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Narrating the meaning of town walls: symbolism and social trust on the East African coast

BAUMANOVÁ, M. Narrating the meaning of town walls: symbolism and social trust on the East African coast. In Narrating the past: archaeological epistemology, explanation and communication. Budapešť, Maďarsko : Archaeolingua, 2023, s. 241-269. ISBN: 978-615-5766-61-9
Jazyk publikace: eng
Anglický název: Narrating the meaning of town walls: symbolism and social trust on the East African coast
Rok vydání: 2023
Místo konání: Budapešť, Maďarsko
Název zdroje: Archaeolingua
Autoři: Monika Baumanová M.A., Ph.D.
Abstrakt EN: Town walls are an important feature of urbanism around the globe, representing boundaries and demarcating connecting routes that enclose and divide space. This paper presents a case study of town walls from sub-Saharan Africa, which can contribute to global archaeological narratives explaining the meaning of the urban built environment. From pre-colonial times to the colonial era, some of the most prominent Swahili towns on the East coast of Africa featured low town walls, a tradition in the built environment that was maintained for centuries before disappearing with colonialism. Although decidedly non-monumental compared to the rest of the pre-colonial urban space and virtually ignored by the written accounts, the town walls represent an important type of otherwise rare public construction project known from the extensive cultural region of today?s coastal East Africa. So far, the function of the Swahili town walls has been mainly studied using archaeological approaches and interpreted using two types of hypotheses ? either defensive or having some kind of ?symbolic? meaning. Because the defensive role of these low walls is increasingly viewed as less likely, this paper explores what new interdisciplinary considerations could be brought into the debate. I aim to demonstrate how the archaeological narrative of their symbolic purpose comes short of providing more detailed answers and how the concept can be elaborated further by employing sociological considerations of behaviour, especially in context with trade and urbanism typical for the Swahili coast. Focusing on the concepts of social norms and trust known from sociology, the presented argument highlights how we may improve our understanding of the role of this urban feature, specifically showing how the walls channelled movement and affected the bodily experience of social power and visual understanding of the past Swahili towns.
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