Reality and Representation of Eastern Africa’s Past: Archaeology and History Redress the ‘Coast-Inland Dichotomy’


  • Jonathan Walz
  • Philip Gooding


This article seeks to redress what the authors perceive as a coast-inland dichotomy in understandings of eastern Africa’s past. Through allowing aspects of highly problematic historical paradigms to persist, some of which are European in origin and date from the Victorian and colonial eras, and through adopting certain scholarly practices that reify rather than question such paradigms in spatial understandings of the region, archaeologists, historians, and scholars of cognate disciplines have emphasized difference and distance between coastal and inland areas of eastern Africa. The authors provide a framework for deconstructing this dichotomy at a vital time, during which Eurocentric and colonialist assumptions are coming under increased scrutiny. They do so by building on their respective research into the pasts of two inland areas: the Pangani (Ruvu) River Basin since c. 700 CE (Walz) and nineteenth-century Lake Tanganyika (Gooding). Although they draw on divergent scholarly training (Walz is trained primarily as an archaeologist; Gooding as a historian) both integrated methods more customarily associated with cultural anthropology, such as participant observation and oral interviews. Collectively, their research emphasizes entanglement and connectivity between coastal and inland areas. This article represents a call for further interdisciplinary research and collaborations, such as the one that supports this article, to examine additional ways in which the region’s pasts may be re-contextualized in space. Far from being “sibling rivals” as scholars a generation ago described the relationship between archaeologists and historians, scholars of such disciplines should see themselves as “sibling colleagues” working on the same endeavor. In this instance, the endeavor is an evidence-based redress of spatial paradigms whose roots have considerable links to Eurocentric and colonialist interpretations.