date: Dec 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.013.152

Summary and Keywords

The East African coast is an interface between the continental world of Africa and the
maritime world of the Indian Ocean, and the monsoons provided a convenient wind
system to link them. It was inhabited by a littoral society that was best placed to play a
leading role in economic, social, and cultural interaction, including intermarriage,
between the two worlds. Its written history goes back at least to the beginning of the
Contemporary Era, and it can be termed Swahili from the beginning of the second
millennium when this branch of the Bantu languages spread down the coast to give it
linguistic unity. Its speakers were organized in towns and villages from southern Somalia
to northern Mozambique, which developed into city-states when there were major
upturns in international trade and were integrated in the wider Indian Ocean world. The
citizens spoke an “elegant” language that was further embellished through its
interactions with Arabic and other Indian Ocean languages and literature. Islam spread
with that trade, and mosques became a prominent part of the archaeological remains
along the Swahili coast. In the process, the Swahili became thoroughly cosmopolitan. Any
attempt to disentangle the different strands, “oriental” or “African”—which are two sides
of the dense cultural fabric of the littoral people—is bound to be futile. They are two sides
of the Swahili coin. This civilization was partially disrupted by the entry of the Portuguese
in the 16th century when they tried to divert the spice trade to their channel around the
Cape of Good Hope, but it revived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Keywords: Swahili, Islam, Shirazi, Azania, Indian Ocean, ivory, gold, slaves, Portuguese

The East African coast, together with the Mediterranean coast of North Africa and the
Atlantic, are the three maritime faces of Africa. It is the eastern edge of Africa; but it also
comprises the western shores of the Indian Ocean (Figure 1). It is therefore an interface
between the continental world of Africa and the maritime world of the Indian Ocean. We
should therefore shift our attention from a narrow ethnic or continental viewpoint to the
interaction between the sea and land environments, which in the longue duree gave rise
to societies in which the two are intricately intertwined. Braudel has argued that it is not
the sea as such, but the movement of people, the routes they follow, and the relationships
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

they forge, that create unities in human history.1 The East African coast was inhabited by
a littoral society that was best placed to play a leading role in economic, social, and
cultural interaction, and even intermarriage, between the two worlds.

The documentary history


of the coast goes back at
least to the beginning of
the Contemporary Era
(CE), and it can be termed
Swahili from the beginning
of the second millennium
when this branch of Bantu
languages spread down
the coast to give it
linguistic unity. Its
speakers were organized
in towns and villages from
southern Somalia to
Mozambique, which
Figure 1. Historical Map of the East African Coast,
developed into a series of
1596. city-states when there
Source: J. H. van Linschoten, The Voyage of J. H. van were major upturns in
Linschoten to the East Indies. From the old English international trade from
translation of 1598: the first book, containing his
description of the East. London: The Hakluyt Society,
the 1st century toward the
1885. Red Sea and the
Mediterranean, and across
the Indian Ocean from the 8th century, and they were integrated in that wider world.
Islam spread with that trade, and mosques became a prominent part of the
archaeological remains along the Swahili coast. Relations were often intense and even
intimate, and in the process the Swahili became thoroughly cosmopolitan. Any attempt to
disentangle the different strands, “oriental” or “African,” in the dense cultural fabric of
the littoral people is bound to be futile. These are two sides of the Swahili coin. This
civilization was partially disrupted by the entry of the Portuguese in the 16th century
when they tried to divert the spice trade to their channel around the Cape of Good Hope.

The Geographical Setting


The East African coast forms a fairly distinct geographical entity stretching more than a
thousand miles (1500 km) from southern Somalia to Mozambique, bounded to the north
by the Somali Desert and to the west by a belt of poor scrub (nyika), with a coastal
vegetation described as Zanzibar-Inhambane Mosaic (Figure 2). The narrow coastal
fringe is in the shape of an hourglass ranging between 10 and 40 miles (15–60 km) wide,
with its narrowest neck near the Kenya–Tanzania border, but with several corridors,
especially along the Usambara-Kilimanjaro mountain chains and the Pangani and Tana
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

rivers, which may have been navigable for variable distances, providing access to the
interior.2

The coast experiences a


tropical climate with high
temperatures and a
characteristic monsoon
regime. Warm
temperatures provide
favorable conditions for
the growth of marine life,
notably the ubiquitous
coral and mangrove
swamps, which produce a
luxuriant marine life that
historically sustained
fishermen and provided
essential building
Figure 2. Physical Map of the East African Coast.
materials for the coastal
population. The central
Source: Abdul Sheriff, Dhow Cultures and the Indian
Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam. portion of the coast enjoys
London: Hurst, 2010, 29. heavier rainfall of between
40 and 60 inches (1000–
1500 mm) with two maxima, the “long” and “short” rains. However, both the total rainfall
and its duration diminish into a single rainy season in both directions, with 35 inches (875
mm) at Lamu to the north and less than 20 inches (500 mm) to the west in the nyika and
south of the Rufiji River. The coastal areas are covered by the coastal forest savannah,
which produces some valuable timber. There is considerable variation from the fertile
alluvial soils of the river deltas to extensive infertile patches of the coral rag. The coastal
range above 500 feet (150 m) has good rainfall and fertile soils with a fairly high potential
for agriculture. The Swahili cleared much of the original forest for timber, firewood, or
cultivation. However, the prevalence of the tsetse fly restricted cattle rearing and human
occupation.3

On the maritime side of the coast, the monsoons constitute an overarching characteristic
of the Indian Ocean. The alternate cooling and heating of the vast landmass of Eurasia in
winter and summer, and its juxtaposition with an equally vast warm ocean to the south of
it, give rise to a regular seasonal reversal of the winds over the Indian Ocean basin. Since
they pass over the warm ocean, they pick up an enormous amount of moisture that
precipitates over the land, which is vital for agricultural production around the basin. In
many parts the rhythm of economic life, both agricultural and commercial, is set by the
recurrent annual cycle of the monsoons.

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

The varied environments generated by the monsoon system, between the tropical forest-
and-sea regions of East Africa and of India on the one hand, and the intermediate
desiccated desert-and-sea region in the Middle East on the other, and unequal
distribution of raw materials and commodities around the rim of the Indian Ocean
provided a potential for exchange regionally, while the monsoons supplied the necessary
motive power for dhows to transport the goods across the ocean. These geographical
circumstances thus played a crucial role in the economy and life of the people around its
rim, integrating them into a vast maritime cultural complex.4

While the monsoon system facilitated interactions across the Indian Ocean, it also
imposed a gridlock on the movement of dhows that hindered it in a socially significant
way, requiring sailors to spend a long time between the two monsoons in their ports of
destination. It provided for a long period of economic exchange, but since a vast majority
of sailors and maritime traders in many cultures were men, it also allowed a much more
intimate social interaction between them and the local populations, which extended from
the marketplace to the bed, with long-lasting social and cultural consequences for the
development of cosmopolitan littoral societies around the rim of the Indian Ocean.

The Azanian Coast


At the beginning of the Contemporary Era, a large part of the interior of eastern Africa
was occupied by Late Stone Age agriculturists and pastoralists. They are thought to have
spoken southern Cushitic languages, and they may have reached the coast—remnants of
this population survived down to the 20th century, including the Dahalo of coastal Kenya
and the Ma’a in Usambara.5

The remarkable 1st-century CE Greek trader’s guide to the Indian Ocean, the Periplus of
the Erythraean Sea, is a meticulous first-hand account covering a large part of the
western Indian Ocean, and although there are problems in correlating it with Ptolemy’s
Geography and identification of different ports along the coast, there can be little doubt
about its authenticity. It describes the inhabitants at the coast as “tillers of the soil” as
well as fishermen who used sewn boats, dugouts, and wicker baskets to catch fish and
tortoises on Menouthias Island (Figures 3, 3A). They occupied the whole coast and at
each place had set up their chiefs, and were already involved in trade with Yemeni and
Roman traders.6

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Figure 3. The Swahili Mtepe in Zanzibar harbour.


The life-size model was built in 2002–2003 for the
House of Wonders Museum.

Source: Photo by Abdul Sheriff.

