Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0159
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0159
Although some ports are thousands of miles distant, only a monsoon separates the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and Oman from East Africa. For millennia, sailors, merchants, pilgrims, conquerors, and slaves have traversed the Indian Ocean between bustling trading ports on “Swahili Coast,” such as Kilwa, Shanga (see Horton 1996, cited under General Overviews and Historiography), Qanbalu, and Mombasa, to emporia in Arabia, such as Muscat, Basra, Qalhat, and the Bandars (protected coves) of Persia. African influence on Arab culture in Oman, Yemen, and the Gulf can be seen in dress, music, and the recent resettlement of Swahilis in Arabia after decolonization and the overthrow of Omani rulers in Africa. Although a market in humans, perpetuated by both Africans and Arabs, was certainly a major part of the history of interactions between Arabs and Africans, there were also many other forms of contact. As Sheriff 2009 (cited under General Overviews and Historiography) points out, the ancient Greeks mentioned Arab skippers who knew the African coast through intermarriage and regular trade. Sheriff 2010 (cited under General Overviews and Historiography) also suggests that great riches could be secured by medieval Persian and Arab merchants willing to risk the monsoon voyages to trade in gold and ambergris from Sofala on the coast of Mozambique. The culmination of Arab presence in Africa and African influence in Arabia, however, came in the first half of the 19th century. The Omani sultan Sayyid Said bin Sultan not only ruled over the island of Zanzibar, but he also moved his entire court and capital from Muscat to Stone Town.
General Overviews and Historiography
Agius 2005 describes the use of Arab ships, or dhows, in this trade. Devisse 1989 is an extensive historiography on the Indian Ocean and Arab traders. As Gray 1962 describes, East African islands such as Zanzibar were particularly important to the Omani sultan, even as the rest of the East African coast was controlled by various Omani families who did not necessarily obey this ruler (see Mazrui 1995). Studies such as Chittick 1963 focus on Arab influence in individual East African towns such as Kilwa. Finally, Freeman-Grenville 1988 tells this story of Arab settlement more broadly from the medieval period to the present.
Agius, Dionisius A. Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman: People of the Dhow. London and New York: Kegan Paul, 2005.
This book focuses on seafaring and shipbuilding in Oman and the Arab Gulf. It is based not only on archival material, but also on interviews with dhow captains and sailors. It shows how the monsoon winds created the consciousness of a wider identity encompassing Africa, India, and the western Indian Ocean as a whole. It also explores the impact of the discovery of oil and the decline of British influence in the region.
Chittick, Neville. “Kilwa and the Arab Settlement of the East African Coast.” Journal of African History 4.2 (1963): 179–190.
Arab and Omani settlement extended far beyond Zanzibar. This article introduces scholars to the extent of these settlements in Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia.
Devisse, Jean. “Les Africains, La Mer et Les Historiens.” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 29.115–116 (1989): 397–418.
This article provides an introduction to the historiography of Africa and the sea, bringing in the theories of F. Braudel and others. Indeed, Mediterranean historiography has played an important part in conceptualizing the western Indian Ocean.
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The Swahili Coast, 2nd to 19th Centuries: Islam, Christianity and Commerce in Eastern Africa. London: Variorum Reprints, 1988.
Freeman-Greenville provides an important overview the Swahili coast and integrates information about Arab, Christian, and African influences.
Gray, John. History of Zanzibar from the Middle Ages to 1856. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Although now somewhat dated, John Gray’s work remains an introductory text on the island and the influences of Oman and Arabian traders. It is focused primarily on the reign of Sayyid Said bin Sultan. There are often extensive quotations with no indication of any source. A frustrating if important work, this book exemplifies some of the challenges facing scholars of Africa and the Gulf.
Horton, M. C. Shanga: The Archaeology of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Africa. Memoirs of the British Institute in Eastern Africa 14. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1996.
This is another important survey of a Swahili, African port and its interactions with the Gulf and the wider Islamic world.
Mazrui, Al-Amin bin Ali. The History of the Mazru’i Dynasty of Mombasa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
This story of Omani involvement in Africa was not limited to the Al Bu Said dynasty. In fact, several Omani and Arab families, including the Mazru’i, ruled as traders and merchants in major cities such as Mombasa. This text provides an overview of the history of the Mazru’i family in Africa, who were often bitter rivals of Sayyid Said bin Sultan, the most powerful Omani ruler in Zanzibar.
Sheriff, Abdul. “The Persian Gulf and the Swahili Coast: A History of Acculturation over the Longue Durée.” In The Persian Gulf in History. Edited by Lawrence Potter, 178–188. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
In this introductory essay, Abdul Sheriff, an important Tanzanian scholar of Zanzibar, provides an overview of African and Omani connections over the centuries. This is a good place to start an investigation of Oman, Zanzibar, and the Indian Ocean. The Persian Gulf in History includes other articles on the anthropology and trade of the Gulf region, including Oman.
Sheriff, Abdul. Dhow Cultures and the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
This is an excellent introduction to the Indian Ocean, especially the trade and contacts between East Africa, India, and the Gulf, from one of the foremost scholars of the topic. Uses stories of people from Africa to illustrate important themes and topics in the history of trade before 1800. Unfortunately, the text stops at 1800.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Sao Tomé and Príncipe
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey