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Making Identity on the Swahili Coast
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Book description

Situated at a crossroads of trade in the late nineteenth century, and later the economic capital of German East Africa, the thriving caravan and port town of Bagamoyo, Tanzania is one of many diverse communities on the East African coast which has been characterized as 'Swahili'. Seeking an alternate framework for understanding community and identity, Steven Fabian combines extensive archival sources from African and European archives alongside fieldwork in Bagamoyo to move beyond the category of 'Swahili' as it has been traditionally understood. Revealing how townspeople - Africans, Arabs, Indians, and Europeans alike - created a local vocabulary which referenced aspects of everyday town life and bound them together as members of a shared community, this first extensive examination of Bagamoyo's history from the pre-colonial era to independence uses a new lens of historical analysis to emphasize the importance of place in creating local, urban identities and suggests a broader understanding of these concepts historically along the Swahili Coast.


'By taking seriously the roles of spatial identity and local attachment, Fabian has pried open a new window on Swahili culture and African urban history. Understood in these new terms, Bagamoyo’s political and social history becomes a story of re-conceptualizing tradition, belonging, and urban citizenship in territorial terms as a means to confront external encroachments and displacements.'

James R. Brennan - University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign

'Meticulously researched and a delight to read, Fabian reminds us that studies of small places have big things to say. His ability to foreground the importance of people on the margins of scholarship to the creation of spatially grounded Swahili urban publics, is an exemplary achievement.'

Laura Fair - Michigan State University

'This history of one of East Africa’s most important nineteenth-century urban centers has been worth the wait. Fabian offers a nuanced study that links the emergence of the ‘local’ in Bagamoyo to the everyday interactions of residents and itinerants from both of its hinterlands: the Indian Ocean world and the East African interior. This is a much-needed corrective to the overburdening of ‘Swahili’ identity found in many previous studies of the East African coast.'

Stephen Rockel - University of Toronto, Scarborough

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