The Swahili poetry of the master poet Fumo Liyongo, which dates between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, draws much of its imagery from the Indian Ocean, and in a particularly sensuous way: the poems paint baroque tableaux of Swahili material culture, evoking multiple elsewheres. They conjure the Indian Ocean through tastes, scents, and views of its rich interiors, which delineate a distinctively coastal world implicated to different degrees in the vaster oceanic region. Borrowing from aesthetic theories, the article explores the poem’s sensuality as a productive way of “thinking” about Indian Ocean relations, namely as a continual reemergence of cycles of sensation, questioning the clear-cut dichotomy of the “exterior” world and “intimate” notions of irreducible personhood as well as notions of local and cosmopolitan. Zeroing in on the betel quid, which has turned into a “mythological” cultural node of Swahili identity as well as a prominent rhetorical topos of Swahili love poetry, this article explores its imaginative productivity.

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