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The 'Shirazi' Colonization of East Africa

Neville Chittick
The Journal of African History
Vol. 6, No. 3 (1965), pp. 275-294
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/180168
Page Count: 20
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The 'Shirazi' Colonization of East Africa
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Abstract

The paper puts forward a new interpretation of aspects of the early history of the East African coast, and in particular maintains that the immigration of the 'Shirazi' took place some 200 years later than the date in the latter part of the tenth century which has hitherto been accepted. After a brief summary of the Arabic sources bearing on the history of the coast, and of the received history of Kilwa before the beginning of the fourteenth century, the two versions of the Kilwa Chronicle are examined. The Arabic version is concluded to be more reliable than the Portuguese, though very little reliance should be placed on the regnal years of the sultans as given in either. The archaeological evidence, based chiefly on recent excavations at Kilwa, is examined, with particular reference to the coins minted on the coast. Certain types of these coins are found to have been hitherto wrongly attributed, notably those of 'Ali bin al-Hasan, which are shown to be the earliest. An outline of the history of the coast is presented, based on the combined historical and archaeological evidence. No satisfactorily attested relics of the period of trade with the Graeco-Roman world have yet been found. The earliest settlements discovered date from the eighth to ninth century A.D., most or all of which were probably pagan, but already trading with the Muslim world. By about 1100 there were several Muslim towns on the coast. This period is related to the Debuli of the traditions. The arrival of the 'Shirazi' is related to the appearance of coins of 'Ali bin al-Hasan, who is identified with the first ruler of the 'Shirazi' dynasty at Kilwa (about A.D. 1200); Mafia was of equal importance at this time. A marked cultural break in the latter part of the thirteenth or early fourteenth century is thought to be related to a change in dynasty at Kilwa, a fresh settlement of immigrants, and the gaining of control of Sofala and the gold trade. It is suggested that the Shirazi settlement consisted not of a migration of people from the Persian Gulf direct to Kilwa and other places, but rather a movement of settlers from the Banadir coast.

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