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Oman au fil du temps. Une nation de la Nahda à l’Oman Vision 2040

“To Everyone Who Told Zanzis That They Are Not Omani”: Young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ Belonging in Postdiaspora Oman

Franziska Fay


Dans cet article j’explore certaines des formes d’expressions contemporaines que les jeunes swahiliophones de moins de 35 ans utilisent en Oman pour revendiquer leur citoyenneté et appartenance omanaise. En m’appuyant sur de longues discussions au sujet de l’identité omano-zanzibarie, je discute comme les deuxième et troisième générations d’Omano-Zanzibaris d’origines diverses négocient un sens qu’ils attribuent au fait d’être à la fois « Swahili » et « Arabe » dans le cadre plus large de leur compréhension de ce qu’être Omanais veut dire. Je propose que la mise en avant de modes de mélanges d’appartenances de la part des personnes omanaises swahiliophones peut également contribuer à des conversations sur ce que signifie être « jeune », « Omanais », « swahiliophone », et deuxième ou troisième génération postdiasporique. L’article se base sur un terrain de recherche préliminaire conduit en Oman en 2018 et 2019. Il examine les modes d’expressions créatives des jeunes sur les réseaux sociaux numériques dans le contexte d’Oman Vision 2040. Ces sources additionnelles apportent un éclairage supplémentaire sur certaines des significations attribuées au fait d’être un jeune swahiliophone dans l'Oman d'aujourd'hui.

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I thank The Sultan Qaboos Higher Centre for Culture and Science for their financial support which allowed me to write this article as part of the Oman Research Fellowship I held at the Leibnitz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) Berlin between October and December 2021.


1The dominant ‘renaissance’ narrative of Omani national identity and citizenship is one of inclusion and unity. It emphasises ‘national cohesion’1 and the Basic Statute of the State of 1996/2011 (also Basic Law), which operates as the country’s constitution, does not allow discrimination. Article 17 states: ‘All citizens are equal before the Law and share the same public rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination amongst them on the ground of gender, origin, color, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status’. The Oman Vision 2040 sets as one of its goals: to build a society that is proud of its identity and a culture that reinforces citizenship2 Linked to this is a call to uphold ‘the Omani identity and heritage (…) as the basis for Omanis to deal with globalization and its variables and to interact with other societies of diverse cultures and values’3

  • 4 Swahili-speaking Omanis have been addressed with a variety of terminology including ‘back-from-Afri (...)

2In this article I explore the place of young Swahili-speaking Omanis4 amid this imaginary space of Omani national aspirations: inclusion, unity, national cohesion, non-discrimination, equality, pride in identity, reinforcement of citizenship through ‘culture’, upholding of Omani identity and heritage, and a diversity of cultures and values. I explore how young Omanis with heritage links to Zanzibar achieve these national aspirations: how they practice inclusion and foster unity, how they overcome potential discrimination and claim equality, how they display pride in their multi-layered identities and thus reinforce an idea of citizenship that upholds the diverse Omani heritage.

  • 5 Today, the term Zanzibari, or ‘Zinjibari’ as it is used in Oman, ‘refers to individuals associated (...)
  • 6 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 654-655.
  • 7 Valeri, 2009, p. 222.
  • 8 Ibid.

3This article shows that the legacy of the Zanzibaris5 is no longer considered "problematic" for a perceived ‘ability to disrupt the unifying theme of the Renaissance narrative’6 I argue in opposition to that and in reference to young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ practices and discourses, that show how they indeed reinforce the renaissance narrative by emphasising the diversity and tolerance that being Omani embodies for them. Ultimately, this makes clear that ‘Oman’s modern national unity is not weakened by infra-national belonging feelings’7 – such as those in association with being Swahili or Zanzibari – but, on the contrary, that it is made stronger and more diversly inclusive. As the young people’s accounts I build this discussion on will show, in contemporary Oman, belonging to the nation actually ‘benefits from the existence of local identities, which work to root the nation’s legitimacy in the eyes of the individuals’8

  • 9 Abu-Lughod, 2005; Winegar, 2006.

4By means of centering some mechanisms of belonging-making within the ongoing nation-building process of Oman, I argue that a blended, multiple and diverse concept of Omani national identity can be observed in young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ cultural practices (such as those related to food) and discursive spaces (as in linguistic practices). I hope for this explorative approach to underline the importance of Swahili-speaking Omani young people’s role in present-day conceptualisations of belonging within the cosmopolitan network of identities that spans the Western Indian Ocean. Contemporary Swahili-Omani identities, as they are affected and shaped by members of the young generations, and in regard to the ways in which nationalism and the state are constituted through cultural production and consumption9, can reveal the many layers that make up ideas of nation-building and citizenship in this region.