The Periplus calls the coast


Azania, and the last
market town was Rhapta
whose name was reputedly
derived from the small
sewn boats. Both of these
words may have originated
from the Arabic Ajam
(foreign) and rabata (to tie
up), from which the
Swahili words Ajemu
(Persian) and robota
Figure 3a. A detail of the Swahili Mtepe in Zanzibar (bundle or bale) come.
harbor shows how the planks were sewn.
Foreign traders exchanged
Source: Photo by Abdul Sheriff.
ivory, rhinoceros horns,
and tortoise shells for
lances, hatchets, swords, awls, and glass beads. The Periplus adds that the people of
Muza at the mouth of the Red Sea sent small ships with Arab captains and crews who
“trade and intermarry with the mainlanders of all the places and know their language.”7
It thus points to an important longue duree process of acculturation between the local
population and visiting traders along the East African coast. There has been a debate as
to when the Swahili became maritime because it is argued that proximity to and use of
the sea were not enough to make them maritime. However, it is difficult to discount the
first-hand account of the Periplus regarding fishing, boat-building, market towns, and
intermingling with foreign traders.8

The Periplus goes even further to suggest a political relationship, stating that the chief of
the Ma’afir in Yemen exercised suzerainty over the coast “according to an ancient right,”

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

and that it was leased to the merchants of Muza who collected taxes there. Ptolemy
describes Rhapta as a metropolis, and Mathew suggests that by the 4th century it had
become an independent state. It was located at the mouth of a river, and according to
Ptolemy, a great snow mountain lay inland from Rhapta. It may have been on the Pangani
where the river and the chain of mountains provided a convenient trade corridor into the
interior as far as the snow-capped Kilimanjaro, which Walz is investigating, or in the
Rufiji Delta. Archaeologists have so far failed to locate Rhapta, but Juma discovered some
Roman shards dating to the 5th century at Unguja Ukuu in Zanzibar. Chami found four
Roman beads near the Rufiji River, and recently, a diver discovered what appears to be
the remains of a massive wall of “an ancient sunken city” at the mouth of the Rufiji River,
which Chami is investigating and believes may be Rhapta.9

The Swahili Coast: The Productive Base


The East African coast became the Swahili coast only from the beginning of the second
millennium CE when the Swahili language provided linguistic unity to it from the Benadir
in southern Somalia to northern Mozambique, although the pattern of economic and
social development of the coastal people, including social and cultural interaction
between themselves and the people from across the sea, was already on course from at
least the beginning of the first millennium. According to Nurse and Spear, by the middle
of the first millennium, Bantu languages were spoken in the coastlands of northern
Kenya, and southern Somalia associated with Early Iron Age Kwale pottery. The Proto-
Sabaki branch of the Northeast Coast Bantu emerged in the Lamu area in early 9th
century CE and is associated with Tana ware, which is remarkably homogeneous along a
thousand miles (3000 km) of the coast and up to 100 miles (300 km) inland. Spear has
pointed to a long chronological gap between the two pottery traditions, and there has
been an intense debate between some archaeologists who see the Tana as evolving from
the Kwale ware, while others argue that it developed from the Southern Cushitic
substratum as seen in the presence of kraals and the prevalence of Cushitic vocabulary in
Swahili. Be that as it may, an early form of Swahili and Comorian languages spread
quickly in coastal settlements as far south as Kilwa and even Chibuene in Mozambique,
the Comoro Islands, and the northern coast of Madagascar during the following
centuries.10

Matveiev argues that the emergence of the Swahili civilization was based on exploitation
of local resources, agriculture, and fishing as well as on trade. The Swahili grew
sorghum, yams, bananas, coconuts, and rice among food crops. They were also involved
in hunting for meat as well as for skins and ivory. Local trade had begun, exchanging
their produce among themselves and with neighboring pastoralists and hunters. At the
same time they exploited the seashore to obtain mangrove poles to build their houses;
they harvested fish not only for subsistence but also for export at Malindi; and in the
shallow waters of Sofala, they also dived for pearls. They were a seafaring group with
ability to sail over considerable distances and to penetrate deep into the interior along
the Tana and Pangani rivers. This activity necessarily involved boatbuilding, and Buzurg
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

ibn Shahriyar mentions numerous boats that surrounded Arab dhows at Sofala in the 10th
century.11

Research into the question of the productive base of the Swahili during this early period
has been given a major fillip by the innovative archaeological work of Adria LaViolette
and Jeffrey Fleisher during the past two decades. They have exposed a sprawling
settlement of earth-and-thatch structures at Tumbe in northern Pemba dating to 600–
1000 CE that were apparently based on widespread agricultural production and
handicrafts that were not merely for subsistence, but were well connected with the Indian
Ocean trade routes. These products probably supplied foodstuffs and other mundane
commodities, which are otherwise overlooked in the few written accounts focusing on
luxuries. They were exchanged, among other goods, for imported pottery from the
Persian Gulf and elsewhere that constituted nearly a tenth of the total at Tumbe and at
many other sites along the coast. It was part of a larger pattern of villages and small
towns from the mid-8th century that flourished before major urban centers began to
drain the neighboring smaller settlements.12

The Swahili had also developed thriving weaving and ironworking industries, some of
whose products were traded and even exported. There was a profusion of clay spindle
whorls at Kilwa suggesting a substantial local weaving industry since the area was
suitable for the cultivation of cotton. Yaqut and Ibn Battuta in the 13th and 14th centuries
mention the manufacture of maqdishi cloth from Mogadishu which was exported to Egypt.
However, Kusimba argues that the strengthening of long-distance maritime trade had the
effect of killing such local industries. Barbosa reported in the early 16th century that
people at Sofala had to unravel colored cloth from Cambay to weave into their own white
cloth because they did not have appropriate dyes.13

As regards ironworking, archaeological investigations by Walz found that iron products


were most profuse at Gonja far up the Pangani/Usambara corridor between 900 and 1200
CE, which may have been exported to the coast. Idrisi says that the people of Malindi
“own and exploit iron mines; for them, iron is an article of trade and the source of their
largest profits,” of a higher quality than that found in India where it was reworked to
make Damascene steel. Ibn Said al-Maghribi adds that the chief existence of the people of
Sofala was mining gold and iron, which of course came from the interior. In addition, dos
Santos in the 16th century states that much iron of good quality from Mocaranga in the
Zambezi Valley was exported by the Portuguese to India for the manufacture of guns.14

Maturation of the Swahili Civilization


While production and industries were very important for the subsistence needs of the
Swahili city-states, the more dynamic sector was long-distance transit trade between the
African hinterland and the foreland across the Indian Ocean between the Islamic empires
in the Middle East and China in the Far East. The Swahili were involved in trade in both
directions, with merchants from across the sea as well as with the hinterland, which was
the source of many of their trade goods for export, such as ivory, with the Swahili
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

themselves playing a crucial middleman’s role. Horton identifies two phases in Indian
Ocean trade. The early prosperity from 800 CE was in response to demand for East
African ivory, timber, slaves, and gold, directed toward the heartland of the Abbasid
Empire. Archaeological excavations have revealed a new phase of urbanization on the
Swahili coast. Nurse and Spear had estimated that in all about eight Swahili settlements
developed into the largest and most prominent Swahili towns between the 9th and 11th
centuries, and more have been identified since then.15

Unguja Ukuu in Zanzibar straddles between the Azanian and Swahili phases since its
occupation dates from the 6th to the 11th century CE. There is evidence of Early Iron Age
pottery as well as imported artifacts from across the world from the Mediterranean to
China. The site is littered with blue-green glazed Sassanid-Islamic pottery, and an
Abbasid dinar was found with Kufic inscription and dated to 798–799 CE minted at
Baghdad, which may have been part of a hoard of 500 allegedly dug up in 1865. It was
also one of the earliest sites of urbanism on the coast. Most of its 17 hectares are
associated with wattle and daub houses, but some stone buildings date to the 10th
century, including a large (24 m x 16 m) mosque. It appears as a large island in the 11th-
century Egyptian map right next to Kanbalu, which was a regular port of call for traders
from Oman and Siraf, the major Iranian port in the Persian Gulf.16

Merchants from the Persian Gulf were trading with the Swahili coast for ambergris,
leopard skins, tortoise shells, and ivory. Masudi, who visited the Swahili coast in the early
10th century, mentions that it was from this coast that the largest tusks of ivory weighing
more than 50 pounds were imported to Suhar in Oman, from where they were sent to
China and India. “This is the chief route, and if it were not so, ivory would be common in
Muslim lands.”17 But the trade was not confined to luxuries, for Istakhri comments that at
Siraf: “Its multi-storied houses are of teak wood and of other woods imported from the
land of the Zenj . . . The inhabitants take such great pride in the elegance of their houses
that some merchants spend more than 30,000 dinars in constructing a house.”18

There was also slave trade to supply labor to desalinate the Mesopotamian floodplains,
which culminated in a fierce Zanj Rebellion in southern Iraq at the end of the 9th century.
Buzurg b. Shahriyar records a couple of slave-trading ventures in the 10th century to the
isles of Waqwaq and Kanbalu. Al-Jahiz (c. 767–868) was apparently the son of a poor
black cameleer who died on the very eve of the Zanj Rebellion. In his Book on the Pride of
the Blacks over the Whites, he wrote that the Zanj were of two kinds:

You have yet to see the true Zanj, since you only know the enslaved kind brought
from the shores of Kanbalu . . . being the one place at which your vessels dock.
And that is because the Zanj are of two main lines of descent, Kanbalu and
Langawiya [people of al-Unguja].19

This is the first reference to Unguja in Arabic sources. It is mentioned once again in the
13th century by the Muslim geographer Yaqut, who says that its people had sought
refuge on the Tumbatu islet off its northern coast whose people were Muslims. Horton

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found a Kufic inscription on Tumbatu in 1989 that is similar to that at Kizimkazi, although
it has not yet been deciphered; he believes it to be closely related to those at Siraf.20

Masudi provides a revealing account of the Swahili at that time. He says that they had
“an elegant language,” recording a number of words that appear to be Swahili. They were
organized in polities, with mfalume as their supreme king—the Swahili title that appears
in the Kufic inscription in the Kizimkazi mosque in southern Unguja dated to 1107 CE.
Masudi says that Kanbalu had a mixed population of Muslims and “Zanj idolaters.” The
majority had no religious law but had a “king of heaven and earth” called Maliknajlu
(malik is Arabic for lord; najlu may be Swahili mungu for god), which means the Great
Lord, and their kings ruled by custom and political expediency. Their holy men exhorted
the people to obey their god and reminded them of their ancestors and old kings.
Kanbalu, which was one or two days’ sail from the coast, has often been identified with
Ras Mkumbuu on Pemba Island, which had a 10th-century wooden mosque and the
largest early stone mosque dating to the 11th century, a number of stone houses, and
several ruined pillar tombs. Horton and Clark found on the beach local burnished and
imported pottery, which suggest occupation from the 11th to the 16th century.21

