Islam and Islamic Arts in Africa

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Sailing a dhow off the ancient port of Lamu, Kenya, 1969. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.  


 Soon after the Prophet Muhammed's death in 632 AD, trade cities along the east African coast were either founded by Muslims from southern Arabia (especially Oman), or existing cities became increasingly Islamicized. As commerce flourished, Swahili culture was born as local residents increasingly synthesized inland and coastal African cultures, with visual cultures and fashions from Indian Ocean islands and rim societies (see Spear 2000). Monsoon winds blow from India toward Africa half the year, then in the opposite direction, fostering trade by small dhows like this one seen off the ancient Kenyan port of Lamu, that still sail all the way to South Asia and back as they have for millennia (see Alpers 2009).