Finding Their Place in the Swahili World: An Archaeological Exploration of Southern Tanzania

Pawlowicz, Matthew Christopher, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Laviolette, Adria, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wattenmaker, Pati, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Damon, Fred, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Neiman, Fraser, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation studies the functioning of large-scale systems of interaction and exchange on the East African Swahili coast by exploring their influence in the region around the town of Mikindani in southern Tanzania over the past two millennia. Evidence of connections across those systems – to the Middle East, South Asia, China, and the Mediterranean – exists in the form of trade goods, cultural and religious similarities, and historical documents. Such connections have been thought crucial to the development of Swahili urban society, with coastal centers exploiting a middleman position in Indian Ocean trade to obtain socio-political prominence. I selected the Mikindani region as a place to evaluate such linkages because it provided an opportunity to investigate Swahili life away from major centers in more modest towns and villages akin to the majority of coastal settlements, extending the analysis beyond the elite traders to include regional participants with different forms of involvement. In pursuit of these subjects, data from archaeological survey and excavations in the Mikindani region are used to describe its communities' socioeconomic organization and interregional connections. These data show that after sharing in many firstmillennium coastal developments, Mikindani's inhabitants did not participate in the Swahili florescence of the early second millennium CE and obtained none of the characteristic imported ceramics of the time. Instead, they began to draw deeper connections with neighboring communities to the interior, epitomized by the development of a new style of local ceramics. This absence from Indian Ocean trade was not indicative of economic failure however, as settlement expanded amidst a generally self-sufficient regional economy. This unexpected development – unique among studied ii East African Swahili coastal regions – echoes archaeological studies that have emphasized the agency of marginal or "peripheral" areas within the structures of largescale systems. It also prompts reappraisal of the popular notion of the Swahili as a mercantile society focused on Indian Ocean trade by drawing attention to coastal variability, identifying additional paths to socioeconomic success, and recognizing that elements thought "characteristic" of Swahili culture – including participation in trade – were part of social and economic strategies that were adopted, or not, to suit regional circumstances.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Southern Tanzania, archaeological exploration, East African Swahili
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