Swahili civilization was built 1000 years before engagement with Persians and Indians – studies say

Stephen Nartey April 04, 2023
Swahili Men -- Photo Credit: Abdulhakim2022

Early archaeologists have long held the view that Africans lacked the intellectual capacity to engineer medieval Swahili infrastructures such as cemeteries which have recently been discovered. They were resolute in the view that such ancient infrastructure was the handiwork of colonial authorities. However, emerging archaeological findings seem to contradict this position. Excavations at Swahili archaeological sites have shown that 95 percent of these infrastructures were indigenous, including the system of governance.

Though recent studies have shown that some interactions between Africans and Indians, as well as Persians, existed, it does not negate the fact that the Swahili civilization had gained ground before the arrival of the foreign actors.

A DNA sequencing carried out by archaeologists on ancient Swahili civilization shows the healthy relationship that existed between Africans and Asians along the East African coast more than a thousand years ago. Researchers have revealed that the materials dug out from the site, right the wrongs in the historical narrative that Africans made little contribution to their civilization.

The data was generated from the DNA of 80 people who were believed to have settled in different parts of the Swahili zone from 1250 to 1800 BC. This showed that from around 1000 AD, the majority of the data set established that male migrants from Southwest Asia were present in Africa. They were 90 percent Persian and 10 percent Indian. The study, which was published in the Nature Journal, showed that the engagement between these foreigners and Africans was almost entirely with African women, VOA Africa reported.

What the research team, led by a geneticist at Harvard University and co-author, David Reich, found surprising was that, the interaction wasn’t limited to trade; the Persian men had children with the African women. The team was quick to rule out the variable of sexual exploitation in the relationship chain, this was based on grounds that, the Swahili society runs on a matriarchal system.

Another school of thought advanced by the researchers to explain why the Persians married African women, was to improve their relationship with local trading families and imbibe local customs to improve their chances of doing business on the East African coast. This narrative is in line with the Kilwa chronicle, which has been passed on from generation to generation about how Persian migrants arrived around 1000 AD. It is consolidated by the historical timeline of when the Islamic religion began to thrive in the region.

The Swahili civilization stretches from the 7th century AD and covered parts of modern-day Kenya, Tanzania, southern Somalia, northern Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, and Zanzibar archipelagoes. It is the reason why the majority of inhabitants in this part of Africa identify as Swahili and have adopted it as their official language.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 4, 2023

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