Abstract: Spaces of Power, Purity, and Protection: A History of Swahili Urban Settlements


The remains of dozens of Swahili city-states now dot the east African coast, from Somalia to Mozambique.  Their coral-built ruins of mosques, palaces and tombs are reminders of the once flourishing mercantile society that controlled the southwestern corner of the Indian Ocean trade system during the first half of the second millennium AD.  Based on the movement of goods, merchants, and ideas these cities developed unique town plans to manage cosmopolitan populations while maintaining relatively strict notions of purity and privacy.  This lecture will discuss the development of Swahili urban planning from the 8th to 16th centuries, focusing on the social relations of privacy and purity that governed houses, as well as the religious practices that were focused on the mosque.  Recent research at the site of Songo Mnara in southern Tanzania—a World Heritage Site—will be featured.             


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Horton, Mark. The Swahili Corridor.  Scientific American 255(9)86-93.

LaViolette, Adria. 2008. Swahili Cosmopolitanism in Africa and the Indian Ocean World, A.D. 600-1500. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 4(1): 24-49.

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