The Origin of The Swahili Stone House and The Dual Nature of Swahili Urbanism

A Case Study of Lamu

  • Peninah Mutonga University of Nairobi
Keywords: House form, Settlements, Swahili culture, Transculturation


Swahili architecture is characterised by grandeur stone houses on one side and earth-and-wattle houses on the other. By considering the concept of transculturation as introduced by Felipe Hernandez et al. (2005), and employing hermeneutic research methods in the critical analysis of historical data, this paper explores the factors that contributed to the transformation of Swahili material culture and the perceived dual nature of the urban morphology. Key findings point towards a broader range of socio-cultural issues namely; trade, market competition among merchants, increased population densities, practices of sponsorship, involvement, and the adoption of immigrants as the motivations for the transformation from earth-and-wattle to stone building technology. The author recommends an analysis of Swahili architecture that extends beyond the widely-accepted traditional symbols in order to uncover the underlying intangible heritage.