MAuthors and Book Reviews 

August 27 - September 02, 2010


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E-Book: Cultural processes
among the Mombasa Swahili

'It is no accident to find that the Swahili view
themselves as truly civilized and "human" beyond
many others of our species ...'

Coastweek -- American researcher Marc J. Swartz has published his seminal work entitled 'The Way The World Is: Cultural processes and social relations among the Mombasa Swahili'.

The publication is currently available as a free 'E-Book' and can be down loaded off the internet from the University of California Press website at this link:

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In his Preface to 'The Way The World Is' Swartz explains:

This book is concerned with the world of the Mombasa Swahili. At the same time, there is an important focus on theoretical issues, especially those dealing with how culture works.

But its empirical focus is on the Swahili of Mombasa, and it seeks to describe some aspects of their lives.

The saying "Dunia, Bwana " is used by community members to indicate that reality is as it is. In this life, it implies, one must expect that people are, at best, no better than they should be.

Although things work, often they do not work just as one would like them to.

In Paradise, where God rules directly, it implies, pious Muslims know that truth, justice, and virtue reign.

In this world, where humans are in charge, things, real as they are, fall substantially short of that.

The Mombasa Swahili are a prepossessing people. 

Coastweek --  Cover of 'The Way The World Is: Cultural processes and social relations among the Mombasa Swahili' written by American researcher Marc J. Swartz.

They have lived where they are now for many centuries, and their way of life is one they, and other peoples who know them, characterize as having utu , a word that can only be glossed as "civilization" or "humanness."

It is no accident, no artifact of the ethnographic enterprise, to find that the Swahili view themselves as truly civilized and "human" beyond many others of our species.

Their influence on the peoples they have had contact with over the centuries has been a profound and lasting one.

They are the residents and probable founders of what may be East Africa’s greatest entrepôt.

Their trading with other groups over centuries has carried their influence beyond that of other communities far larger than theirs.

Their deep allegiance to Islam has made them a very conscious part of one of the earth’s most influential traditions, and their language is the lingua franca for most of eastern and some of central Africa.

The culture of this impressive group endures down the length of the East African coast and on the islands as far into the Indian Ocean as the Comoros.

The Swahili of Mombasa have close ties with the other members of their ethnic group along the coast, but they are a proud and distinctive community.

Despite economic and political upheavals of significant magnitude over the centuries, including, especially, the period from World War I until the present, their culture has retained its vitality and the community its coherence.

I count it a privilege to have had the opportunity to live among them and to chronicle some of the bases for their way of life.

The friends I have in this community are among those I value most among all the people I have ever met.

In some respects, this study was more difficult than the others I have undertaken, but the hospitality and charm of the community members, in addition to the challenging data, provided substantial compensation.

This book is based on what I have seen and heard in my eight field trips (1975–76, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988) totaling twenty-four months in Old Town, the Swahili section of Mombasa.


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