To what extent did the Medieval
Islam Empire affect burial rituals
on the Swahili coast, particularly
focusing on Swahili tombs?
Brief introduction of the Swahili culture and the arrival of Islam
Review of current literature and research on the topic
Typology for tombs.
A brief explanation of data collection and the results.
Funerary practices in Medieval Islam
Why Pillars? A discussion as to why the Swahili may have chosen Pillars as monumentality.
Further evidence for Islam's effect on the Swahili culture an they way the Swahili adapted and
changed these beliefs
Wider implications of this study
What further study needs to be done
The Swahili Coast
Islam present from 8th century.
Connections made through Indian
ocean trade through monsoon winds.
Never conquered by Islam –
conversion was slow and voluntary
Mixture of African and Arabic cultures
resulted in Swahili culture.
Map showing East African Coast. Google images, 2013
Current Literature
Two typologies:
 Wilding, R (1988) Panels, Pillars and Posterity. Ancient Tombs on the North Kenyan Coast: A Preliminary
Study. Fort Jesus occasional papers (vol. 6): Mobassa
 Wilson, T (1979) Swahili funerary architecture. In J. D. V. Allen and T. Wilson Swahili House and Tombs of
the Coast of Kenya. Art and archaeology research papers: Headington
Individual studies
 Chami, F. (2002) The Excavations of Kaole Ruins. In F. Chami and G. Pwiti. Southern Africa and the
Swahili world. Dar Es Salaam University print: Tanzania
 Chittick, N. (1974) Kilwa: an Islamic trading city on the East African coast. British Institute in Eastern
Africa: Nairobi
 Chittick, N. (1984) Manda: excavations at an island port on the Kenya coast. British Institute in Eastern
Africa: Nairobi
 Horton, M (1986) Shanga: The archaeology of a Muslim trading community on the coast of East Africa.
British Institute in East Africa: London and Nairobi
Complex tombs
Above: Dome tomb at Siyu.
Below: Drawing of stepped tomb.
Above: Pillar tomb at Takwa, Google image 2013.
Below: Enclosure with headstones.
Data collection
450 burials
17 sites
12th – 19th century
Date, type, decoration, position
within settlement and other
distinguishing features
Setting the scene…
Fatima’s death (632) – Washed her body, placed bed in middle of the room and laid facing Islam
Muhammad’s burial – buried beneath his home
‘all prophets are to be buried precisely where they die’ and that God would ‘slay people who adopt the
graves of their prophets as mosques’
Patrilineage on tombstones
Qur’anic verses on tombstones
Markers on graves (?)
Saints shrines and other monumentality in Islam
Chronological patterns
Dome tomb as a foreign feature prominent from the 15th century
Epitaphs introduced from 14th century
Bowls used as decoration – Change from green ware to Chinese blue
and white porcelain
The tomb of the prophet. Shah 2013.
Dome of the Rock. Google images (2013)
Pillar tomb showing bowl. Google 2013
Why pillars?
Mnara = navigational
Mnara = shaft of light = bakara
Prominent and aesthetic
Show of power/ status
Pillar tomb at Shanga. Horton, 1986
Evidence for the amalgamation of two
Islam prohibits intramural burial.
 Shanga – 43 tombs in town
 Kaole - 46 tombs in town
Islam prohibits building on graves
Islam prohibits writing on graves
Siyu – tomb inscription
Kunduchi – 6 tombs with epitaphs with Islamic meanings
Gedi – tomb inscription
Takwa – Tomb inscription
Family ties not kept after death
 Complex tombs representing family burials found at Shanga
Wider implications
Unable to study Islam directly though archaeology due to religious law – Africa is one place
where you can research the manifestations of Islam.
Limited research done on Africa compared to other areas.
Can learn about life through death.
Further study
A lot of work still needed
Some sites had to be discarded due to lack of relevant information
Previous studies not necessarily focused on tombs
Lots of sites still unexplored
Large potential for further study.

Gemma Smith - Death, landscape and the ancestors