Mombasa emerged as the most convenient port for Indian dhows bringing textiles from
Cambay in Gujarat, which, according to a French visitor in the 16th century, clothed the
whole Indian Ocean from head to foot. It thus developed as the northern hub in the
bifocal commercial system along the Swahili coast. Ibn Battuta described it as a large
offshore island where the diet consisted of bananas and fish, and had lemons and
oranges, and imported grains from the mainland; but everyone went barefoot. They
followed the Shafi’i rite, were “devout, chaste and virtuous,” and he says their mosques
were very strongly constructed of wood, which may be a slip in his memory, unless he was
referring to the mangrove poles that commonly supported Swahili ceilings. At the
beginning of the 16th century, Barbosa says that it was “a very fair place, with lofty stone
and mortar houses, well aligned streets,” and with well-fitted wooden doors carved by
excellent carpenters. There was plenty of food, including cattle and sheep, food grains as
well as a great variety of fruits and vegetables. He added that “the men thereof are oft-
times at war and but seldom at peace with those of the mainland,” but they nevertheless
carried on trade with them in honey, wax and ivory. It had a good harbor and was a place
of great traffic in which there were always moored a great variety of ships from Malindi,
Zanzibar, Sofala and Cambay.22

The Lamu archipelago is another area of concentration of early Swahili settlements


where there were at least eleven sites of old towns with probable occupation in the
9th-10th centuries according to Horton. During the first one and a half centuries, the
settlement on Manda Island consisted of wattle and daub houses, a very prosperous place
with a large quantity of imports, but there is no evidence of Islam. Shanga on the nearby
Pate Island was occupied from the mid-8th to early 15th century. In earlier phases, it was
occupied by fishermen and craftsmen who lived in circular or rectangular wattle and
daub houses, worked iron, ground shell beads, and produced Tana ware. They were
prosperous places with a large quantity of imports of pottery and glass, mainly from the

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Persian Gulf area by the mid-11th century when ivory, timber, rock crystal, and iron were
being exported. However, while there is no evidence of Islam at Manda, evidence of
Islamic practices are apparent at Shanga from the very beginning, with burials dated to c.
800 CE, and a timber mosque to serve the needs of visiting traders (Figure 4). Porites
coral was used in building a stone mosque from the 10th century, which Horton suggests
may have been introduced from the Eritrean coast in the Red Sea. Fatimid coins have
been found at Manda and Mtambwe on Pemba, and there was local minting of silver coins
that show similarities with Fatimid coins from Sicily, suggesting trading connections with
the Mediterranean with the rise of the Fatimids in Egypt.23

Along the Somali coast,


the 12th century, Chinese
author Chau Ju-kua had
noted a contrast between
pastoralists in the interior
and cosmopolitan
mercantile societies in
coastal cities like Brava
and Mogadishu. Coastal
societies were stratified,
Figure 4. Earliest mosque at Shanga, showing with the king and his
postholes of earlier stick and mud mosques and of
ministers living in brick
the stone mosque from the 10th century.
houses and wearing
Courtesy of Mark Horton.
jackets and turbans, while
the common people lived
in huts made of palm leaves and wrapped themselves in cotton stuffs but went
bareheaded and barefooted.24 According to the Kilwa Chronicle, Mogadishu had initially
controlled the Sofala gold trade before it was overtaken by Kilwa. It was visited in the
14th century by Ibn Battuta who said that the Sultan was “in origin from the Barbara, and
his speech is Maqdishi,” presumably Somali, although he also knew Arabic. He wore
fabrics imported from Jerusalem and Egypt. There was an elaborate commercial system,
with touts taking merchants to their respective hosts who provided accommodation and
transacted their business, while scholars like Ibn Battuta were received by the Qadhi.25
The Chinese Ming expeditions in the early 15th century found houses at Mogadishu that
were four or five stories high. In the early 16th century, Barbosa reported that wealthy
people exchanged their produce for colored silks and satins, gold, silver, porcelain,
pepper, rice, and other cereals from Cambay, and Pires adds that traders from
Mogadishu, as well as those from Mombasa, Malindi, and Kilwa, traded as far as Melaka
in Southeast Asia, although apparently in Indian ships from Cambay.26

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Kilwa and the Shirazi Tradition


Kilwa developed as the southern hub in the bipolar commercial system along the Swahili
coast, pulled there by the gold from Sofala from as early as the 10th century. According to
Chittick, during the early phase between 800 and 1150, Tana pottery predominated, with
occasional Sassanian-Islamic pottery at the lowest levels. The inhabitants lived in
rectangular mud and thatch houses, and they engaged in fishing, bead grinding,
ironworking, and weaving; but they were also already engaged in trade. During the
second phase, it began to develop as a large entrepôt based on gold from Sofala, He
associated this with the migration from the 9th century of merchants from Siraf, which
was the leading port of the Persian Gulf and of Shiraz, to Manda in the Lamu archipelago
where he found similar ceramics to those excavated by Whitehouse at Siraf.27

Kilwa’s history has been linked with the Shirazi tradition about which there has been a
considerable debate; many Africanists have tended to dismiss it altogether as an
“invented tradition” somehow detracting from African initiative in African history.28

The tradition was first summarized by de Barros in 1552, and an Arabic version was
discovered among the papers of the Sunni Qadhi of Zanzibar Sh. Muhiyy al-Din al-Qahtani
in the 1870s, as well as in chronicles of numerous towns along the whole length of the
Swahili coast from the Benadir to Mozambique, the Comoros, and northern Madagascar.
According to de Barros’s summary, in c. AH 400/1009 CE, a Persian Ali b. Hasan from
Shiraz embarked with his sons for the Swahili coast:

Having come to the settlement of Mogadishu and Barawa, as he was of Persian


origin and belonged to the sect of Mahamed which . . . was different from that of
the Arabs, . . . he sailed down the coast until he came to the port of Kilwa . . . he
bought it from [the Kafirs] at the price of some cloth.29

The details in this short extract suggest that the new immigrants probably belonged to a
Shia sect that was then dominant in Fars under the Shi’ite Buwayhid dynasty (945–1055
CE), with their capital at Shiraz. This possibility is reinforced by the preface to the Arabic
version of the Kilwa Chronicle containing a lengthy discussion of the role of reason in
Islam, which Rizvi argues, and Wilkinson concurs, could only have been inspired by the
Shi’ite (Mu’tazilites) rather than the Shafi’i Sunni (Ash’arites) on this question. Ali b.
Hasan “bought” the island for enough cloth to encircle the islet, and later married a
daughter of the local chief, so that his son inherited from both his father and from his
maternal grandfather, thus legitimizing the Kilwa state.30

The appearance of a Persian trader on the Swahili coast in the early 11th century should
not come as a surprise, since the Sassanid dynasty was dominant in the Indian Ocean
between Aden and Sri Lanka before the rise of Islam, and Sassanian-Islamic pottery is
abundant at Unguja Ukuu and many other Swahili ports from the 6th century CE onward.
Moreover, an inscription in the mihrab of Arba’a Rukn mosque in Mogadishu

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

commemorates its erection in AH 667/1268–1269 CE and names Khusraw b. Muhammad


al-Shirazi, an unequivocal Persian name that actually names his hometown.31

Perhaps the most conclusive evidence comes from coin finds of thousands of copper and
silver coins at Kilwa, Mafia, Mtambwe Mkuu in Pemba, and elsewhere, bearing the name
of Ali b. al-Hasan, suggesting a closely related dynasty as stated in the chronicle (Figure
5). Some of them carry clearly Iranian names such as Bashat and Bahram, in rhyming
couplets of floriated Kufic script reminiscent of the Kizimkazi inscription of 1107 CE
Pardines concludes from his archaeological work at Sanje ya Kati that “the narratives of
Persian sailors, religious and architectural influences from the Gulf, and products
exchanged, such as ceramics, document an obvious ‘Shirazi reality.’” It is therefore
possible that the first small (12 m x 8 m) flat-roofed stone mosque was built by the new
dynasty in c. 1050, but the chronicle says that already there was a Muslim trader there,
who probably said prayers in the wooden mosques whose remains have been found under
the foundation of the stone mosque, suggesting the presence of Muslim traders from late
8th or early 9th century.32

However, the Shirazi


dynasty at Kilwa was
troubled by rival ports in
the neighborhood,
especially Songo Mnara
and Sanje ya Kati.
Contemporary Omani
records examined by
Wilkinson record active
Figure 5. Mtambwe silver coins minted by Ali b.
Hasan and Bahram b. Ali b. Hasan.
Ibadhi missionary
activities in Kilwa at the
Courtesy of Mark Horton.
beginning of the 12th
century and a split in that
community at the turn of the century in which one party had adopted a Shia Ithnaasheri
creed. The Shirazi dynasty was apparently displaced after only three generations, and
they may have dispersed and were assimilated all along the Swahili coast in the same way
as their Zaidite predecessors belonging to another Shia sect which, according to de
Barros, “withdrew to the interior, intermarrying with the Kaffirs and adopting their
customs so that they became in all respects half breeds.” However, their reputation all
along the coast does not seem to have diminished, as indicated by the numerous Shirazi
traditions from the Benadir to Mozambique and Madagascar.33

