The Development of Rural Life on the Eastern African Coast, AD 700-1500

March 06, 2017


International Affairs Building - ISERP Conference Room 270B

Event Type: 

Adria LaViolette, University of Virginia


The eastern African coast is best known for its scores of second-millennium Swahili ‘stonetowns’, still visible on the landscape as ruins or indeed as thriving towns into the modern period. The cities have overshadowed the study of Swahili rural life, and how rurality responded and reformulated in the context of urban transformations after AD 1000. To contribute to redressing that imbalance, we focus here on villages ‘in their own right’, research carried out as part of two related projects in the northern part of the Pemba Island, a heartland of the Swahili coast. Here we feature two smaller village settlements, early Kimimba and later Kaliwa, contextualizing them within their urbanizing landscape. By focusing on the archaeology of villages, we are able to say something about the changing nature of rural life on Pemba; indeed, excavations at each tell us about coastal life in ways either not known before, or that complement the scant village-based work from other Swahili regions. How different were villages from each other before the emergence of urbanism on Pemba? How do settlement characteristics of the rural sites compare with those of the urban centers? What types of relationships occur between town and country? And, what was life like in these villages, and how did that change over time? We hope that studies such as this can encourage others to seek out and excavate village sites, and to increasingly include ‘the hidden majority’ in the Swahili story.


Adria LaViolette is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Virginia.  She received her BA in Archaeology at Yale University.  After completing her PhD at Washington University in St. Louis based on research in Mali, she moved to the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to teach archaeology.  Since then she has been conducting archaeological research on the Tanzanian mainland coast and on Pemba and Zanzibar islands, at Swahili urban and rural settlements.  Dr. LaViolette is working on a monograph on northern Pemba (with J. Fleisher), and is beginning a project on Portuguese/Swahili interactions in Zanzibar (with N. Norman).  She is co-editor (with S. Wynne-Jones) of the forthcoming Routledge volume The Swahili World, and is Editor-in-Chief of the African Archaeological Review.

Additional information about this workshop series may be found here.


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