The Economic Organization and Cultural Cohesion of Fugitive Slave Communities in 19th-Century Kenya
Lydia Wlison
Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia


This paper recounts some preliminary observations from a year of archaeological and ethnohistorical fieldwork conducted in coastal Kenya in 2007-2008. The paper particularly considers how fugitive slaves, as newcomers to the coastal hinterland, navigated established regional economic and social networks. The paper also explores whether fugitive slave communities, composed of people with dissimilar cultural backgrounds and social experience, formed homogenized sociocultural norms or, alternately, maintained long-term cultural heterogeneity. The above inquiries benefit from an archaeological comparison of fugitive slave groups and the coastal hinterland communities that neighbored them. Indices targeted in this comparison include diet, trade, craft production, house style, and spatial organization of domestic activities.