Decoding the genetic ancestry of the Swahili

Authored by: Ryan L. Raaum , Sloan R. Williams , Chapurukha Kusimba , Janet M. Monge , Alan Morris , Mohamed Mchulla Mohamed

The Swahili World

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913462
eBook ISBN: 9781315691459
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315691459.ch6

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Abstract

The biological ancestry of the Swahili has a long history of controversy. Early historians described a Persian and Arab society of conquerors and colonists who settled in eastern Africa for trade opportunities (Kirkman 1964, 1966; Chittick 1977). Postcolonial archaeologists and historians have disputed these colonial scenarios of migration and have documented that Africans led the development of Swahili urbanism (for example, Horton 1996; Juma 1996; Abungu 1998; Kusimba 1999a, b; Horton and Middleton 2000; Chami 2002; Fleisher 2003; Middleton 2004; LaViolette and Fleisher 2005; Dussubieux et al. 2008). The de-emphasis of diffusion and migration as the engine of change and transformation in recent studies has had the unintended consequence of minimising the importance of these technical, cultural and biological interactions in shaping the region. Furthermore, postcolonial scholars’ suspicion of diffusion and migration theory caused them to minimise earlier interactions between Southwest Asia and eastern Africa in favour of more recent contacts (Berg 1968; Willis 1993; Berg 2006; Benjamin 2008). This chapter reports on recent research exploring coastal ancestry through genetics, allowing a more detailed analysis of individual histories and migrations among coastal populations.

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