With the rise of Fatimid Egypt there was a swing to the Red Sea and closer trade
relations with the Yemen and Hadhramaut from the latter half of the 13th century. A
late-14th-century source talks of dhows from “each small city of the Sawahil” bringing
goods to Aden and the ports on the Hadhramaut coast, including slaves, ebony, ivory,
foodstuffs, cloth, and gum copal, and one with rice from Kilwa in 1336. This connection

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

shows up at Sharma on the Hadhramaut coast where nearly an eighth of the ceramics
appear to have originated from the Swahili coast from late 10th to mid-12th centuries.34

With increasing prosperity from the mid-12th century, there may have been a steep rise in
the importation of Middle Eastern and Indian textiles and other goods, which led to a
decline of the local weaving and iron industries as in Shanga and elsewhere. According to
Kusimba, there was “a shift in elite consumption from local to foreign sources, and
Kilwa’s transition from a local manufacturing centre to an international cosmopolitan
trading entrepot, . . . and a change in the structure of the Swahili society.”35

A fresh series of migrations took place radiating from the Yemen and Hadhramaut. With
control over the gold trade from Sofala, there was a steep increase in prosperity under
the new Mahdali dynasty of Yemeni origin when Chinese pottery and glass beads were
imported, and even stone bowls were obtained from Madagascar. Kilwa went through a
sudden burst of lavish expenditure and monumental construction. The Friday Mosque
was extended enormously south of the older stone mosque, embellished with domes and
arches, which a German visitor in the early 16th century compared with the great
mosque at Cordoba. At the same time, the Husuni Kubwa palace was constructed from
1315 with an octagonal swimming pool high on the cliff overlooking the harbor, using
local building technology but introducing new architectural styles, motifs, and domes. It
reached its peak in the 1320s under Hasan b Sulaiman Abu al-Mawahib (Father of Gifts),
who is known to have minted gold dinars found on Tumbatu Island off Unguja. It was
visited by Ibn Battuta in 1331 who said “the greater part” of the inhabitants of the town
as “Zunuj, extremely black. They have cuttings on their faces.” He described Kilwa as “a
great coastal city . . . among the most beautiful of cities and most elegantly built. All of it
is built of wood, and the ceiling of its houses are of al-dis [reeds]” (Figures 6A, 6B). This
may have been another slip in his memory because the monumental structures of Kilwa
were made of stone.36

Figure 6a. Kilwa Friday Mosque—external view.

Photo by Abdul Sheriff.

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

These inhabitants were


Muslims who followed the
Sunni Shafi’i rite, and the
German visitor says that
the Sultan of Kilwa
frequently made raids into
the Zanj country, and
carried off booty. However,
the price of gold had
slumped, and the Black
Death disrupted Indian
Ocean trade. Husuni
Figure 6b. Kilwa Friday Mosque—internal view. Kubwa was abandoned;
Photo by Abdul Sheriff. the domed extension of the
mosque collapsed and was
not repaired for some decades. Kilwa did not revive until after 1400.37

Sofala was Kilwa’s southern outpost, half a month’s journey from Kilwa, and according to
Ibn Battuta gold dust was brought a month’s journey from the interior. At about the same
time, Abu al-Fida mentioned that its inhabitants professed Islam (Figure 7).

In the early 16th century,


the Portuguese chronicler
Correa said that the
people of Sofala “were
native Kaffirs who turned
Moors owing to their
dealings and friendship
with foreign Moorish
merchants who came to
Sofala to trade.” Barbosa
confirmed that at Sofala
“the Moors were black,
Figure 7. Husuni Kubwa palace, Kilwa. Source: P. S. and some of them tawny;
Garlake, The Early Islamic Architecture of the East
African Coast. Nairobi: Oxford University Press, some of them speak
1966, fig. 69. Arabic, but the more part
Courtesy British Institute in Eastern Africa. use the language of the
country.” He added that it
was a busy port visited by merchants in their small dhows from Kilwa, Mombasa, and
Malindi, bringing many cotton cloths, silk, and beads imported from Cambay, exchanging
them for gold and ivory from the kingdom of Mwana Mutapa in Zimbabwe.38

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Extension of the Swahili Civilization to the


Comoros and Madagascar
Ngazija is not a Swahili dialect but a closely related language, and Verin believes that the
Comoros and the northern and eastern coast of Madagascar, or Bukini as it is known in
Swahili, were “an extension of the Swahili civilisation” and were completely integrated
into the trade of the western Indian Ocean.39 The Swahili had begun to frequent the
Comoros and Madagascar as early as the 9th century. Some of the earliest words of Bantu
origin introduced into Madagascar relating to pastoralism were of Cushitic or Bantu
origin, and words for paper and ink, musical instruments, and measures are of Arabic
derivation directly or through Swahili.40 Typically, trade was widely distributed in a large
number of small port towns, each exploiting its own hinterland while participating in the
oceanic trade. Sasanian-Islamic pottery of the 9th–11th centuries have been excavated at
Irodo, and Islamic glass, glass beads from India, and yellow and black pottery from
Hadhramaut date to the 14th century; Chinese celadon and blue and white pottery made
their appearance during the 15th century. Islamic pottery, Indian beads, and Chinese
stoneware have been discovered even at Teniky in the middle of the island dating to the
16th century. In return, specimens of soapstone, which may have originated in
Madagascar, have been found at Kilwa, Siraf, Bhambore near the Indus delta, and even at
Zimbabwe (Figure 8). By the 15th century, rice, cattle, gum copal, turtle shells, and
slaves, as well as thicker mangrove poles for which Bukini was famous on the Swahili
coast, were being exported.41

Swahili and Arab traders


brought not only trade but
also Islam, and the
Comoros served as staging
posts to Madagascar.
Muslim settlements were
set up on the northwest
coast of Madagascar. The
people were called
Antalaotra, or people from
across the sea, who
maintained their seafaring
traditions, described by a
Portuguese visitor as
Figure 8. Map of Swahili Coast, Comoros and ‘Muslims who were more
Madagascar. civilized and wealthier
Source: Abdul Sheriff, Dhow Cultures and the Indian than those living at other
Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam.
points along the coast,
London: Hurst, 2010, 198.
since their mosques and
most of their houses were
built of limestone, with balconies after the style of Kilwa and Mombasa.’42 At Mahilaka in
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Madagascar, the mihrabs were decorated with cut coral work, later replaced by inlaid
ceramic ware. There is a pillar tomb at Kingany similar to that at Kaole on the coast of
Tanzania, and three tomb tablets with floral motifs and inscriptions from the Qur’an have
been found, one employing the Kufic script.43

The Swahili connection gave birth to a subculture that was not confined to the ports but
formed another veneer on the local Malagasy civilization. It was cosmopolitan like its
counterpart on the Swahili coast. They were not merely traders but were integrated into
the local economy, engaging in rice farming and cattle breeding for trade, in local
industries producing raffia fabrics, and spinning wild cotton to produce loin-cloth worn by
the Malagasy. As a maritime and trading people, they built their dugouts, outriggers, and
dhows for fishing and trade. Their women produced local pottery, which shows close
similarities with those on the Swahili coast, including the characteristic triangular motif
of Tana ware. Swahili traders and soothsayers also penetrated into the interior as far as
Imerina. Their versatility in the use of languages, Malagasy, Swahili, and Arabic, as well
as their literacy and use of the Arabic script, enabled them to adapt to the political
environment. In some cases, they established unions with royal families, thus penetrating
deeply into the Malagasy society and in the process being assimilated. Malagasy names
for seasons, months, days, and coins are Arabic in origin. They extended to the extreme
southeast of the island around Fort Dauphin where there was substantial Arab/Islamic
influence. They developed Sorabe (great writings) using the Arabic script, the earliest
dating to 1645. They were concerned with astrology, geomancy, divination, and medicine,
as well as chronicles and historical works, knowledge of which gave them great prestige
throughout Madagascar.44 The activities of the port towns produced an urban culture that
was comfortable, and its architecture was closely related to that on the Swahili coast. The
towns consisted of a row or two of mostly single-storied houses along the shore, grouped
around a mosque and a few stone houses belonging to the mercantile and religious elite;
some had flat roofs supported by mangrove poles, while the rest were more perishable
wattle and daub huts. In most cases, the only monumental building was the mosque.45

As elsewhere on the Swahili coast, local traditions in the Comoros and Madagascar try to
link these Muslim settlements with the fountainheads of Islam, with Mecca but also
Shiraz being distant echoes of similar traditions on the Swahili coast.46 However, cultural
influences did not flow in a single direction. The Malagasy connection had extended
northward as far as the Swahili coast and Aden where Ibn Mujawir reported that the
people of “al-Komr” had appeared in AH 626/1228–1229 CE with their ships that had
outriggers because their seas were difficult to navigate due the currents.47 The Kibuki
spirit is said to have migrated from Madagascar and the Comoros, perhaps associated
with the early-19th-century Sakalava raids of the Swahili coast. After their defeat, they
settled at Vikokotoni and Funguni on the outskirts of Zanzibar town. The associated
rituals of healing, some of which appear to be pre-Islamic or Christian, continue to be
practiced in Zanzibar to this day.48

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Relations with the Hinterland


Although some of the commodities traded by the Swahili came from the coastal belt itself,
the Swahili city-states were not self-sufficient in food and other merchandise. With the
upswing in Indian Ocean trade, there was a corresponding expansion of the hinterland.
The Swahili were involved and shared in the trade in both directions, with merchants
from across the sea as well as with those from the hinterland, and playing a crucial
middleman’s role.

