Alders, Wolfgang. Clientage, Debt, and the Integrative Orientation of Non-Elites on the East African Swahili Coast

Published On
February 2, 2024
Original Date

Alders, Wolfgang. “Clientage, Debt, and the Integrative Orientation of Non-Elites on the East African Swahili Coast.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 73 (2024): 101553-.

Ceramic trends on Unguja Island in Zanzibar, Tanzania provide insights into non-elite political strategies on the East African Swahili Coast. Synthesizing imported ceramic data from two seasons of systematic field survey across rural Unguja with historical, ethnographic, and archaeological evidence from coastal East Africa, this paper argues that an integrative orientation toward power characterized bottom-up action on the Swahili Coast over the second millennium CE. While theories of bottom-up action have emphasized commoner autonomy and resistance to clientage, debt, and social inequality, evidence from the Swahili Coast attests to efforts by non-elites to seek entrance into cycles of reciprocal obligation as a means for recognition and social mobility—a specifically non-egalitarian orientation toward power. In response, elites competed with one another to accumulate wealth-in-people, resulting in a competitive patron-client system that prevented political consolidation. Elucidating these dynamics contributes to an understanding of how non-elite political strategies have shaped sociopolitical systems globally.

Source: Article's abstract

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