I've been reading through some old notes from my general field exams on slavery and the slave trade in Africa. The question of Swahili and Arab complicity in the slave trade is a sensitive issue that continues to rankle Arab and Swahili intellectuals, who feel that Western attacks on "Arab slavery" unfairly essentialize and racialize Arabs as slave traders. They point out, often correctly, that abolitionist attacks on the "Arab slave trade" in the 19th century were closely linked to the establishment of colonial rule in East Africa. The issue is rather more complicated than I can address here, but suffice to say that Arabs were not the only participants in the trade. Nevertheless the charge that "coastal people" or "the Swahili" were active participants in the trade is a line one still finds quite frequently in scholarly articles. Such charges are often little substantiated with data. When the volume of the East African trade are tabulated, as in Ralph Austen's work the results are less than satisfactory, and at any rate do not address slavery and the slave trade in the more distant past of the "Swahili Golden Age." Recent scholarship by Thomas Vernet has the potential to change the paradigm of how we view the Swahili city-states and their relationship to slavery and the slave trade. Butch Ware, summarizing Vernet's work, writes:
- 2006 “Slave trade and slavery on the Swahili coast (1500-1750)”, in Paul Lovejoy, Behnaz A. Mirzai and Ismael M. Montana (ed.), Slavery, Islam and Diaspora, Trenton, Africa World Press. Revised and expanded version of 2003 article.
- 2004 “Le territoire hors les murs des cités-Etats swahili de l’archipel de Lamu, 1600-1800,” Journal des Africanistes, 74 (1-2), pp. 381-411.
- 2004 “La splendeur des cités Swahili,” L’Histoire, 284, pp. 62-67.
- 2003 “Le commerce des esclaves sur la côte swahili, 1500-1750,” Azania, 38, pp. 69-97.
- 2002 “Les cités-Etats swahili et la puissance omanaise (1650-1720),” Journal des Africanistes, 72 (2), pp. 89-110.