With reference to Berbera on the north Somali coast, a 9th-century Chinese source
maintains that exports included ivory and female slaves, and adds: “when the Po-ssi
[Persian] traders wish to enter this country, they form a caravan of several thousand
men,” and after making a present of strips of cloth to the natives, they all took a blood
oath after which they would trade their goods, suggesting that foreign traders penetrated
the interior themselves from an early date.49 Berbera was not part of the Swahili coast,
but similar developments may have arisen down the East African coast. In contrast, in
Idrisi in the 12th century, there existed caravan trading by people from the interior
bringing their goods to the Swahili coast, saying that “since they have no pack animals,”
perhaps because of the tsetse fly, “they themselves transport their loads . . . on their
heads or their backs to . . . Mombasa and Malindi.” During the following century Abu al-
Fida reports that east of Malindi, perhaps following the Tana River, was a mountain called
el-Kerany, which may allude to Mount Kenya, which he says was very famous among
travelers, in which there were iron mines. The two Mediterranean-based Muslim
geographers claim that there were iron mines there owned by the people of Malindi,
which may be questionable, but they add that “for them, iron is an article of trade and the
source of their largest profits,” of a higher quality than that found in India where it was
reworked to make Damascene steel, a claim which is credible.50 The 16th-century
Portuguese geographer Duarte Lopez states that west of the kingdoms of Kilwa,
Mombasa, and Malindi was the great country of Monemugi, which Strandes associated
with Unyamwezi in central Tanzania, whose ruler lived at peace with the coastal states,
for they had mutual interest in trade and he required an outlet to the sea.51 Lemon-yellow
glass beads excavated at Ngorongoro and Hyrax Hill are identical with those found in a
number of places in India and date to about the 8th century. Pierced cowry shells and
beads have been excavated at Engaruka in north-central Tanzania dating to the 15th and
16th centuries.52

A more systematic research study has recently been done by Walz along the Pangani
corridor, using the 19th-century rotating markets (gulio) to trace the nodes in the ancient
trade route linking the coast with the interior. He found numerous Swahili and Indian
Ocean items at inland sites, including glass beads that constitute three quarters and
ceramics that constitute nearly a fifth of the total, some of them dating from as early as
the mid-8th century. This coincides with the establishment of dense populations of Middle
Iron Age agricultural communities, who may have been Bantu speaking, suggesting
substantial population growth, increasing social differentiation, and intense intergroup
connectivity.53 Whether the evidence so far can be connected with Ptolemy’s reference to
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

a snow-capped mountain far behind Rhpata in the 1st century CE mentioned earlier may
be speculative at this time.

There is evidence of deep contacts much farther south to the mineral-rich highlands of
southern Africa. Mining appears to have begun on a modest scale at the beginning of the
10th century and reached its maximum from the 12th, as suggested by the finds of
Persian, Chinese, and Syrian artifacts, but the bulk are from the 15th century, including a
14th-century Kilwa copper coin. Indian Ocean glass beads and numerous remains of ivory
have been found at Mapungubwe on the Limpopo on the northern border of South Africa.
When visiting Kilwa in the 1330s, Ibn Battuta reported that “Yufi in the land of the
Limiyyin is a month’s journey and from Yufi gold dust is brought to Sufala,” although he
may be mixing up the names from his later travels to West African gold regions from the
north.54 There are two alternative theories about the rise of Zimbabwe. One theory sees
Shona ascendancy over a loose confederation of vassal chiefs who paid tribute in ivory
and gold dust, which Muslim traders from the Swahili coast acquired to expand the trade
to the coast. The other theory attributes the rise of the state itself to intensified trade,
coinciding with the rise of Kilwa and Sofala at the coast. The prosperity of Kilwa as well
as that of Zimbabwe waxed and waned in tandem according to Fagan who says: “For all
its isolation, Great Zimbabwe trade connections and gold contributed to the prosperity
and growth of the East African coast.” It is now estimated that a total of six to nine
million ounces of gold were mined during this period.55 The successor kingdom of Mwene
Mutapa became wealthy by exploiting copper and ivory from the middle Zambezi in the
15th century.

It is not very clear how the trade with the interior was organized. There is a reference to
“silent barter” in an early period, but by the time the Portuguese arrived there is
evidence of traders moving in both directions. In 1506, the factor at Sofala Diogo da
Alcacova wrote that “a Kaffir of the interior of Menapotaque [Mwene Mutapa] was the
first to come to this fortress and factory to trade gold for . . . two yards of glazed Brittany
cloth and two red barrels of beads.” He said that “when the land was at peace three or
four ships took from Sofala each year a million of gold, and sometimes 1,300,000 miticals
of gold.” He went on to say that peace could be restored only through the influence of the
king of Sofala or Kilwa, showing the continuing influence of the Swahili rulers in the
African interior.56 It is also clear that much of the information recorded by the Portuguese
about the interior as far as the Great Zimbabwe was derived from “Moorish” (Muslim—
Swahili, Arab) traders who had visited it. Barbosa describes “Zimbaoche” as a great town
15 to 20 days inland from Sofala, but by then the reigning Mwene Mutapa was living six
days away, where traders exchanged colored cloths and beads from Cambay for gold that
came from farther away. The Portuguese chronicler João de Barros says in 1538 that
Symbaoe “in the opinion of the Moors who saw it is very ancient and was built to keep
possessions of the mines, which are very old, and no gold has been extracted from them
for years, because of the wars.”57

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

According to Chanaiwa, Muslim traders had inland markets beyond Sena and Tete on the
Zambezi. In 1512, Fernandes reported on the existence of gold mines and described an
elaborate trade fair organized by the Mwene Mutapa at which Arab traders played a
prominent role. When a Portuguese priest was killed by the Mwene Mutapa in 1561, the
Portuguese launched an expedition against him and demanded expulsion of the Arabs
from Mashonaland. However, Fagan says that it is unlikely that more than a few Arabs or
their agents actually resided within the frontiers of Great Zimbabwe. Beach suggests that
Muslim traders, whether Arab, Swahili, or Islamized Shona, did not exceed 1500–2000.
Nevertheless, Muslim traders were still there during the next century when the Mwene
Mutapa granted a small territory to a sharif in the 1630s.58

The entry of the Portuguese upset preexisting trade relations with the Swahili coast, and
the remnants may have been absorbed into the Shona world. It has been suggested that
the Lemba, who are sometimes associated with one of the “Lost Tribes of Israel,” retain
fragments of Islamic faith and culture. Their clan names indicate Arabic influence,
perhaps related to this once more flourishing Muslim community on the Zimbabwe
plateau.59

The Swahili Civilization: “Oriental,” “African,”


or Simply Swahili?
The Swahili are a quintessential littoral society, for that is what the name literally means.
Any discussion of the culture of the Swahili has to start with an examination of their
strategic geocultural position at the confluence of Africa and the Indian Ocean. At the
very fundamental level, the African continent provided the habitat for the evolution of
their culture as well as the core population and their language, Swahili, a Bantu language
(Figure 9).60 There is also the whole world of culture and beliefs where African elements
are clearly discernible. At the same time, the sea is not the end of the world for such a
maritime society. It is the source of their livelihood, and it has exposed them to
commercial, social, and cultural interaction across the Indian Ocean for at least two
millennia. In the process, their language has been enriched to serve a highly
cosmopolitan civilization that was by nature amalgamated. About 40% of the words in
Swahili are of Arabic origin, lower in spoken Swahili, and higher in prose and poetry, with
a sprinkling of Persian and Indian words.61

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

The Swahili developed a


characteristic civilization,
utamaduni (from Arabic
madina, town) which, as in
many other cultures, puts
an emphasis on urban
settlement. Middleton
argues that the basic
social unit of the Swahili is
“mji” (town), but he
distinguishes between the
so-called stone towns and
Figure 9. Swahili family in the 19th century. country towns, although a
Source: Charles Guillain, Documents sur I’Histoire, stone town is a misnomer
la Geographie et le Commerce de la cote Orientale
because there were no
de Afrique. Paris: A. Bertrand, 1856.
stone houses that were not
surrounded by wattle and
mud houses.62 These towns were occupied by a stratified society, including the ruling and
commercial elites who lived in multistory stone houses, with carved doors and external
stone benches to facilitate social interaction in a mercantile society, and a larger class of
commoners who serviced the mercantile economy and lived in huts made of sticks, stones
and clay. People from the immediate hinterland also settled in the Swahili towns to
become new townsmen, but there has also been a continuous seepage of immigrants from
across the ocean who came primarily as traders or sailors; they perennially interacted
and intermarried with the local population and eventually became Swahili.

With increasing prosperity from the expanding trade, Swahili architecture began to
flourish. It was largely dependent on locally available raw materials, including coral
stones, lime, and mangrove poles; the evolution of the building technology and
architecture can be traced on the Swahili coast itself. However, this does not preclude
foreign influences which were absorbed and indigenized and developed further on the
Swahili coast. Horton argues that building with porite coral stones appeared at Shanga
rather suddenly in the 10th century without a preceding period of experimentation. The
same would apply to the uncommon cupolas and vaults, some inlaid with imported plates,
large audience chambers, and a hexagonal swimming pool in the sumptuous Husuni
Kubwa palace, as well as finely worked stone around the mihrabs and stone columns at
the 13th-century Kilwa Friday mosque or the floriated Kufic inscription in the Kizimkazi
mosque.63 However, they were often quickly indigenized and further developed on the
Swahili coast as in the case of the Omani type of houses in Zanzibar in the 19th century.

