Publication Date

January 2005


Publisher information: African Studies Review, 706 Herter Hall, 161 Presidents Drive, University of Massachusetts Amherst MA 01003-4805 USA, Voice: (413) 545-2065


This essay integrates ethnographic data collected between Mombasa and the Lamu archipelago in Kenya into the growing body of scholarship on Swahili music and dance (ngoma) traditions. The analysis underscores how the Swahili have used ngoma events to stake claims to higher positions on the social ladder, negotiate difference, create socioeconomic security networks, establish and mark group identity, connect to the spirit world, and pass through various stages of the life cycle. Through a rich array of historical accounts by visitors to the coast, whose texts complement oral histories of coastal residents, the importance of ngoma in the Swahili-ization of the East African coast becomes apparent A comprehensive understanding of the part ngoma organizations have played in the recreation and re-creation of Swahili society is possible only when one factors in the contributions made by residents of the northernmost portion of the "Swahili coast."



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