Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 195–217 | Cite as

Rituals of Consumption and the Politics of Feasting on the Eastern African Coast, AD 700–1500

  • Jeffrey FleisherEmail author
Original Paper


Historically, the Swahili of the eastern African coast have performed feasts through which they negotiated and contested social power. Feasts draw on tradition and practice, but create the space for, and conditions of, imbalance and social debt. Drawing on this historical frame, I examine the archaeology of feasting in the more distant Swahili past, AD 700–1500, in particular looking at how feasts can domesticate distant power—the power drawn from objects and practices from elsewhere. By charting changing assemblages of imported and local ceramics alongside settlement and food preferences, I examine developments in feasting patterns and the way feasts provided a social context within which local and distant power could be translated into authority.


Swahili Feasting Display Ceramics East Africa 



Most of the research in this paper derives from dissertation fieldwork in 1999–2000 supported by the National Science Foundation (INT-9906345), the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the University of Virginia. Other research reported here was funded by the National Science Foundation (#BCS0138319, Adria LaViolette, PI) and carried out between 2002 and 2006. This research would not have been possible without the support of Maalim Hamad Omar, Director, Department of Archives, Museums, and Antiquities, Zanzibar; our colleagues in archaeology in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and Pemba; and the communities on Pemba that supported our research throughout the years. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at both Lehigh and Rice Universities where I received important feedback. This essay has benefitted immensely from the comments provided by anonymous reviewers, Libby Vann, Adria LaViolette, and Stephanie Wynne-Jones.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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