This article examines the precolonial history of the region surrounding Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, through oral traditions and memories about the Shomvi people, who lived in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Elite members of Shomvi settlements claimed “foreign” origins in the Middle East, Yemen, and Persia and viewed themselves as highly mobile, continually “founding” settlements throughout the region and moving back and forth between them. Traditions also suggest that the growth, maintenance, and reproduction of coastal communities were premised on a conceptual bifurcation of the community into the foreign and highly mobile Shomvi elite and others claiming to be “indigenous” residents of the region, who drew privilege and prestige from their role as first peoples and hosts to the Shomvi. A discussion of precolonial traditions and memories of the region supports what more and more scholars are recognizing: discourse concerning “globalization” and “indigenous” peoples, usually thought to be characteristic of the post-colonial period, may have had analogues that antecede the penetration of industrial capitalism and the entrenchment of European colonialism.

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