Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

By Prita Meier | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Trading Places

Today ornate doorways such as the one in figure 5.1 are often celebrated in the west as emblems of local authenticity and Swahili identity. Yet from a local perspective, and much to the discomfort of Africanist art historians, they give material form to the circulatory networks of the Indian Ocean. Their design program was originally meant to evoke a faraway place. Carvers were constantly changing their compositions by incorporating the latest styles and patterns of ornament from objects being imported from overseas. Yet, they did not simply produce copies, but masterfully transformed exotic forms to create works that exist at the edge of stylistic categories, such as African, Asian, and European. For example, the design of this door is typical of nineteenth-century innovations and fashions. This was a time when the tradition of carving doors reached new heights of intricacy and delicacy. As can be seen, carvers cultivated an Indian-inflected style, often preferring the lush ornamentation of British Raj woodwork. The pediment and central post feature minimalist rosettes and abstracted pineapples, their repeating forms creating a rhythmic movement along the horizontal and vertical planes of the massive doorway. Especially the restrained linearity of the floral motifs exemplifies the way local carvers created strikingly innovative works.1

Although by the late nineteenth century even entire doorways were mass-produced in Bombay for export to Zanzibar and Mombasa.

-179-

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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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