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Portuguese Conceptual Categories and the

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This article demonstrates some of the conceptual limitations of the "Other" in the analysis of cross-cultural encounters by interrogating early modern Portuguese ideas about Swahili-speakers. Portuguese authors imagined Muslims of the East African coast as "after our fashion," and the intimate, though conflicted, relationships that developed between these two groups illustrate the legacies of such perceptions. The essay challenges the notion that Luso-Swahili relations were entirely antagonistic and suggests, instead, that Portuguese interpretations of Swahili-speakers as familiar allowed some East Africans to maintain, and even further, their commercial and political interests. Since Portuguese administrators in East Africa became dependent on the Swahili as a result of the conceptual categories they employed, we should more closely scrutinize the role and legacies of preconceptions in cross-cultural interaction.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


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