Henriette Marie Moberg Rödland


 My doctoral research focuses on social inequality and slavery in pre-colonial Swahili towns in Eastern Africa, and aims to employ archaeological, historical, and ethnographic techniques and sources as well as archaeological field work on Tumbatu Island on Zanzibar, Tanzania.

The Swahili people are known for their vast trade networks and impressive stone architecture, and inhabited the coast of East Africa for over a millennium. Their role in the Indian Ocean trade was pivotal, exchanging various African goods and slaves for exotic items with Arabic, Asian, and later European traders, and many worked as middlemen between the East African interior and the Indian Ocean world. These trade connections created considerable wealth and prosperity in many Swahili towns, as well as increased social inequality. Through my research I aim to investigate the life and agency of the non-elite, and their role in the social and economic fabric of these coastal towns. In my field work I aim recover material culture and macro-botanical food remains which will be used to recognize the social diversity within individual households and the town at large, and the ways in which they navigated their daily life. The site of Jongowe on Tumbatu Island provides an excellent example of a prospering Swahili stone town with a diverse population, which in turn makes it well-equipped for the study of social diversity and servitude.

My interest in African archaeology and slavery started during my undergraduate degree at the University of York, where I successfully applied to join the 2013 archaeological field season at Songo Mnara, Tanzania, directed by Dr. Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Dr. Jeffrey Fleisher. This work inspired my dissertation, focusing on local slavery in East and West Africa. Subsequently, I obtained a Master’s Degree from the University of East Anglia in 2015, with an emphasis on slavery and labour in Africa with the hope to continue my research at PhD level. I also joined the Graduate Attachment Scheme at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in 2016, where I further developed my skills and knowledge of African archaeology and joined several anthropological and archaeological projects in Kenya and Tanzania. My current employment as a PhD candidate here at Uppsala University has enabled me to carry out research on a topic which is still poorly understood and which might enhance our understanding of urban economic and social dynamics in the East African past.

Ruins of the Friday mosque on Tumbatu Island