The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization

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Yale University Press, Aug 1, 1994 - History - 254 pages
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The Swahili of East Africa have a long and distinctive history as a literate, Muslim, urban, and mercantile society. In this book a leading Africanist presents the first full-length anthropological account of the Swahili and offers an original analysis of their little-understood and unusual culture. Swahili towns, some urban with elegant stone buildings and others more rural with palm-leaf-matting houses, are spread along the thousand-mile East African coast. Because each local community is culturally different from its neighbors, previous historians and anthropologists have viewed the Swahili as a series of isolated and "detribalized" groups. John Middleton argues, on the contrary, that beneath the cultural variation is a single structure, that of a well-defined and complex trading society that has shown little change through the ages. Drawing on his own field research and on earlier writings on the Swahili, Middleton describes this centuries-old mercantile culture--its local and descent groupings, marriage patterns, religion, and values. He traces the history of their colonized past as subjects to Arabs, portuguese, British, and others and shows that, although their economic and political role has continually been a subordinate one, their sense of unique identity enables then to persist as an ongoing civilization.

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About the author (1994)

John Middleton is the founder of the Bristol Management Research Centre. He also edits and publishes Future Filter, a bi-monthly business digest for the new economy. Recognized as a visionary business thinker, he works as a coach and consultant with individuals and organizations who are drying to make best sense of the future. He can be contacted at Further information about Future Filter can be found at

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