The coastal hinterland and interior of East Africa
Although Islam has been present on the East African coast for more than twelve centuries (chapter 12), in assessing the extent of Islamic influence we need to distinguish between the Swahili towns, centers of Islam on or near the coast, and the neighboring rural areas of the coastal hinterland, which remained untouched by Islam until relatively recent times. Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese references to the indigenous peoples of the coast are scanty, but they say enough for us to conclude that prior to the nineteenth century the influence of Islam in the immediate hinterland and the interior was negligible, hardly extending beyond the outskirts of the coastal towns." In this chapter, we look at the way Islam spread, beginning in the nineteenth century, among the peoples of the coastal hinterland, behind a stretch of the East African coast extending for some five hundred miles (eight hundred kilometers), from the Tana River-Lamu archipelago region in the north to the Rufiji River delta region in the south. This stretch, known as the Swahili coast, can be divided into two sections. The sections are dissimilar but roughly equal in length, running I. from the Lamu archipelago south as far as Tanga (in whose hinterland the Usambara Mountains rise); and 2. from Tanga south to the Rufiji River. The dissimilarities stem from a combination of geographical, historical, and economic factors.