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date: 29 June 2022

The Swahili Civilization in Eastern Africalocked

The Swahili Civilization in Eastern Africalocked

  • Elgidius B. IchumbakiElgidius B. IchumbakiUniversity of Dar es Salaam
  •  and Edward PollardEdward PollardDiscovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland


The urbanization and globalization being experienced in Africa in this early 21st century have deep foundations in the continent’s history. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, theories on the origin of urbanization have developed through the 20th century from an external origin emphasis. There was little recognition of the greater part played by the local people. The producers of these cultures engaged in activities shaped by the environment and sociocultural, political, and economic connections. For instance, in Eastern Africa, Iron Age people became united by language and religion, and exploited the coast and sea during the medieval period (from the end of the early Iron Age c. 500 ce to the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th and to the early 16th century). Iron Age people traded with inland Africa, East and Southern Asia, and Europe, producing what has become popularly known as the “Swahili civilization.” This civilization along the coast of Eastern Africa is marked by material culture of iron working, cloth production, pottery, beads, and glass as well as monumental constructions that range from stone-built mosques, tombs, and palaces. A maritime trade assisted by seasonally reversing monsoon winds exported gold, slaves, animal skins, ivory, and mangrove poles from Eastern Africa and imported beads, porcelain, and silks. The evidence that marks the Swahili civilization is spread over an area that extends along the coast of Eastern Africa about 3,000 km from Mogadishu (Somalia) in the north to Inhambane (Mozambique) in the south. The Swahili civilization locale also includes the islands of Unguja (Zanzibar), Pemba, Mafia, Comoros, and northern Madagascar. Some remnants marking the Swahili civilization include UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Lamu Old Town, Zanzibar Stone Town, Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, and Ilha de Mozambique. The civilization continues in this early 21st century with its oral traditions and maritime technology that are testimony of coastal Swahili culture continuing through Eastern Africa’s social and economic challenges.


  • Archaeology

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