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Islam and Swahili Culture on the Banadir Coast Mohamed M. Kassim The ongoing conflict in Somalia has seriously disrupted life and threatened to destroy communities and cultures throughout the Peninsula. Nowhere has the threat been greater than along the Banadir coast,1 whose ancient towns have been damaged and looted, and many of whose people have been forced to abandon their homes, shops and farms to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya. In such circumstances, it is particularly crucial to record the history of these coastal towns, since there is a real danger that war will destroy much of the evidence of their rich cultural heritage. This article2 seeks to highlight some aspects of the cultural history of the Banadir which have been neglected but are deserving of further study. After summarizing the background and early development of the Banadir as a whole, the article briefly examines the lives of five remarkable ulama (religious scholars) who played key roles in the cultural life of Brava in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through the oral and written records of their lives, one can learn a great deal about education, poetry, trade, and gender roles in the pre-colonial Banadir. Historical Background The history of the Banadir is as much a part of the history of the East African coast as it is of the Somali peninsula. It is closely intertwined in all its economic, cultural, and historical evolution with the Swahili civilization. Contemporary historians have concentrated their research©Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 2, No. 3 (New Series) 1995, pp. 21-37 21 22 Mohamed M. Kassim on the Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Mozambican parts of the Swahili coast and neglected or did not give due merit to the Banadir coast. The Banadir coast has been treated merely as the coastal area in which the first Arab-Persian settlements were built and from which some of these settlers later migrated to the southern Swahili coast.3 Most coastal historians agree that the earliest Swahili settlements on the east coast of Africa date from the 9th or 10th centuries and were located in the Banadir coastal area.4 Evidence suggests that the Swahili language as we know it today is a relatively late development from earlier Bantu languages that were spoken along the northern part of the east African coast.5 Tradition, coastal chroniclers, and Arab geographers suggest that the first settlers came from the Persian Gulf. Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that there was also a Bantuspeaking population in the nearby fertile river valleys of the Juba and Shabelli.6 The Swahili culture that evolved in this coast was the result of the contact of this Arab-Islamic civilization on the coast with the Bantu culture of the hinterland. According to coastal traditions, the Arab-Persian immigration reached the Banadir coast in a series of waves over several centuries. This coastal area was also the first foothold of Islam on the East African coast.7 Oral traditions relating to the foundation of the Banadir coastal cities by Arab and Persian immigrants are supported by the historical sites in these areas.8 Even the location of the cities indicate that they were built by communities with maritime and mercantile interests.9 There is not enough space here to discuss precisely who founded these cities and at what point in time; these issues have been extensively debated by scholars.10 What is important to note is that all the early historic sites found today are credited to Arab-Persian settlers. There is strong evidence that Swahili was originally spoken throughout the Banadir coast.11 Several communities on this coast and some villages along the Juba River have retained their Swahili language and culture . In addition to the coastal city of Brava and the Bajunis in the Kismayo zone (which are areas of Swahili literature and culture), the native inhabitants of Mogadishu and Merka have retained some aspects of Swahili culture, traditions, and personal names.12 Also, the origin of the place names of Mukadisho (mui wa mwisho = the end city), Shangani (on the sand), Marika, Kismayu (kisima iu = upper well) indicate Islam and Swahili Culture on the Banadir Coast 23 that these...


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