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Adding the South to the Swahili World

Adding the South to the Swahili World: A Documentation of Mwani, Mahindo, and Boani, Swahili Languages in Mozambique


Staff: Dr. Maud Devos (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren) & Prof. Dr. Clarissa Vierke

Term of the project: 2014 - 2017

Financing: German Research Council (DFG)


This project concerns the documentation of the so-called Swahili languages Mwani (Kimwani), Mahindo (Imahindo) and Boani spoken in the northern coastal region of Mozambique. While Swahili language and culture of the Kenyan and Tanzanian heartland have received ample scholarly attention, the southern part of the Swahiliphone area has hitherto remained something of a blind spot. Whereas most studies on early Swahili history (800-1500) acknowledge that Swahili culture once extended from Brava (Somalia) in the north to Chibwene (Mozambique) in the south, research on Swahili language and culture tends to stop at the Mozambican border. The principle aim of this joint project is to focus on the hitherto neglected languages from northern Mozambique and to document Mwani, Mahindo and possibly also Boani. The descriptive efforts are embedded in a larger research endeavor which envisages three stages: firstly, documenting primary data of the missing languages, secondly, making group-internal and group-external linguistic comparisons (with other Swahili varieties and neighbouring Bantu languages) and thirdly, relating the linguistic data to extra-linguistic historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence of the Swahili world in Mozambique in a diachronic sociolinguistic framework.

In the course of the research project, an unforeseen focus on Swahili manuscripts from northern Mozambique has played an important part in shedding light on historical links along the coast and into the hinterland. 


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