Swahili Port Cities

Swahili Port Cities

The Architecture of Elsewhere
Prita Meier
Distribution: World
Publication date: 04/25/2016
Format: Paperback 16 color illus., 80 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01915-8
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On the Swahili coast of East Africa, monumental stone houses, tombs, and mosques mark the border zone between the interior of the African continent and the Indian Ocean. Prita Meier explores this coastal environment and shows how an African mercantile society created a place of cosmopolitan longing. Meier understands architecture as more than a way to remake local space. Rather, the architecture of this liminal zone was an expression of the desire of coastal inhabitants to belong to places beyond their homeports. Here architecture embodies modern ideas and social identities engendered by the encounter of Africans with others in the Indian Ocean world.

Author Bio

Prita Meier is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


“A groundbreaking architectural history of the Swahili coast, this book beautifully explores issues of cultural translation and the remapping of cultural boundaries. Prita Meier brilliantly demonstrates how the emerging fields of world art history and transcultural studies are coming together to provide new ways of studying the making of art and culture. She documents the way spaces once celebrated as icons of Muslim culture are now imbricated by the ethnic politics of the modern postcolonial nation-state and offers a new model for rethinking cosmopolitanism in the global context of the Indian Ocean.”
 — Salah M. Hassan, Cornell University

“Prita Meier has turned the tired question of 'who are the Swahili' on its ear by eschewing essentialist descriptions and showing how Swahili people themselves actively managed their identities locally and beyond, and throughout colonial and national administrations.”
 — Jeffrey Fleisher, Rice University

“Distinctive and decisive, calmly and elegantly written, this book provides a welcome case study of how the material world is made through a rich range of traveling cultural forms from across the Indian Ocean as a world system.”
 — Isabel Hofmeyr, University of the Witwatersrand

“This sophisticated book does much more than show us an Indian Ocean Africa that was the parallel to Atlantic Africa. With great clarity and commitment Prita Meier gives us the world of Swahili port cities that were not only trans-oceanic but trans-continental, places where merchants, slaves, nobles, and sailors met and exchanged ideas, styles, and commodities. Taste and ideas about décor were conspicuously displayed through objects and styles that were literally constructed from the experience of trade and travel in order to bring elsewhere home.”
 — Luise White, University of Florida

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Place In-Between
1. Difference Set in Stone: Place and Race in Mombasa
2. A "Curious" Minaret: Sacred Place and the Politics of Islam
3. Architecture Out of Place: The Politics of Style in Zanzibar
4. At Home in the World: Living with Transoceanic Things
Conclusion: Trading Places

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