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.

part I|116 pages

Environment, background and Swahili historiography

part |52 pages

Studying the Swahili world

chapter 4|14 pages

The East African Coast

Researching its history and archaeology

chapter 5|14 pages

Defining the Swahili

part |28 pages

Contextualising the Swahili

part II|382 pages

The Swahili age

part |49 pages

Origins and early emporia

chapter 9|12 pages

Swahili origins

chapter 12|6 pages

Tumbe, Kimimba and Bandarikuu

chapter 13|6 pages

Unguja Ukuu

chapter 14|7 pages


part |108 pages

Swahili urbanism

chapter 15|9 pages


chapter 16|11 pages

Town and Village

chapter 17|9 pages

Mambrui and Malindi

chapter 18|6 pages


chapter 19|6 pages


chapter 21|8 pages

Pemba Island, c. 1000–1500 ce

chapter 22|6 pages


chapter 27|8 pages

The Comoros 1000–1350 ce

chapter 28|6 pages


part |81 pages

Trade and connectivity

part |40 pages

Objects of exchange

chapter 40|11 pages

Currencies of the Swahili world

chapter 41|14 pages

Glass beads and Indian Ocean trade

chapter 42|13 pages

Quantitative evidencefor early long-distance exchange in eastern Africa

The consumption volume of ceramic imports

part |28 pages

Swahili architecture

chapter 44|13 pages

Swahili houses

part III|138 pages

The early modern and modern Swahili coast

part |96 pages

The contemporary coast

chapter 48|9 pages

Islam in the Swahili world

Connected authorities

chapter 50|12 pages

Life in Swahili villages

chapter 52|12 pages

Identity and belonging on the contemporary Swahili coast

The case of Lamu

chapter 53|6 pages


chapter 54|9 pages


Archaeology and History

chapter 55|13 pages

The Swahili House

A Historical Ethnography of Modernity