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A Material CultureConsumption and Materiality on the Coast of Precolonial East Africa$
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Stephanie Wynne-Jones

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198759317

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198759317.001.0001

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Moving Inland from the Coast

Moving Inland from the Coast

(p.115) 5 Moving Inland from the Coast
A Material Culture

Stephanie Wynne-Jones

Oxford University Press

It is immediately clear that the towns of the Swahili coast could not have existed without a web of connections linking them to a deeper African hinterland. This is a complex network to recover: a lack of historical documents and an extremely patchy archaeological record have meant that interaction has been understood only in very general terms. This is often cited as a major lacuna in our understandings of the coast (Horton 1987a; Sinclair 1995), with calls for sustained archaeological attention to interior societies. There can be no doubt that this is necessary. Yet here a cautiously optimistic approach is taken, as I suggest that part of the problem we have in understanding interior networks is in the ways that we expect them to be manifest, according to a model developed for the coast: connections have been sought through the movement of imported trade goods, which may not everywhere be a useful proxy for interaction. In fact, there is now a significant body of evidence for the ways that these connections worked, even though they do not always take the form of foreign artefacts in new locations. In this chapter I extend the notion of networks of practice to think through the ways that activities and consumption would have determined the nature of coast/interior entanglements; I suggest that the absence of trade goods in sites of the interior may not be (just) a function of lack of knowledge, but also the result of choices and the active role of taste among hinterland groups. Historical sources hint at long-distance movements across eastern Africa from at least the first century AD; Ptolemy’s Geography refers to the ‘Lake of the Nile’ (Freeman-Grenville 1962b: 4), suggesting knowledge of areas and connectivity as far inland as Lake Victoria. Direct material evidence of these two millennia of interaction tends to be sought in the remains of imports found at interior sites. These are comparatively few, but do at least offer a map of connectivity that sets a framework for thinking about interaction. The earliest imports at interior sites are not, in fact, objects.

Keywords:   Chibuene, Ujiji, Uvinza, caravan routes, early connections, hinterland, imported ceramics, urbanism

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