Swahili Agriculture and Power Dynamics in Regional Perspective


Urbanization along the Swahili coast coincided with an increasing importance of Islam, stone architecture, and materials traded through connections built inland as well as with Indian Ocean merchants. Archaeobotanical data from the town of Chwaka on Pemba Island, Tanzania (AD 1100-1500) suggest that foodways turned towards Asian crops, including rice and legumes, during the urbanization process. Beyond subsistence, crops held political power. Jeffrey Fleisher (2010) has suggested that feasting was integral to the process of negotiating and maintaining political power among stone-town patricians, and historic records report that rice and other crops grown on Pemba were mobilized for political relations in Malindi. New data emerging from further south on the Tanzanian coast at Songo Mnara (Kilwa archipelago) demonstrates a different pattern of foodways, relying less on Asian rice and more on African grains sorghum and pearl millet. Further south still, archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence from the Mikindani region demonstrate a continued reliance on African crops and inland connections. Here we employ data from three regions using multiple archaeobotanical methods to consider implications for regionalism in subsistence, agriculture, and land use along the Swahili coast in light of the key role food played in supporting, or contesting, political power.

Cite this Record

Swahili Agriculture and Power Dynamics in Regional Perspective. Sarah Walshaw, Jack Stoetzel, Matthew Pawlowicz. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429801)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14898