With increasing commercial prosperity, the trading elite began to exercise considerable
influence in the governance of the city-states, in some cases marrying into the traditional
elites and sometimes even penetrating the government, as in the case of Kilwa and many
other places. Judging from archaeology and early Portuguese accounts, some of these
Swahili city-states were extremely prosperous, with the elite enjoying a high degree of
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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

civilization, and reciting the Epic of Fumo Liongo or composing Swahili poems based on
Arabic meters, such as the powerful 18th-century poem Al-Inkishafi (The Souls’
Awakening) by Sayyid Abdullah b. Ali b. Nasir, a Swahili poet of Hadhrami origin.64

The Swahili civilization was capped by Islam, and it was widely spread along the Swahiili
coast by the 12th century. It had come across the sea, not through military conquest but
through commercial and cultural processes; and it was not the adoption of a whole
system of beliefs, lock, stock, and barrel, but rather a syncretic assimilation of Islam and
local belief systems. Trimingham describes it as a selective fusion of Bantu cultural
features and Islamic influences. Religious life rests on a Bantu underlayer and an Islamic
superstructure. The local spirits (mizimu) were assimilated into the Islamic pantheon of
the spirits. According to Pouwels, the Bantu underpinnings of coastal civilization were
laid during the first millennium when the earliest village-based cultures appeared with
their own traditional or folk religions, as described by Masudi in the 10th century. They
were followed by widespread adoption of Islam during the next couple of centuries, when
mosques began to be built at the sea’s edge, according to Fleisher, as public symbols of
the power and prestige of the city that “solidified the intertwining of Islam and the Indian
Ocean in Swahili life.”65

The Swahili civilization has been the subject of an extended debate over the past half
century as to whether it is primarily an African civilization or an oriental transplant. It
was easy, and necessary in the postindependence period, to demolish the colonial
conception. However, what came in its place was a wide swing of the pendulum to the
other extreme, proclaiming the Swahili civilization to be “purely African.” Inspired by
African nationalist historiography in the immediate postindependence period and
preoccupied with “discovering African initiative,” historians had turned their backs on the
ocean, which was seen as a source of distortion. They refused to look at the other side of
the Swahili coin. As Pouwels correctly puts it, Swahili culture is “the result of a rough
(though swinging) equilibrium which has been maintained between both cultural
extremes.”66

The Swahili were deeply enmeshed in economic, social, and sometimes even political
inter-relations with lands across the ocean as much as with their hinterland. With the
intensification of trade in the Indian Ocean, they had emerged as the vital commercial
and cultural brokers between the African interior and the lands beyond the horizon. Such
perennial commercial as well as social and cultural intercourse between the Swahili and
their partners on both sides has been the essence of the Swahili civilization. They
produced a rainbow population not so much racially as culturally. A recent genetic study
of the population of Zanzibar showed that while 35% of the people had inherited genes
from their fathers from across the Indian Ocean, 98% of them had also inherited genes
from their African mothers.67 Some of them settled down and were absorbed, naturally
adopting their mother’s tongue and much of the local culture, thus becoming Swahili. In
the process, they also imparted to the host community elements of their own cultural
heritage in language, literature, and belief systems. It is therefore a distortion to see such
littoral societies as purely land-based. Despite all the ethnic, social, and cultural

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differences that are apparent in such a maritime and mercantile society, they make sense
only in their combination rather than in their disaggregation. It would require the wisdom
of Solomon to separate the conjoined twins.

Discussion of the Literature


After more than half a century following the end of colonialism in Africa, the old debate
between colonial and nationalist histories should have been laid to rest and allow all the
new resources that came with the new African history, including archaeology, linguistics,
as well as literary sources, to bring a broader understanding of such littoral societies as
the Swahili. In the initial flush of the new African history, there was considerable
excitement about using various disciplines to get a fuller understanding of African
societies, partly because of the paucity of written sources. Interdisciplinary work is
undoubtedly difficult because of the different methods and paradigms specific to these
disciplines, but it is precisely when they are reconciled that a fuller view of the
development of these societies emerges.

The linguist Derek Nurse and the historian Tom Spear joined hands in The Swahili:
Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800–1500, published in
1985 and updated by Spear’s “Early History Reconsidered” in 2000. This work was
followed by the archaeologist Chapurukha M. Kusimba’s The Rise and Fall of Swahili
States in 1999, which offered a very readable interpretation of the Swahili city-states. In
the meantime, the anthropologist John Middleton had compiled a comprehensive
sociological study of The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilisation in 1992,
and he was joined by the intrepid archaeologist Mark Horton to put together The Swahili:
The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society in 2000, summarizing also the numerous
works of the doyen of East African coastal archaeologist Neville Chittick and all the
others. Between them these four books laid a sound base for the new interpretation of the
history of the Swahili.68

Nevertheless, there is a tendency for the nationalist/ethnic arguments to creep in,


thereby inhibiting the full fruition of the new approach. The emphasis in the titles of two
of them and in all their texts, specifically referring to an “African” society, seem to labor
under the need to prove that the Swahili were Africans without explaining the universal
characteristics of all Africans across this vast continent; and more importantly, the
specific characteristics of this littoral society at the confluence of Africa and the Indian
Ocean. With some authors like James de Vere Allen’s Swahili Origins published in 1993,
and the archaeologist Felix Chami, any reference to the so-called external influences,
including the Cushites, are dismissed as Hamitic resurrections, or mere “inventions,”
such as the Shirazi tradition.69

Without doubt, written sources for the Swahili coast are very limited, and apart from the
Periplus, most of them before the coming of the Portuguese are in Arabic, with some in
Persian and Chinese. These works are mostly short extracts scattered in a large number
of books and manuscripts, and many historians and others have been satisfied with
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Freeman-Grenville’s very convenient handbook, The East African Coast, published in


1962. However, it has now been repeatedly pointed out that neither is it exhaustive nor is
the English translation always accurate. There is another two-volume compendium of
Arabic sources for Africa as a whole by Matveev and Kubbel, which covers the period
from the 7th to the 13th century, which has the merit of reproducing the original Arabic
extracts but in Russian translation.70 It is therefore high time that a new edition of the
handbook for the East African coast be brought out that contains the original Arabic,
Persian, Chinese, and so on, as well as a more authoritative English translation by
competent scholars.

Archaeology, in particular, is continuing to expand its horizons beyond the port cities to
rural towns, which will broaden and deepen our understanding of the Swahili. Articles by
archaeologists working on Pemba have begun to whet our appetite, and the forthcoming
compilation by Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Adria LaViolette on the Swahili World will be
comprehensive. At the same time, Jonathan Walz has begun to survey interlinkages
between the coast and the interior along the Pangani corridor, which deepens our
understanding of this dimension of the Swahili culture.71 In the meantime, some scholars
have begun to examine such subjects as slavery before the 19th century on which only
the initial seminars have begun to be held at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in
Nairobi (BIEA Podcassts online bieaseminars@biea.ac.uk). However, some archaeologists
tend to feel that their discipline is sufficient to explain the material culture of societies, as
well as extrapolate the social and cultural aspects of these societies, sometimes without
reference to written sources.

Islam became one of the defining characteristics of the Swahili society, and trade, rather
than conquest, was apparently its major carrier. It may have reached the coast within a
century of the rise of that religion in Mecca, and by the 12th century it may have become
the prevailing faith on the coast in which both the minority Shia and Ibadhi sects as well
as the orthodox Sunni schools had a role. Randall Pouwels’s Horn and Crescent traces the
consequent cultural change, and J. Spencer Trimingham in Islam in East Africa theorizes
on the nature of Islam’s interaction with Bantu religious beliefs, although evidence for
this comes from the more recent period.72

The recent spurt in studies on the Indian Ocean inspired by Fernand Braudel’s The
Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World and pioneered in the Indian Ocean by K. N.
Chaudhuri in Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean have led to attempts to place the
development of the Swahili in the context of the transoceanic connection. However,
Chaudhuri himself was apparently dissuaded from doing so by the introvert Africanist
tendencies then prevailing at SOAS in the 1960s, which led him to assert that African
history appears to have been governed by a logic that was different from that of other
civilizations around the Indian Ocean. On the contrary, Abdul Sheriff in his Dhow Cultures
of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam shows that Africa has always
been part of world history and that the Swahili did not react differently from other littoral

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

societies around the Indian Ocean when they were integrated into what Chittick had
described as “the largest cultural continuum in the world.”73

Primary Sources
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The East African Coast. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

Matveiev, V. V., and Leonid E. Kubbel. [Ancient Medieval Sources of Ethnography and
History of Africa South of the Sahara]. 2 vols. Leningrad: 1960–1965. (Arabic sources
with Russian Introduction and translation.)

Links to Digital Materials


Yaqut al-Hamawi.

Ibn Sa'id al-Maghribi.

Sassanid Empire.

Ibn al-Mujawir.

Lemba people.

Further Reading
Chittick, H. Neville, & Robert I. Rotberg, eds. East Africa and the Orient. New York:
Africana, 1975.

Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika. London:


Oxford University Press, 1962.

Horton, Mark, and John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile
Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

Kusimba, Chapurukha M. The Rise and Fall of Swahili States. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira,
1999.

LaViolette, Adria, and Jeffrey Fleisher. “The Urban History of a Rural Place: Swahili
Archaeology on Pemba Island, Tanzania, 700–1500.” International Journal of African
Historical Studies (IJAHS) 42.3 (2009): 433–455.

Lodhi, Abdulaziz. Oriental Influences in Swahili: A Study in language and Culture Change.
Goteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2000.

