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K. Kris Hirst

Swahili Towns

By December 19, 2012

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When one is first introduced to an ancient culture, it is easy to become mesmerized by the big flashy stone buildings, and miss the overall picture. Take for instance, Swahili towns.

Sunken Courtyard of Husuni Kubwa, Kilwa Kisiwani
Sunken Courtyard of Husuni Kubwa, Kilwa Kisiwani. Stephanie Wynne-Jones/Jeffrey Fleisher, 2011

Early investigations of Swahili culture sites focused on the permanent structures: mosques and palaces, like the Husuni Kubwa at Kilwa Kisiwani; and "stonehouses", elite residences and trade centers. And as tourists, we're drawn by those too.

But big, permanent flashy structures are not the whole story of Swahili towns...


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