The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500
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.
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 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 developed into a series of city-states when there were major upturns in international trade from the 1st century toward the 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 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 materials for the coastal population. The central portion of the coast enjoys 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.
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
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 (bundle or bale) come. Foreign traders exchanged 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,” 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 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 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 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 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, with the king and his ministers living in brick houses and wearing 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
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 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 Ibadhi missionary activities in Kilwa at the 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 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
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 Kubwa was abandoned; 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, and some of them tawny; some of them speak Arabic, but the more part 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
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 ‘Muslims who were more civilized and wealthier than those living at other points along the coast, 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 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
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 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
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
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 country towns, although a stone town is a misnomer because there were no 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 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 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 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 email@example.com). 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 societies around the Indian Ocean when they were integrated into what Chittick had described as “the largest cultural continuum in the world.”73
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The East African Coast. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.Find this resource:
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.)Find this resource:
Chittick, H. Neville, & Robert I. Rotberg, eds. East Africa and the Orient. New York: Africana, 1975.Find this resource:
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.Find this resource:
Horton, Mark, and John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.Find this resource:
Kusimba, Chapurukha M. The Rise and Fall of Swahili States. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 1999.Find this resource:
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.Find this resource:
Lodhi, Abdulaziz. Oriental Influences in Swahili: A Study in language and Culture Change. Goteborg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2000.Find this resource:
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.Find this resource:
Middleton, John. The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992:Find this resource:
Nurse, Derek, and Thomas Spear. The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.Find this resource:
Pouwels, Randall L. Horn and Crescent. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.Find this resource:
“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.Find this resource:
Sheriff, Abdul. Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam. London: Hurst, 2010.Find this resource:
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.Find this resource:
Sutton, John. Kilwa: A History of the Ancient Swahili Town. Nairobi: BIEA, 2000.Find this resource:
Trimingham, J. Spencer. Islam in East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.Find this resource:
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.Find this resource:
Verin, Jean-Pierre The History of Civilization in North Madagascar. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Balkema, 1986.Find this resource:
(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; 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 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 ) 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.
(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  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 , 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, “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.
(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.
(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).
(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.