Harar and Lamu: A comparison of two East African muslim societies

Author : Hecht, E.D.

Year : 1987

Comparison of the social and political structure in two Muslim urban societies in East Africa – Harar in eastern Ethiopia and Lamu on the northern Kenyan coast – from the 18th to the early 20th century. In Lamu, as in other coastal Swahili societies, political authority was supposed to be vested with representatives of the leading families who claimed long-standing local residence and financial integrity. However, rulers were hardly ever able to develop absolute power; more often their rule was of the 'primus inter pares' type. The political structure in Harar was hierarchical with a secular ruler, surrounded by a number of appointed officials, exercising absolute power. As in Lamu, social control within the Harari community appears to have been more democratic. Women in Lamu were considered socially, intellectually, and morally inferior. They were not supposed to have any part in public affairs. Despite the custom of infibulation and clitoridectomy, the status of women in Harar was far more independent; they had an equal share in the social and religious life of the city. (Source: ASC Documentation).