Prita Meier: Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere
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From the Hamitic myths of colonial archaeology to more recent, nuanced depictions of Swahili experience, the “stonetown” has dominated Swahili historiography. Prita Meier’s text is no exception. Her “Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere” executes an impressive interdisciplinary reimagining of the social significance of Swahili stone architecture and associated cultural practices.
Constructed through a complex process of coral extraction and lime plastering, the luminous, whitewashed ports of the East African coast have historically demarcated the boundary between the “wild,” pagan, African interior and the “civilized,” urban, Islamic communities of the coast. Meier deliberately avoids such dichotomies, deeming them colonial leftovers, and instead pushes us to explore how various Swahili communities have used spatial and material practices to express a belonging-to-elsewhere in contradictory, multivocal, and political ways. How is it that this mercantile society, obsessed...