5In existing scholarship, Swahili-speaking communities in Oman have mainly been discussed in the contexts of two waves of migration that contributed to their establishment: regarding the time surrounding the overthrow of the last Sultan of Zanzibar in the early 1960s, which is also referred to as the Zanzibar Revolution, and in response to the ‘call’ of Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id in the 1970s. In this discussion, and in dialogue with the respective historiography that explores the longstanding links between Oman and Zanzibar, I hope to contribute some more contemporary and ethnographic insights into questions of belonging and nation-building as reflected in some socio-cultural practices of the second and third generation Swahili-speakers - whom I propose may also be considered as ‘postdiasporans’ - in present-day Oman.

  • 10 See for example African Youth Charter, 2006.

6I focus on young people because of their critical contributions to contemporary constructions of nationhood. Often categorised as an age-group between 15-3510, ‘youth’ is best viewed as a heterogeneous and fluid category without stable boundaries. As a concept, and as I apply it here, it encompasses both second and third generation Swahili-speaking Omanis, and could be further broken up in subcategories that differentiate between younger and older ‘youth’. This fluidity was reflected in the use of the Arabic term shabāb that was casually applied by my interlocutors to a variety of people, occasionally including myself as a woman in her early thirties.

  • 11 Wolf, 2002, p. 99.
  • 12 Zeleza, 2010, p. 15.

7The insights I present show how young Swahili-speaking Omanis blend different belongings and find creative ways to make claims to both Omani identity and Swahili, or Zanzibari heritage and citizenship – which could be considered as a sense of ‘Zanzibariness’. I explore young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ ‘belonging’ in regard to how they are ‘tied to’ both Oman and East African contexts like Zanzibar, how their belonging can be viewed as an ‘externally initiated classification’, how it serves as an act of ‘building relationships, finding similarities’, and what their belonging means if understood as a feeling of ‘being a part of’11 both Oman and other places. Echoing Paul Zeleza’s argument, that the new African diasporas ‘enjoy stronger linkages with Africa than the older diasporas did’12, how young Swahili-speaking Omanis construct belonging, can diversify an understanding of contemporary Omani identity.

  • 13 This article does not include any identifying information of my interlocutors. References to social (...)
  • 14 Al Zidjali, 2019, p. 361.

8I draw on six weeks of explorative ethnographic fieldwork in Muscat, Oman between March and April both in 2018 and 2019, and additional virtual ethnographic efforts in 2020, which were conducted instead of a follow up field visit to Oman due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time, I conducted participant observation of everyday activities, which also included informal conversations, semi-structured interviews, and social media analysis with young women and men13 of different social backgrounds. These insights further enabled me to highlight the ‘complexity of contemporary social and interactive landscapes’ as they are ‘sites where the local and the global encounter one another’ and ‘wherein semiotic resources co-exist’14 During both explorative fieldwork stays in Oman I spent most of my time in the Swahili-majority neighbourhoods of Bawshar, Al Amrat, Wadi Aday, Al Maabilah, Al Mawaleh South, Al Koudh. Here I lived with a Zanzibari-Omani family and met with the young Swahili-speaking Omanis who agreed to speak to me. Many were contacts that I established through friends and interlocutors in Zanzibar, my research site of over ten years. Alongside spending time in Muscat, I also travelled the country and gathered additional insights on the meanings and locations of the discourses, practices and places that represent Oman’s Swahili heritage in places such as Nizwa, Ibra, Bahla, and Sur.

9The ethnographic data I draw on in this article all stems from young people between the ages of 18-34. What is more interesting here than an actual age boundary, is an active engagement in the construction of Swahili-Omani belonging with relation to Zanzibar through certain discourses and practices. I suggest that these discourses and practices, which are significantly imprinted by Swahili language practices, are a unifying framework for young Swahili-speaking Omanis. Therefore, I understand ‘youth’ more in terms of a linguistic community of practice than a bounded age-group.

10My exploration of some young people’s indirect claims to Omani and Swahili belonging intends to serve as a constructive means of mirroring the complex and multi-layered mechanics of making the members of a modern nation and their very own contributions in this context. I hope for these insights to contribute to questions such as: what does it mean to be a young Swahili-speaker in Oman today? How do contemporary notions of belonging relate to identity concepts of the previous generations of Swahili-speaking Omanis? How do young Omanis who associate with Swahili communities accommodate and blend affiliations of being both Swahili and Omani?

