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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Female Circles and Male Lines: Gender Dynamics Along the Swahili Coast
Author:Askew, Kelly M.
Periodical:Africa Today
Geographic terms:East Africa
Subjects:gender relations
Women's Issues
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Cultural Roles
Sex Roles
Religion and Witchcraft
Abstract:This article analyses historical changes in the gender dynamics of dance performance ('ngoma') as well as other social domains along the Swahili coast of East Africa. It traces transformations in gender relations within the Swahili communities of coastal and inland Kenya and Tanzania by means of an analysis that explores connections between politics, kinship and postmarital residence patterns, economics, and musical performance. A comparative analysis of present-day data and a collection of ethnographic data on Bagamoyo in the 1890s and consideration of earlier history of the Swahili coast suggest that we cannot blindly accept the idea that today's gender-segregated 'ngoma' reflect gender relations of the past, even if they accurately reflect gender relations in contemporary Swahili society. The evidence presented indicates that there have been shifts in Swahili society from a time when women held more political, social and economic autonomy than is available to them today; that this has entailed the cultural elaboration of an opposition between Arab and African designations; that this opposition has a strongly gendered dimension; and that musical practices play a central role in this historical and cultural process. The Swahili coast presents an ideal case study for demonstrating the intangibility of cultural boundaries. App., bibliogr., notes, ref., sum.