Mathew, Gervase. “The East African Coast until the Coming of the Portuguese.” In History
of East Africa, 94–128. Edited by Oliver Roland and Mathew Gervase. History of East
Africa. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

Middleton, John. The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992:

Nurse, Derek, and Thomas Spear. The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language
of an African Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Pouwels, Randall L. Horn and Crescent. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press,
1987.

“The East African Coast, c. 780–1900 CE.” In The History of Islam in Africa. Edited by
Nehemiah Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, 251–272. Athens: Ohio State University
Press, 2000.

Sheriff, Abdul. Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and
Islam. London: Hurst, 2010.

Sheriff, Abdul. “The Historicity of the Shirazi Tradition along the East African Coast.” In
Historical Roles of Iranians (Shirazis) in the East African Coast. Embassy of Iran, 21–41.
Nairobi: Cultural Council, 2001.

Sutton, John. Kilwa: A History of the Ancient Swahili Town. Nairobi: BIEA, 2000.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. Islam in East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. “The Arab Geographers and the East African Coast.” In East
Africa and the Orient, Edited by H. Neville Chittick and Robert I. Rotberg. New York:
Africana, 1975.

Verin, Jean-Pierre The History of Civilization in North Madagascar. Rotterdam, The


Netherlands: Balkema, 1986.

Notes:

(1.) Ferdinand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of
Philip II (New York: Harper, 1972), Vol. I.276.

(2.) Chapurukha M. Kusimba, The Rise and Fall of Swahili States (Walnut Creek, CA:
AltaMira, 1999), 71.

(3.) William Thomas Wilson Morgan, East Africa (London: Longman, 1973), 46, 50, 54,
163.

(4.) William Kirk, “The N. E. Monsoon and Some Aspects of African History,” Journal of
African History (hereafter JAH) 4 (1962): 264–265; and Kusimba, Swahili States, 29.

(5.) Derek Nurse, “The Contributions of Linguistics to the Study of African History, JAH
38.3 (1997): 372–373; Mark Horton, “The Periplus and East Africa,” Azania 25 (1990): 96;

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

and Horton, “Early Maritime Trade and Settlements along the Coasts of Eastern Africa,”
in The Indian Ocean in Antiquity, ed. J. Reade (London: Kegan Paul, 1996), 454.

(6.) Derek Nurse and Thomas Spear, The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and
Language of an African Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 46,
107–110; Felix A. Chami, The Tanzanian Coast in the First Millennium A.D. (Uppsala,
Sweden: University of Uppsala, 1994); Thomas Spear, “Swahili History and Society to
1900: A Classified Bibliography,” History in Africa 27 (2000): 270; and Kusimba, Swahili
States, 109.

(7.) Lionel Casson, The Periplus Maris Erythraei (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1989), 61, 253n.

(8.) Jeffrey Fleisher et al., “When Did the Swahili Become Maritime?” American
Anthropologist 3 (2015): 100–115.

(9.) Casson, Periplus; G. Mathew, “The East African Coast until the Coming of the
Portuguese,” in History of East Africa, eds. R. Oliver and G. Mathew (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1963), Vol. I, 96; A. Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism,
Commerce and Islam (London: Hurst, 2010), 280–287; Felix A. Chami, “Roman Beads
from the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania,” Current Anthropology 40.2 (1999): 210; and Abdurhaman
Juma, “The Swahili and the Mediterranean worlds,” Antiquity 70.267 (1996): 148–154.

(10.) Nurse and Spear, Swahili, 50; Spear, “Swahili History,” 260, 264–269; J. E. G. Sutton,
“East Africa: Interior and Coast,” Azania 29–30 (1994–1995): 227–231; and Mark Horton,
“Early Maritime Trade and Settlements along the Coasts of Eastern Africa,” in The Indian
Ocean in Antiquity, ed. J. Reade (London: Kegan Paul, 1996), 444.

(11.) V. V. Matveiev, “The Development of the Swahili Civilization,” in Unesco General


History of Africa, Vol. IV, ed. D. T. Niane (London: Heinemann, 1984): 455–480; and
Horton, “Early Maritime Trade,” 446; and L. M. Devic, The Book of the Marvels of India
(London: George Routledge, 1928.

(12.) Adria LaViolette and Jeffrey Fleisher, “The Urban History of a Rural Place: Swahili
Archaeology on Pemba Island, Tanzania, 700–1500,” International Journal of African
Historical Studies (hereafter IJAHS) 42.3 (2009): 433–455; and Jeffrey Fleisher, “Swahili
Synoecism: Rural Settlements and Town Formation on the Central East African Coast, AD
750–1500,” Journal of Field Archaeology 35.3 (2010): 265–282.

(13.) Neville Chittick, Kilwa (Nairobi: BIEA, 1974), Vol. I.237–238; Kusimba, Swahili
States, 36, 38, 130; John Sutton, Kilwa: A History of the Ancient Swahili Town (Nairobi:
BIEA, 2000), 11, 23–24; D. Barbosa, The Book of Duarte Barbosa (London: Hakluyt
Society, 1918) Vol. I.7–9; G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast (Oxford:
Clarendon Press. 1962), 15–17, 19–20, 24; Matveiev, “Swahili Civilization,” 463; and
Fidelis T. Masao and Henry W. Mutoro, “East African Coast and the Comoro Islands,” in

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

General History of Africa, III, eds. M. Elfasi and Ivan Hrbek (London: Heinemann, 1988),
608–611.

(14.) Jonathan R. Walz, “Route to a Regional Past: An Archaeology of the Lower Pangani
(Ruvu) basin, Tanzania, 500–1900 CE,” PhD, University of Florida, 2010, 331; Matveiev,
“Swahili Civilization,” 466. Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast, 19–20. John Sutton, A
Thousand Years of East Africa (Nairobi: BIEA, 1990), 81; G. Abungu and H. Mutoro,
“Coast-Interior Settlements and Social Relations in the Kenya Coastal Hinterland,” in The
Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Town, eds. Thurstan Shaw et al. (London:
Routledge, 1993), 703; and Joao dos Santos, Ethiopia Oriental (Lisbon, 1609), English
trans., New ed. (Delhi: Asian Ed. Services, 1995).

(15.) Nurse and Spear, Swahili, 21, 50.

(16.) Abdurahman Juma, Unguja Ukuu on Zanzibar: An Archaeological Study of Early


Urbanism, (Uppsala: Uppsala University, 2004); Neville Chittick, “Unguja Ukuu: The
earliest imported pottery, and an Abbasid Dinar”. Azania, I. (1966): 161–163; Mark Horton
and Catherine Clark, The Zanzibar Archaeological Survey, 1984–5 (Zanzibar: Ministry of
Information, Culture and Sports, 1985), 11–12. The map is reproduced in Sheriff, Dhow
Culture, 14. It identifies Qanbalu and Islands of the Zanj, which included Unjuwah
(Unguja), Manfia (Mafia), and Kilwalah (Kilwa).

(17.) Juma, “Swahili and the Mediterranean”; and Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast,
15.

(18.) Abul Qasim Istakhri, Masalik wa Mamalik, in Bibliotheca Geo-graphorum


Arabicorum, ed. M. J. Goeje (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1870), Vol. I.127–128; and
Arnold T. Wilson, The Persian Gulf (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1928), 94.

(19.) Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast, 9–13, 19; G. H. Talhami, “The Zanj Rebellion
Reconsidered,” IJAHS 10 (1977): 448, is puzzled by Masudi’s silence regarding the slave
trade from the Swahili coast, but it is mentioned by others. Al-Jahiz, The Book of the Glory
of the Black Race, trans. Vincent J. Cornell (Los Angeles: Preston, 1985).

(20.) S. Flury, “The Kufic Inscriptions of the Kizimkazi Mosque,” Journal of the Royal
Asiatic Society (hereafter JRAS) (1922): 257–264; John Gray, History of Zanzibar (London:
Oxford University Press, 1962), 16; Francis B. Pearce, Zanzibar (London: Cass, 1920
[1967]) 47, 249; and Mark Horton and John Middleton, The Swahili: The Social Landscape
of a Mercantile Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 8, 61.

(21.) Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast, 14–17; Flury, “Kufic Inscriptions.” He had
amended the word Mfahamu to read Musa bin, but Masudi had already mentioned it in
the tenth century. James S. Kirkman, “Excavations at Ras Mkumbuu,” Tanganyika Notes
and Records 53 (1959): 161–178; and Horton and Clark, Zanzibar Archaeological Survey,
29–30.

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

(22.) Said Hamdun and Noel King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (London: Rex, 1971), 18–19;
and Barbosa, Book of Duarte Barbosa, Vol. I.21.

(23.) Neville Chittick, Manda (Nairobi: BIEA, 1984), 83, 225; Mark Horton, Shanga
(London: BIEA, 1996), 394–406; Horton, “Asiatic Colonization of the East African Coast:
The Manda evidence,” JRAS (1986), pt. 2, 204; Horton, “Siraf and East Africa,”
Proceedings of the International Congress of Siraf Port (Bushehr, 2005), 84; and Mark
Horton, H. M. Brown, and W. A. Oddy, “The Mtambwe Hoard,” Azania 21 (1986): 115–123.

(24.) Chau Ju-kua, Chu-fan-chi, trans. Friedrich Hirth and W. W. Rockhill (New York:
Paragon Book [1911] Reprint, 1966), 128–130.

(25.) Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, trans. Hamiliton Gibb (Cambridge, U.K.:
Hakluyt Society, 1958–1994), Vol. II.374–378.

