Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

By Prita Meier | Go to book overview

ONE
Difference Set in Stone
Place and Race in Mombasa

Architecture has a powerful impact on how culture is experienced. The very notion that people “belong to” or can claim a certain territory is constituted by culturally variable politics of inhabiting, in which the built environment plays a central role. Examining how these spatial processes unfold in such fluid borderlands as the Swahili coast is an especially clarifying exercise because its port cities are fundamentally nonterritorial cultural landscapes, shaped by the constant movement of peoples and things across great distances. Here the relationship between identity and place is particularly mercurial and in constant flux.

For centuries permanent stone architecture occupied an important place in the civilizational order of Mombasa. Founded sometime in the early second millennium, this ancient Swahili city was the site of an important port long before it became part of the British Empire. In contrast to Lamu and Zanzibar, whose global connectivity is a fairly recent phenomenon, Mombasa has nurtured direct connections with inland Africa, Europe, and Asia since at least the fourteenth century. Great Zimbabwe, Portugal, and Ottoman Turkey were among the major empires that had regular contact with the city. Mombasa Town stood at the edge of intersecting worlds; its vibrant mercantile culture drew peoples from the African mainland, South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Merchants, diplomats, and even attacking armies came to Mombasa because it provided access to the markets and resources of inland

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Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Place in-between 1
  • One - Difference Set in Stone Place and Race in Mombasa 26
  • Two - A "Curious" Minaret Sacred Place and the Politics of Islam 66
  • Three - Architecture out of Place the Politics of Style in Zanzibar 102
  • Four - At Home in the World Living with Transoceanic Things 139
  • Conclusion - Trading Places 179
  • Appendix 189
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 221
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