11The anthropological approach I take and the valuable and meaningful, yet certainly limited, qualitative ethnographic insights from observations, conversations, and analysis of digital spaces I ground this paper on, does not intend to be conclusive or representative of all young Swahili-speakers in Oman. It rather hopes to open up space for follow up research on the presented matters that may continue to add to the knowledge of the nuances of social life on the Arabian Peninsula. Such ethnographic insights that build on situational knowledge experienced through ‘being there’ can contribute to existing historical approaches and deepen a perspective on present-day belonging in Oman. I hope it will aid deeper and more nuanced understandings of what being ‘young’, ‘Omani’, a ‘Swahili-speaker’, and a second or third generation postdiasporan in the present-day Sultanate may mean.

12In what follows I show how young Swahili-speaking Omanis reinforce the diversity and tolerance that is inherent in the idea of Omani national identity in four steps. Firstly, I set up the backdrop of longstanding discussions on the historical and continuing links and their effect to shape belonging between Oman and Zanzibar, or the Arabian Peninsula and the East African Swahili coast more broadly. Secondly, I underline the importance of specifically young Swahili-speaking Omanis in discussions of nation-building and belonging in this socio-geographic space of the Western Indian Ocean. Thirdly, I present some ethnographic examples that make clear how, and with what effect, young people are simultaneously ‘doing Swahili’ and ‘being Omani’, or put differently, claiming both belongings as integrative to and constituting of each other. I conclude with a section on the possible consideration of this very group of actors as part of a postdiaspora that embodies such blended notions of identity.

‘Black Indian Ocean’ History between ‘Afrabia’ and ‘Gulfrica’

  • 15 The Omani presence in Zanzibar poses a longstanding topic of debate in scholarly literature (see fo (...)
  • 16 Peterson, 2004, p. 46.

13Oman and Zanzibar have co-influenced each other’s historical developments for centuries. After many parts of the Swahili coast of Tanzania and Kenya fell under the control of Said bin Sultan, the Seyyid of Oman, in the late 17th century, Zanzibar – alongside Rustaq and Muscat – became the third and final capital of the Omani Empire (1696-1856) from 1849-1856. For strategic interests in increased control over the Western Indian Ocean trade in people and goods, Zanzibar posed the ideal location15 When the last Sultan of the Sultanate of Zanzibar (1856-1964), Jamshid bin Abdullah, was overthrown and exiled, the Sultanate came to an end. Throughout the 19th century and up to 1964, many Omanis had left Oman and settled across East Africa for better work opportunities and living conditions and engaging ‘in trade or seeking employment and income in Africa when drought and depression affected areas of Oman’16 These historical networks ultimately led to a blurring of the lines between neatly drawn definitions of origin and ancestry, as is displayed as part of Omani national heritage in the form of blended Omani national dress that includes Swahili kanga (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Exhibition of “Omani national dress” including a Swahili kanga at the National Museum, Muscat, Oman.

Photo by the author, 2018.

  • 17 Kharusi, 2012, p. 338.
  • 18 Valeri, 2007, p. 485.

14The historical moments that continue to hold relevance for young Swahili-speakers in Oman include the time around the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 and Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id’s ‘call’ in the 1970s. When Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah was overthrown in 1964 when ‘Zanzibar’s indigenous African population revolted against Omani rule’17, a related first shift in migration in the other direction occurred. This reversed the routes taken by Omanis in search for a better life in Zanzibar, to leave the Swahili Coast and meant for at least ‘3,700 refugees’18 to find refuge and exile back in Oman by the end of 1964.

  • 19 Chatty, 2000.
  • 20 Qaboos, 1970, cited in Records of Oman, 2003 as cited in Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 653.
  • 21 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 650-651.
  • 22 Even though Oman was presented to Omani-Zanzibaris as their ‘home’ which they were considered to ‘r (...)

15Sultan Qaboos, who took over the rule of Oman from his father in 1970 then played a central role in a second wave of increased migration when he invited ‘East African Arabs’ to return to Oman19 Within days of taking power, Qaboos announced that the ‘[t]ime will shortly come for Omanis living abroad to be called to the service of their homeland’20 This moment in Omani history is widely known as ‘the call’ with which the Sultan invited the diaspora ‘to reside in Oman as citizens and contribute to national development’21 and fostered the development of Omani Swahili-speaking communities with ties to different parts of East Africa.22

  • 23 Valeri, 2007, p. 485.
  • 24 For the years of the early 2000s when the population of Omani citizens counted only around two mill (...)
  • 25 Peterson, 2004, p. 46.
  • 26 Nevertheless, according to Peterson, ‘no Zanzibari has ever been a minister and they are routinely (...)
  • 27 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 650f.
  • 28 Wippel, 2013; Von Richthofen, 2016.
  • 29 Mathews, 2018, p. 281.

