Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

By Prita Meier | Go to book overview

TWO
A “Curious” Minaret
Sacred Place and the Politics of Islam

While stone architecture in general is important in local worldviews, only one type of masonry structure is essential for creating sacred place on the Swahili coast: a mosque. Port cities, such as Mombasa, Lamu, and Zanzibar, can claim being true stone towns precisely because their histories begin with the building of stone mosques. For example, Mombasan origin stories recount how founding father Shehe Mvita constructed the first stone mosque on Mombasa Island with the help of three mysterious men from “the North.” Their help came in the form of a new building material: lime mortar, the binding agent that makes stone masonry possible.1 The earliest written documentation of this event presents lime as miraculous matter: “The lime which the three strangers presented to Shehe was sufficient for building a mosque in a few days, whereupon these remarkable persons departed and constructed mosques in other places.”2 Transforming the architectonic order of Mombasa from earthen impermanence to stone permanence marks the beginning of Islamic time on Mombasa Island.

This narrative also endows the foundation of a mosque with sacred significance; to this day families connected to ancient mosques are revered. Until the colonial period only the wealthy patrician families of coastal cities built and endowed congregational mosques as public monuments, giving visual force to their Muslim piety and signaling their political power and cultural leadership in city. Constructing and support

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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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