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Library of Congress to Host Swahili Symposium on March 5


The Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, will present “Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: Eastern Africa’s ‘Swahili’ Civilization, Oman and the Gulf” from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 5 in the Montpelier Room, located on the sixth floor of the Library’s James Madison Building, 101 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C.

The symposium will focus on the historic, commercial and cultural links that existed between the lands of the East African ‘Swahili’ Coast, Oman and other countries of the Middle Eastern Gulf region. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended. For reservations, email and put “Symposium Reservation” in the subject line.

Known to the navigators of antiquity in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, the east coast of Africa (comprising the coastal areas of the present-day nations of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique), developed an identity very different from that of other African regions. With the advent of Islam, eastern Africa was linked directly with Arabia and Persia and indirectly with India. Characterized by the practice of Islamic religion, as well as by African, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, dress, music and other artistic traditions and architectural styles, Swahili social life and civilization continues today to retain its uniqueness.

The symposium will feature keynote remarks by East African authors Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Moyez G. Vassanji. Scholars participating in the symposium include Thomas McDow of Ohio State University; Abdull Sheriff, former executive director of the Zanzibar Indian Ocean Research Institute; Gaurav Desali of Tulane University; Jeffrey Fleisher of Rice University; and Chapurukha Kusimba of American University. Muhannad Salhi, an Arab world area specialist at the Library, and Eve Ferguson, the Library’s reference librarian for East Africa, will make presentations on the Library’s collections covering the region.

Selected items from the Library’s holdings by and about the historical development and interaction of the ‘Swahili’ people of East Africa and the peoples of the Middle Eastern Gulf region will be on display during the symposium.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Founded in 1800, the Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions.

The African and Middle Eastern Division is a center for the study of some 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia. For more information on the division and it holdings, visit

The mission of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power, and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide. For more information, visit

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