Outposts

January 28 2015

Europeans up to circa 1950 would have said that the only parts of the Old World south of the equator touched by civilisation before their arrival were Java and Bali. A few Arab settlements on the Swahili coast didn’t count.

6 Responses to “Outposts”

  1. Arkady Says:

    I’d argue that the Kilwa Sultanate was more than just ‘a few Arab settlements on the Swahili coast’.

    • davidderrick Says:

      Yes, but did Europeans of the early twentieth century regard it as having been part of the civilised world? I suspect they had hardly heard of it and wouldn’t have thought of it in this context. But you are right – Kilwa should have joined Java and Bali. It was within the orbit of a higher religion, for one thing. I have slightly reworded the post.

  2. Arkady Says:

    As I recall, most of the academic work on the Kilwa Sultanate and medieval Swahili culture began under the British protectorate (1890) with people like Strong, through to Walker in the 1930s. So among academics, yes probably.

    Also, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea was certainly known about in this period, and that describes Greek exploration c.60AD down the coast at least as far as modern Tanzania and arguably Quelimane (There is also evidence of Roman trading goods on Mafia island, but that is from more recent excavations).

    I think that the term ‘Arab settlements’ is questionable. Modern scholarship regards the proto-Swahili culture as Bantu with disparate influences from Arabia, Persia, and India. Recall that when de Gama arrived, he initially mistook the local Hindu traders for Christians, and was as disappointed to discover the truth as he was to realise that the East African coast was largely Islamised (rather than Christianised, as the Prestor John legend had led him to hope).

    The ‘Arab/Persian settlements’ concepts is rather dated, rooted in the idea that the Swahili couldn’t really be Africans, because they were civilised, so must be settlers. the reality was that there was certainly a foreign genetic and cultural admixture (like anywhere else), but in many ways they weren’t so different to the people of the immediate interior.

  3. Arkady Says:

    Yes, in London. Studied the East African Coast at Durham under Justin Willis, and kept an interest since.

    I adore your blog, and am rather honoured to have exchanged with you here!


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