When Did the Swahili Become Maritime? A Reply to Jeffrey Fleisher et al. (2015)

  • Elgidius B. IchumbakiEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Archaeology book series (BRIEFSARCHAE)


In a paper titled ‘When Did the Swahili Became Maritime’ published in the American Anthropologist, authors are sceptical about accepting the idea that Swahili societies of the East African coast were fully maritime from their earlier settlement times (about 20,000–30,000 years ago). Instead, they argue that “despite their proximity to the sea and the use of it, they practically remained not maritime societies until after circa C.E. 1000 when the level of maritimity increased greatly and became fully realized.” Although tracing when a certain society becomes ‘maritime’ is problematic, the authors did not recognize the full maritime-ness of the Swahili societies that existed several centuries before 1000 C.E., hence this reply. This paper uses historical and archaeological data with the view that the maritime-ness of the Swahili communities of the East African coast is older than thought by authors. I hereby argue that from their earlier settlement, Swahili communities were not merely part of their maritime environment but they were fully maritime and interacted with the Indian Ocean. Movements of people between and among the islands of the Indian Ocean along the coast of East Africa, individuals navigating abroad to learn some aspects of a foreign culture which they later brought back home, and the day-to-day uses of resources from the ocean verify that the maritime-ness of the societies is before 1000 C.E.


Swahili East Africa Indian Ocean Maritime Early settlement 



I am indebted to both the University of Dar Es Salaam and Tanzania Media Foundation (grant no.TMF/IST/160718/001 ) for the financial Support. Professors Felix Chami and Peter Schmidt read and commented on earlier version of the chapter. I thank the editor Prof. Lynn Harris and an anonymous reviewer for the very constructive comments.


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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Archaeology and Heritage StudiesUniversity of Dar es SalaamDar es SalaamTanzania

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