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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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Kilwa Kisiwani: Establishing a Town

Kilwa Kisiwani: Establishing a Town

(p.55) 3 Kilwa Kisiwani: Establishing a Town
A Material Culture

Stephanie Wynne-Jones

Oxford University Press

Kilwa Kisiwani is an iconic Swahili stone town, its status and international renown exceeding any other. As discussed, it is also the town that has seen some of the largest-scale archaeological work, recovering a material record that bespeaks a thriving urban setting. Archaeological interest came on the heels of historical scholarship relating to the area; Kilwa is one of the few Swahili towns mentioned by both indigenous and foreign histories. The various versions of the Kilwa Chronicle give an account of the dynastic succession of Kilwa and of the deeds of its various sultans; together they are the earliest indigenous history of the coast. The oldest version was transcribed from oral form by João de Barros in his 1552 Da Asia (Freeman-Grenville 1962a: 89–93), while two other versions were both copied down in the nineteenth century (Strong 1895; Velten 1903). The Chronicles are similar in many aspects, although they differ on details and on the names of certain sultans. Debate over their veracity was quieted by the recovery of thousands of locally minted coins, and the dynastic lists were used as the basis for their interpretation (Album 1999; Brown 1991, 1992, 1993; Chittick 1965, 1967, 1973; Mitchell 1970; Walker 1936, 1939; Walker and Freeman-Grenville 1956). Indeed, the chronology of the Kilwa sultanate has been determined in the interplay between historical and numismatic evidence, the latter seen to act as an independent check on the less-reliable oral histories (cf. Fleisher and Wynne-Jones 2010b). This local historical record is bolstered by occasional mention in travellers’ accounts of the region. These are testament to Kilwa’s growing renown, but rarely offer much detail. In 1222, the Arab geographer Yakut referred to this ‘town in the country of the Zanj’ in his Geography and in 1331 an extended account was provided by Ibn Battuta during his travels on the coast (Freeman-Grenville 1962a: 27–32). These accounts echo a theme evident in the Kilwa Chronicles themselves: a distinction made between this town on its island, and the African continent that sits at its back.

Keywords:   Ibn Battuta, Kilwa Kisiwani, Sanje ya Kati, Songo Mnara, currency and coinage, hinterland, spindle whorls, urbanism

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