Tuesday, January 24, 2012

African Trade Routes: The Swahili

Many historians will talk about African cultures such as Egypt, Nubia, Mali, Songhai etc. yet will over look what role these Africans played in the development of Trade Routes and how Africans many times developed their own routes of Trade via the Ocean, Rivers and across deserts. Here is an In depth look at some of the most over looked trade hubs of African History.

The Swahili

The Swahili people are a Bantu Speaking people on the Eastern Coast of Africa, mainly Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. The Swahili people developed trade networks in one of the most important trade routes in the world, the Indian Sea Trade.

The Culture of the Swahili is one of Intermarriage. The Local Bantu Africans developed Trade with Arabs, Persians, Indians, and eventually Western  Europeans beginning with the Portugese and later the British. Due to the diversity of cultures and people who traded with the Swahili, intermarriage, and her important position in the Indian Sea Trade, the Local Bantu's developed a unique culture and language, known as Swahili.



As expected with anything in Africa that does not resemble a "Mud Hut" or that is built of Stone, Historians and ignorant unlearned racists past and present have tried to claim the Swahili Architecture and Culture as "Arab", "Persian" or "Asiatic" with little input from the Local Africans. This is of course contrasted by the archeological and written record of Travelers to the Swahili Coast. Let us examine some of the latest findings.

Archaeological evidence proves that the Swahili developed from Cushitic Pastoralists who crossed the Rift Valley.(-Jacob L. Kimaryo*-East African Coastal Historical Towns. Asiatic or African?) This evidence further suggests that the Swahili learned and adapted non African styles of Architecture and art and incorporated these various art styles themselves into their own traditional culture and arts. In other words the Africans of the Swahili Coast developed relationships with various peoples(Indians, Persians, Chinese, etc), after traveling and trading with other cultures in foreign lands. The Swahili then hired local architects, artists and stone masons to not only build back in Africa but to teach local African architects, artists and stone masons their unique craft and style. This is no different to what countless people including Europeans, Arabs, and Persians themselves have always done in the past.

Also the notion that it was Persians and Arabs who developed the trade routes on the Swahili Coast is equally unfounded and against the evidence that proves the local Africans were long distant trading long before the advent of Islam and the arrival of Arab and Persian merchants. A Native Swahili researcher and archaeologist from the University of Dar Es Salaam, Dr. Felix Chami, has discovered an exciting find in a cave on the Island of  Juani off the Tanzanian Coast. Inspired by the works of the Greek geographer Ptolemy,  describing East African cities being "Metropolis" Dr. Chami has discovered items indicating long distant trade carbon dated to 600 B.C. Among the items discovered were Syrian Glass vessels, Greco-Roman Pottery, Sassanian Pottery from Persia and glass beads. (Tanzanian dig unearths ancient secret).

The Final Nail in the Coffin of the "Arab/Persian/Asian" origin of the Swahili is a pasage from the Travel Journal of  the "Berber" traveler Ibn Battuta who visited "Kilwa" one of the most important cities on the Swahili Coasts..


"We ... traveled by sea to the city of Kulwa [Kilwa in East Africa]...Most of its people are Zunuj, extremely black...The city of Kulwa is amongst the most beautiful of cities and most elegantly built... Their uppermost virtue is religion and righteousness and they are Shafi'i in rite."
-Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1331



Map Detailing the Trade Routes of the Indian Ocean

No only does Ibn Battuta describe the inhabitants of Kilwa as "Very Black" but also as "Zanji/Zanuuj" the Arabic word for Africans from the Swahili Coast. Where were all the Arab and Persians when Ibn Battuta visited Kilwa confirming the words of Ptolemy the geographer who also described the cities on the Swahili coast as Metropolis long before Islam. We can now dismiss any notion that non Africans had anything to do with the development of the magnificent culture of the Swahili people.

A miniature from a Persian Manuscript(Al-Maqamat) showing a Swahili(Zanji) Trading ship.-1237 C.E

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