East Africa’s Swahili People: Story of their Origin

Traditional Swahili society is similar to many other East African Bantu cultures in being substantially matriarchal – it places much economic and social power in the hands of women. In traditional Swahili societies even today, ownership of stone houses often passes down the female line. And there is a long recorded history of female rulers, beginning with Mwana Mkisi, ruler of Mombasa, as recorded by the Portuguese as early as the 1500s, down to Sabani binti Ngumi, ruler of Mikindani in Tanzania as late as 1886.

Our best guess is that Persian men allied with and married into elite families and adopted local customs to enable them to be more successful traders. The fact that their children passed down the language of their mothers, and that encounters with traditionally patriarchal Persians and Arabians and conversion to Islam did not change the coast’s African matriarchal traditions, confirms that this was not a simple history of African women being exploited. African women retained critical aspects of their culture and passed it down for many generations.

How do these results gleaned from ancient DNA restore heritage for the Swahili? Objective knowledge about the past has great potential to help marginalized peoples. By making it possible to challenge and overturn narratives imposed from the outside for political or economic ends, scientific research provides a meaningful and underappreciated tool for righting colonial wrongs.

Source: The Conversation

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