The Swahili World  book cover
1st Edition

The Swahili World

ISBN 9780367660000
Published September 30, 2020 by Routledge
702 Pages

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Book Description

The Swahili World presents the fascinating story of a major world civilization, exploring the archaeology, history, linguistics, and anthropology of the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. It covers a 1,500-year sweep of history, from the first settlement of the coast to the complex urban tradition found there today. Swahili towns contain monumental palaces, tombs, and mosques, set among more humble houses; they were home to fishers, farmers, traders, and specialists of many kinds. The towns have been Muslim since perhaps the eighth century CE, participating in international networks connecting people around the Indian Ocean rim and beyond. Successive colonial regimes have helped shape modern Swahili society, which has incorporated such influences into the region’s long-standing cosmopolitan tradition.

This is the first volume to explore the Swahili in chronological perspective. Each chapter offers a unique wealth of detail on an aspect of the region’s past, written by the leading scholars on the subject. The result is a book that allows both specialist and non-specialist readers to explore the diversity of the Swahili tradition, how Swahili society has changed over time, as well as how our understandings of the region have shifted since Swahili studies first began.

Scholars of the African continent will find the most nuanced and detailed consideration of Swahili culture, language and history ever produced. For readers unfamiliar with the region or the people involved, the chapters here provide an ideal introduction to a new and wonderful geography, at the interface of Africa and the Indian Ocean world, and among a people whose culture remains one of Africa’s most distinctive achievements.

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables



Note on Terminology


1. The Swahili world

Section I: Environment, background, and Swahili historiography

2. The eastern African coastal landscape

3. Resources of the ocean fringe and the archaeology of the medieval Swahili

4. The eastern African coast: researching its history and archaeology

5. Defining the Swahili

6. Decoding Swahili genetic ancestry

7. Early connections

8. The Swahili language and its early history

9. Swahili origins

10. Swahili oral traditions and chronicles

11. Manda

12. Tumbe, Kimimba and Bandari Kuu

13. Unguja Ukuu

14. Chibuene

15. Urbanism

16. Town and village

17. Mambrui and Malindi

18. Shanga

19. Gede

20. Mtwapa

21. Pemba

22. Zanzibar

23. Mafia

24. Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara

25. Mikindani and the southern coast

26. The Comoros and their early history

27. The Comoros 1000 - 1350 CE

28. Mahilaka

29. The social composition of Swahili society

30. Metalworking on Swahili sites

31. Craft and industry

32. Animals in the Swahili world

33. Plant use and the creation of anthropogenic landscapes: coastal forestry and farming

34. The progressive integration of eastern Africa into an Afro-Eurasian world-system, first-fifteenth centuries CE

35. Eastern Africa and the dhow trade

36. Early inland entanglement in the Swahili world, c. 750-1550 CE

37. Mosaics and interconnectivity

38. Links with India

39.Links with China

40. Currencies of the Swahili world

41. Glass beads and Indian Ocean trade

42. Quantitative evidence for early long-distance exchange in eastern Africa: the consumption volume of ceramic imports

43. Islamic architecture of the Swahili coast

44. Swahili houses

45. Navigating the early modern world: Swahili polities and the continental-oceanic interface

46. Zanzibar old town

47. The Kilwa – Nyasa caravan route: the long-neglected trading corridor in southern Tanzania

48. Islam in the Swahili world: Connected authorities

49. The legacy of slavery on the Swahili coast

50. Life in Swahili villages

51. The modern life of Swahili stonetowns

52. Identity and belonging on the contemporary Swahili coast: the case of Lamu

53. Pate

54. Mombasa

55. The Swahili house: a historical ethnography of modernity

56. The future of Swahili monuments

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Adria LaViolette is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Virginia. Her interest in the Swahili coast began in 1987 while teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Since then she has conducted archaeological research on the Tanzanian mainland coast and on Pemba and Zanzibar islands. She has been Editor-in-Chief of African Archaeological Review since 2009.

Stephanie Wynne-Jones is currently Pro Futura Scientia Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, affiliated with Uppsala University. She has been Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of York since 2011 and is a core group member of the Centre for Network Evolutions at Aarhus University (DNRF119). She has conducted archaeological research on the Swahili coast since 2000, in Kenya, Tanzania, and on the Zanzibar archipelago.


“This edited volume provides a compilation of research carried out on the Swahili coast and its archaeological sites”
Stéphane Pradines, Aga Khan Centre, UK, Antiquity Publications


"This book is a great resource for those working along the Swahili coast and interior areas with similar archaeological deposits. Indeed, I finished reading the book with a better understanding of the history, archaeology, linguistics, and anthropology of the Swahili coast. From these perspectives, the authors have explored the Swahili coast’s history from what they consider to be the earliest settlements to the remains of complex monumental structures found there today. This unique wealth of the detail on past of the Swahili coast is the true strength of the book that Wynne-jones and LaViolette produced for us."

Elgidius B. Ichumbaki, African Archeological Review