The myth of Arab domination
But oral and archaeological evidence suggests that Swahili society was both dynamic and coherent. The relationship between people on the African main land on the one hand, and those from Arabia and Persia on the other, was in fact, one of mutual dependence and benefit. Therefore it does not make sense to talk of the Arabs 'appearing' on the East African coast and 'taking over' African societies.
Early seafarers' account: the Periplus
"Two days' sail beyond the island lies the last mainland market town of Azania, which is called Rhapta, a name derived from the small sewn boats the people use. Here there is much ivory and tortoiseshell. Men of the greatest stature, who are pirates, inhabit the whole coast and at each place have set up chiefs." - The Periplus of the Erithraean Sea.
The principal town mentioned in the Periplus is Rhapta, believed by some to have been near Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam, while recent scholarship has pointed to it being closer to the island of Lamu. Coins from Northern Africa and Persia, dating back to the 3rd century AD. have been found in Zanzibar and Northern Tanzania, suggesting a strong tradition of trade between the Mediterranean world and African world.
"Then came Sultan Ali bin Selimani the Shirazi, that is, the Persian. He came with his ships, and brought his goods and his children. One child was called Fatima the daughter of Sultan Ali. We do not know the names of the other children. They came with Musa bin Amrani the Beduin.
They disembarked at Kilwa, that is to say, they went to the headman of the country, the Elder Mrimba, and asked for a place in which to settle at Kisiwani. This they obtained. And they gave Mrimba presents of trade goods and beads. Sultan Ali married Mrimba's daughter. He lived on good terms with the people." - Excerpt from The Ancient History of Kilwa Kisiwani. Taken from East African Coast, Select Documents.
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