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The ‘Shirazi’ Colonization of East Africa

  • Neville Chittick

The paper puts forward a new interpretation of aspects of the early history of the East African coast, and in particular maintains that the immigration of the ‘Shirazi’ took place some zoo years later than the date in the latter part of the tenth century which has hitherto been accepted.

After a brief summary of the Arabic sources bearing on the history of the coast, and of the received history of Kilwa before the beginning of the fourteenth century, the two versions of the Kilwa Chronicle are examined. The Arabic version is concluded to be more reliable than the Portuguese, though very little reliance should be placed on the regnal years of the sultans as given in either.

The archaeological evidence, based chiefly on recent excavations at Kilwa, is examined, with particular reference to the coins minted on the coast. Certain types of these coins are found to have been hitherto wrongly attributed, notably those of 'Ali bin al-Hasan, which are shown to be the earliest.

An outline of the history of the coast is presented, based on the combined historical and archaeological evidence. No satisfactorily attested relics of the period of trade with the Graeco-Roman world have yet been found. The earliest settlements discovered date from the eighth to ninth century A.O., most or all of which were probably pagan, but already trading with the Muslim world. By about i ioo there were several Muslim towns on the coast. This period is related to the Debuli of the traditions.

The arrival of the ‘Shirazi’ is related to the appearance of coins of 'Au bin al-Hasan, who is identified with the first ruler of the ‘Shirazi’ dynasty at Kilwa (about A.0. I 200); Mafia was of equal importance at this time. A marked cultural break in the latter part of the thirteenth or early fourteenth century is thought to be related to a change in dynasty at Kilwa, a fresh settlement of immigrants, and the gaining of control of Sofala and the gold trade.

It is suggested that the Shirazi settlement consisted not of a migration of people from the Persian Gulf direct to Kilwa and other places, but rather a movement of settlers from the Banadir coast.

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1 I have already to thank Messrs Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P., Kirkman, J. S., Trimingham, J. S. and Schacht, J., and MissMitchell, Helen for valuable comments on the substance of this article.

2 Guillain, M., Documents sur l'histoire, la géographic et le commerce de l'Afrique orientale, 3 vols., Paris, 1856.

3 Trimingham, J. S., Islam in East Africa, O.U.P., 1964.

4 O.U.P., 1962.

5 Walker, J., ‘History and Coinage of the Sultans of Kilwa’, Numismatic Chronicle, Ser. V, XVI, 1936, reprinted Tanganyika Notes and Records, No. 45, pp. 33–58; the reprint is referred to below. Also Sir Gray, J. M., ‘A History of Kilwa’: Part I, T.N.R., No. 31, 1951; Part II, T.N.R., No. 32, 1952.

6 Freeman-Grenville suggests this is an error for Mombasa, but this is not proven. Mafia is an island some eighty miles north of Kilwa.

7 Dec. 1, Book VIII. Chapter IV, set out in Freeman-Grenville, op. Cit. 31.

8 Ibid. 88.

9 Ibid. 88.

10 Cf. the fifth sultan, Hocein Soleiman=a1-Hasan bin Sulaiman.

11 Freeman-Grenville, op. cit. 91–2.

12 Freeman-Grenville, op. cit. 51; the supposed lacuna is from the ninth to the seventeenth (not sixteenth) sultan. The coins mentioned in the note, loc. cit., will be referred to below.

13 Cf. Gibb, H. A. R., The Travels of Ibn Battuta, II, C.U.P., 1962, 380–2.

14 Mr Kirkman has suggested that these two sultans, together with the father (no. 9) of the first, constitute a separate dynasty, and it is possible, though I think unlikely, that this is the case.

15 Walker, loc cit. 48–9.

16 In passing, these are two of the three reigns before about A.D. 1300 concerning the lengths of which the two Chronicles agree—forty and eighteen Islamic years respectively. But I am suspicious of the former figure, which recurs, together with fourteen; though the evidence of coins, which is summarized below, suggests that he did have a long reign. On the other hand, the extreme rarity of the coins of al-Hasan bin Talut would, on the same analogy, suggest his reign was very short.

17 Freeman-Grenville (op. cit. 61) takes ‘third century’ as meaning that which followed A.H. 300, but I do not think that without other evidence this interpretation is acceptable.

18 The best authenticated find was made near Tanga in 1896 and has rested in the Museum für Völkerkunde ever since. This group of six coins, which it is hoped to publish shortly, includes one each of the Roman Emperors Carus and Constans, but as it comprises also a coin which is probably Fatimid, the hoard can hardly date before the eleventh century.

19 The coin is described in a letter published in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, VIII, lxxxiii, for which reference I am greatly indebted to Sir John Gray.

20 I believe this is the site of Shanga, the inhabitants of which conquered Kilwa shortly after the beginning of the ‘Shirazi’ dynasty: see Ann. Rept. Brit. Inst. Hut. Arch. E. Afr., 19631904, pp. 5–6. The only plausible alternative is the Shanga on Pate Island, which seems altogether too distant. The sites on Songo (Songo Mnara) Island are too late in date to be eligible.

21 Walker, op. cit. Type XII.

22 Such minarets are not found south of the Banadir coast. The inscriptions are published in Cerulli, E., Somalia, 1, Roma, 1957 210.

23 J.A.H., iv, 2 (1963), 182–4. Some of the conclusions there drawn are, in the light of recent discoveries, now somewhat modified, as will be seen.

24 Early Islamic Architecture of the East African Coast, O.U.P. for B.I.H.A.E.A., London, 1965.

25 Chittick, J.A.H., IV, 2 (1963), 186–7.

26 Some confusion arises from the fact that some authorities date the Islamic wares a half-century or more earlier than the Chinese wares with which they are found.

