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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article summarises the current state of knowledge about Swahili society as known primarily through archaeology, including broad commonalities that tie the coast together as a culture zone and current directions in archaeological research. The word Swahili derives from the Arabic for ‘coastal-dwelling’. Debate exists as to when the term should be applied, depending on the timing of factors such as the spread of the Swahili language, town formation, and conversion to Islam, all of which become central to later notions of Swahili life, but did not appear simultaneously. Despite the grey areas in the understanding of Swahili origins, there is broad consensus that Swahili society was an indigenous African development. The great impact of nineteenth-century Omani Arab migration to the Swahili coast led to assumptions that heavy migration had also characterised the coast in much earlier centuries.

Keywords: Swahili archaeology, coastal dwelling, Islam, Omani Arab migration, Swahili society

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