(26.) Ma Huan, Ying-yai sheng-lan, The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores [1433], tr.
John V.G. Mills, Hakluyt Society, Cambridge (1970). Barbosa, Book of Duarte Barbosa, Vol.
I.31; and Tome Pires, The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires, trans. Armando Cortesao
(Liechtenstein: Hakluyt Society, Kraus Reprint, 1967), 46.

(27.) Chittick, Kilwa, Vol. I.235; and H. Neville Chittick and Robert I. Rotberg, eds., East
Africa and the Orient (New York: Africana, 1975), 205.

(28.) James de V. Allen, “The ‘Shirazi’ Problem in East African Coastal history,” Paideuma
28 (1982): 9–28; Kusimba, Swahili States, 26; Randall L. Pouwels, “Oral Historiography
and the Shirazi of the East African Coast”; and Thomas Spear, “The Shirazi in Swahili
Traditions, Culture, and History,” History in Africa 11 (1984): 237–267, 291–305.

(29.) G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika


(London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 32, 45–46, 75; Freeman-Grenville, The French at
Kilwa Island (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965): 29, 42, 95n, 164, 182. French slave trader
Morice signed a treaty with the Shirazi Sultan of Kilwa in 1777, who told him that they
had come “963 years ago counting from the Hijra,” which would take us back to c. 814 ce
For other coastal chronicles and references to the Shirazi, see Freeman-Grenville, East
African Coast, 213–299; Sheriff, Dhow Cultures, 163–166; Sheriff, “The Historicity of the
Shirazi Tradition along the East African Coast,” in Cultural Council of the Embassy of
Iran, Historical Roles of Iranians (Shirazis) in the East African Coast (Nairobi: Cultural
Council, 2001), 21–41. See also A. H. J. Prins, The Swahili-Speaking Peoples of Zanzibar
and the east African Coast (London: IAI, 1961), 13–14, 41–42, 94–95; H. Neville Chittick,
“The ‘Shirazi’ Colonization of East Africa.” JAH 6 (1965): 288; and Chittick, “The Peopling
of the East African Coast,” in East Africa and the Orient, eds. Chittick and Rotberg, 36–
37.

(30.) Arthur Strong, “The History of Kilwa,” JRAS (1895): 414; Said Akhtar Rizvi. “A Note
on Shi’a Connection with the Early History of East Africa,” in Ibn Battuta in Black Africa,
eds. Said Hamdun and Noel King (London: Rex Collins, 1975): 84–89; and J. C. Wilkinson,

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The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

“Oman and East Africa: New Light on Early Kilwan History from the Omani Sources,”
IJAHS 14.2 (1981): 272–305.

(31.) Cosmas Indicopleustes, The Christian Topography of Cosmas an Egyptian Monk,


trans. J. W. McCrindle (London: Hakluyt, 1897); Procopius, History of the Wars, trans. H.
B. Dewing, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), Vol.
I.193; and Sassanid Empire—New World Encyclopedia.

(32.) Horton, Brown, and Oddy, “Mtambwe Hoard,” 118–121; Horton and Middleton,
Swahili, 57. Chittick, “Shirazi,” 293; Chittick, Kilwa, 269. Sutton, Kilwa, 23; and S.
Pradines, “L’ile de Sanje ya Kati (Kilwa, Tanzania): un mythe Shirazi bien reel,” Azania 41
(2009): 1.

(33.) Wilkinson, “Oman,” IJAHS 14.2 (1981): 272–305; and Freeman Grenville, Medieval
History, 31–32; and R. T. Duarte, Northern Mozambique in the Swahili World (Uppsala,
Sweden: Uppsala University, 1993), 49–50.

(34.) Fleisher, “When Did the Swahili?”

(35.) Kusimba, Swahili States, 38.

(36.) Hamdun and King, Ibn Battuta, 19–21.

(37.) Justus Strandes, The Portuguese Period in East Africa (Nairobi: East African
Literature Bureau, 1961), 88; Hamdun and King, Ibn Battuta, 19–21; and Sutton, Kilwa,
13.

(38.) Barbosa, Book of Duarte Barbosa, Vol. I.7–9, 12, 16.

(39.) J.-P. Verin, The History of Civilisation in Northern Madagascar (Rotterdam, The
Netherlands: Balkema, 1986), 1, 3–4, 47, 53.

(40.) Aidan Southall, “The Problem of Malagasy Origins,” in East Africa and the Orient,
eds. Chittick and Rotberg, 201, 206.

(41.) Verin, Northern Madagascar, 166, 396–400.

(42.) Mervyn Brown, Madagascar Rediscovered (London: Tunnacliffe, 1978), 20; and
Verin, Northern Madagascar, 73, 153, 155.

(43.) Verin, Northern Madagascar, 53, 73, 147, 153, 155, 163, 167.

(44.) Brown, Madagascar, 23; and Verin, Northern Madagascar, 90–91, 93, 387–396, 401–
402.

(45.) Verin, Northern Madagascar, 53, 147, 163, 167.

(46.) Verin, Northern Madagascar, 72.

(47.) mujawir—GEOCITIES.ws.
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date: 26 March 2019


The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

(48.) Kjersti Larsen, Where Humans and Spirits Meet: The Politics of Rituals and
Identified Spirits in Zanzibar (New York: Berghahn, 2008).

(49.) Chau Ju-kua, Chu-fan-chi, 129n.

(50.) Matveiev, “Swahili Civilization,” 466; Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast, 19–20,
23; Sutton, Thousand Years, 81; Abungu and Mutoro, “Coast-interior,” 703; and Santos,
Ethiopia.

(51.) Strandes, Portuguese Period, 95.

(52.) Horton, “Early Maritime Trade,” 444; Sutton, Thousand Years, 81; and Abungu and
Mutoro, “Coast-interior,” 703.

(53.) Walz, “Pangan,” 22–23, 29, 314, 323–331.

(54.) Hamdun and King, Ibn Battuta, 19.

(55.) Brian M. Fagan, “The Zambezi and Limpopo basins: 1100–1500,” and J. Devisse and
S. Labib, “Africa in Intercontinental Relations,” in Niane, History of Africa, IV: 533–534,
543–544; and Duarte, Northern Mozambique, 42–45.

(56.) J. Mutero Chirenje, “Portuguese Priests and Soldiers in Zambabwe, 1560–1572,”


IJAHS 6.1 (1973): 37; and Freeman-Grenville, East African Coast, 120–124.

(57.) Barbosa, Book, Vol. I.11–12.

(58.) David Chanaiwa, “Politics and Long-Distance Trade in the Mwene Mutapa Empire
during the Sixteenth Century,” IJAHS (1972): 433; Chirenje, “Portuguese Priests,” 37, 48;
Fagan, “Zambezi,” 542; and Beech quoted in E. A. Alpers, “East Central Africa,” in
Nehemiah Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, eds., The History of Islam in Africa (Oxford:
Currey, 2000), 304–305.

(59.) Lemba people—encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-alman.

(60.) Alamin M. Mazrui and Ibrahim Noor Shariff, The Swahili: Idiom and Identity of an
African People (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1994); and Thomas J. Hinnebusch, “What
Kind of Language Is Swahili?,” Swahili Forum AAP [Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere] 47
(1996): 73–95.

(61.) Abdulaziz Lodhi, Oriental Influences in Swahili: A Study in Language and Culture
Change (Goteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Dothoburgensis, 2000), 93.

(62.) John Middleton, The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 54.

(63.) Matveiev, “Swahili Civilization,” 469–472.

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date: 26 March 2019


The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500

(64.) Matveiev, “Swahili Civilization,” 453, 457, 468, 472; and Abdallah b. Ali b. Nasir, Al-
Inkishafi (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1977).

(65.) J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in East Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964):
67–68; and Fleisher et al., “When Did the Swahili?”

(66.) Terence Ranger, The Recovery of African Initiative in Tanzanian History (Dar es
Salaam: University College. 1969); and Randall L. Pouwels, Horn and Crescent
(Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987), ix.

(67.) Personal communication, Dr. Himla Soodyall, Director, Human Genomic Diversity
and Disease Research Unit, National Health Laboratory Service and University of the
Witwatersrand, to Abdul Sheriff, December 4, 2008. Available online.

(68.) Derek Nurse and Thomas Spear, The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and
Language of an African Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985);
Thomas Spear, “Early Swahili History Reconsidered,” IJAHS 33.2 (2000): 257–290; and
Kusimba, Rise and Fall of Swahili States; Middleton, The World of the Swahili; and Horton
and Middleton, The Swahili.

(69.) James de Vere Allen, Swahili Origins (London: James Currey, 1993).

(70.) G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The East African Coast (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962);
and V. V. Matveiev and Leonid E. Kubbel, Ancient Medieval Sources of Ethnography and
History of Africa South of the Sahara, 2 vols. (Leningrad: 1950–1965).

(71.) Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Adria LaViolette, Swahili World, London: Routledge,
forthcoming 2018. Available online.

(72.) Pouwels, Horn and Crescent; and Trimingham, Islam in East Africa.

(73.) Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World; Kirti N. Chaudhuri,
Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean (Cambridge, 1985); Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of
the Indian Ocean; and Neville Chittick, “East Africa and the Orient: ports and trade
before the arrival of the Portuguese” in Unesco, Histoical Relations Across the Indian
Ocean (Paris: Unesco, 1980), 13.

Abdul Sheriff

Department of History, University of Dar es Salaam

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date: 26 March 2019

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