27 Indeed this can lead to confusion: re-examination after further cleaning of the four coins found in the small well in Husuni Kubwa (Chittick, loc. Cit. 132–4) has shown that while three are of Sulaiman bin al-Hasan, one is of al-Hasan bin Sulaiman. The Frenchman, Morice, was informed that a building apparently to be identified with Husuni Kubwa was built 963 years before his visit in 1777 (see Gray, J., ‘The French at Kilwa’, T.N.R., No. 4, 1956, p. 29), but such a date is virtually impossible to reconcile with the evidence of pottery and inscriptions found since 1961.

28 I am indebted for this reading to Miss Helen Mitchell, who points Out that the coins are modelled on those of the Mamluk sultan al-Nāsir Nāsir al-Din Muhammad, who ruled (with interruptions) A.D. 1293–1340. The coins are referred to by Walker, op. cit. 58.

29 Except at the Husunis, where these coins are lacking in the file and finds of any sort are few, most of the volume of material excavated has been from these upper levels.

30 Walker, op. cit. 50–1.

31 Including Kua, Songo Songo, Songo Mnara and Mtandura, the last a new site, on the mainland about nine miles south of Kilwa.

32 Freeman-Grenville, , ‘Coinage in East Africa before Medieval Times’, Num. Chron., Sixth Series, XVII, 176, Table I, reprinted in Medieval History, Table I. However, original publication in Num. Chron., 1954, reprinted T.N.R., No. 4, 1956, p. 2, lists what is apparently this coin as of Sulaiman ibn al-Hasan.

33 Though there would certainly seem to have been a ruler of this name—no. 26 in Portuguese version, of which no. 27 is probably a duplication, or vice versa; the Arabic version only makes sense on the basis that a Sultan, named Sulaiman, has been omitted here. In passing, the regnal years of nos. 25 to 27 as given in the two versions further exemplify confusions that have arisen.

34 Freeman-Grenville, Medieval History, Table III.

35 Ibid. p. 177.

36 In addition, the name of the late fifteenth-century sultan was properly 'Ali bin al-Khatib al-Hasan. The ‘title’ al-Khatib [= preacher] does not appear on the coins, though this is only slight evidence against the ascription, for it might well be omitted.

37 See Chittick, H. N., ‘Notes on Kilwa’, T.N.R., No. 53, 1959, p. 93n. Since then, this name has been independently and without prompting confirmed by another of the elders of the island.

38 An account of the site and earlier excavations there is given in Chittick, H. N., Kisimani Mafia, Occ. Paper I, Antiquities Div., Tanganyika Govt., 1961.

39 Ann. Rept. Brit. Inst. Hist. Arch, E. Afr., 19631904.

40 Summarized in Oliver, R. and Mathew, G., History of East Africa, pp. 102–4, and bibliography.

41 ‘The Wadebuli and the Wadiba’, T.N.R., No. 36, 1954, p. 22.

42 Dale, Archdeacon G., The Peoples of Zanzibar—their Customs and Religious Beliefs, U.M.C.A., Westminster, 1920, quoted by Gray, bc. cit.

43 Though the first ruler set on the throne by the Portuguese was named Muhammad ibn Rukn ad-Din ad-Dabuli, this surname may well derive from very long before he lived—cf. families with the names ash-Shirazi and al-Barawi at the present day.

44 Khan, F. A., Banbhore; a preliminary report on the recent archaeological excavations at Banbhore, Dept. of Arch. and Museums, Pakistan, 2nd ed., rev. 1963.

45 Loc. cit. 35, fig. 7.

46 As first ascribed by Walker, loc. cit. 54. He argues that there cannot be coins of an earlier ruler of the same name owing to the occurrence on many of them of the phrase , ‘may his victory be glorious’, a phrase which, he states, occurs for the first time on a coin of the Egyptian Mamluk sultan al-Mansur in AD. 1377. Miss Mitchell, however, observes that the phrase occurs on coins of Aleppo dated A.H. 717 (AD. 1317), citing Balog, (Coinage of Manluke Sultans, American Numismatic Society, Numismatic Studies 12, 162). Walker also puts forward the argument that since coins of al-Hasan bin Sulaiman predominate in the two ‘hoards’ which he examines, they are likely to be the latest. This would be valid if they really were hoards, but this seems very doubtful in the case of the first, which was found lying about in the German post at Kilindoni in Mafia when it was captured by British troops in 1915; if the second really is a hoard, it would have been made in the time of ‘Nsra al-Dunya’, the commonest and latest type of coin included. The percentage of coins of al-Hasan bin Sulaiman in both collections is well within the range of a random sample.

47 See above, p. 280.

48 We are told that the mosque collapsed in the reign of Abu'l-Mawahib al-Hasan bin Sulaiman, with the exception of the dome in which he used to say his prayers. This dome, the remains of which survive, is certainly later than the first barrel vaults of the mosque, and on stylistic grounds is thought to be later than Husuni Kubwa.

49 When Ibn Battuta visited Mombasa it was evidently a lesser place than Kitwa. But al-Idrisi, in the twelfth century, mentions it as the place where the King of Zanj resides, though its importance at this time remains unconfirmed by material remains. One wonders whether the word in the Idrisi's text might have been corrupted from Manfia, one of the ways of spelling the name of Mafia in the Arabic Chronicle.

50 Pearce, F. B., Zanzibar, the Island Metropolis of East Africa, London, 1920, 26.

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