16‘Around 10,000 Omani from Zanzibar are thought to have moved back to Oman by 1975’ and were granted immediate citizenship ‘without any consideration of the time their family had spent abroad’2324 Up to the 1990s many of these Zanzibari-Omani ‘returnees’ were then, and among other things for their high levels of fluency in English25 – offered important positions within the government26 and the economy. This turned them into the ‘technocratic backbone of the country’27 and granted them a shared responsibility of bringing Oman’s national development – mainly reflected in major urbanization and infrastructure projects28 – which is commonly referred to as the country’s renaissance (nahḍa). Of course, not all ‘returning Omanis from East Africa share the same historical experience, class, education, and worldview’, but, as Nathaniel Mathews argues, ‘the Zanzibar revolution and the imagining of an imperial heritage of Oman in Zanzibar are the two major ideas connecting and weaving together the various translocal networks of Arab migrants from East Africa into a coherent community in Oman’29

  • 30 Hassan, 2017, p. 124.
  • 31 Eickelman and Abusharaf, 2015, p. 1.
  • 32 Verne, 2012, p. 31.

17Against the backdrop of these historical developments, the question of ‘belonging’ to and in between the different cultural contexts of ‘Afro-Arab societies’30 such as Oman or Zanzibar in the Western Indian Ocean World is not new. ‘The Gulf region is one of mixed populations and “creole” societies, in which both spoken languages and syntax—to mention only one dimension of the societies in the region— show a dazzling and often changing array of borrowing and assimilation, forced and voluntary migrations, and a remarkable capacity to adapt, create, rebound, and collectively remember and forget’31 Over time, a series of blended terminology has attempted to accommodate or adequately represent the complexity that belonging to these ‘translocal Swahili connections’ – that are ‘diverse links and paths through different parts of the world which each other, meet and mesh and, by doing so, play an enormous role in the constitution of particular places and spaces’32 – embodies.

  • 33 Hassan, 2016.
  • 34 Mazrui, 1975, p. 725.
  • 35 Hassan, 2017, p. 124.
  • 36 Ibid., p. 128.
  • 37 Ibid., p. 126.
  • 38 Ibid., p. 125.
  • 39 Zeleza, 2010, p. 12.

18The concepts of Afrabia and Gulfrica, for example, were prominently coined by Kenyan political thinker Ali Mazrui (1992). Unity and solidarity among Arabs and Africans were central to his ideas33 certainly because he described ‘the relationship between Arabs and black Africans’ as having ‘always been largely asymmetrical - with the Middle East usually the giver, and black Africa usually the receiver’34 Afrabia and Gulfrica thus aimed to describe ‘the experience of interaction and co-existence for long historical periods and eras’35 as well as the ‘cultural interaction, reflected by the mutual migration of people between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa’36 For Mazrui, as Hassan explains, the concept of Afrabia served as a ‘comprehensive analytical framework that underlines the deep cultural ties shared by the Arabs and Africans’37 While Afrabia can be considered ‘the outcome of geography and geology, the Afro-Arab societies are the product of history and mutual relationships and interactions’38 As I argue in this article, in Oman, Africa and Arabia ‘constitute a contiguous, indeed overlapping, space’39, an Afrabian space.

  • 40 Patterson, 2013, p. 15.

19However, there has also long been a ‘lack of consideration paid to African influences in Arabia’40 Much has been written about the influence that Oman has had in East Africa, specifically so on Zanzibar, and the fact that ‘over the past two millennia, southern Arabia made an obvious contribution to the formation of Swahili identity’ (Valeri 2007: 482). Fewer discussions, however, have been dedicated to the influence of East Africa, and specifically Zanzibari and Swahili language and cultural practices on present-day Omani culture and identity. As Edward Alpers emphasised:

  • 41 Alpers, 2000, p. 84f.

The African presence in the Indian Ocean world represents one of the most neglected aspects of the global diaspora of African peoples. (…) it is evident that African voices have been actively silenced in this diaspora both by the cultural contexts of their host societies and by the way in which the scholarly production of knowledge has reflected such cultural domination. Consequently, to get at the experiences of Africans in the Indian Ocean world and assess their sense of being of or belonging to Africa, we must look to popular culture.41

  • 42 Mazrui quoted in Ghassany, 2015, p. 76.
  • 43 Alpers, 2000, p. 90.
  • 44 Hassan, 2017, p. 125.
  • 45 Ibid., p. 134f.
  • 46 De Silva, 1999, p. 688.

20To counter those silences, it is necessary to integrate a lens of Afrocentricity, which ‘is not just a method of looking at the history of the world (…) [but] moves the African experience to center stage’42 Moving such ‘African’, or blended African experiences, in the broadest sense possible, hopes to complement an Arabcentric discourse of the lived realities of young people in the Arabian Peninsula that is never just that. Attending to this by means of centering practices of popular culture – such as ‘music, song, and dance; religion and healing; language and folkways’ – and as ‘vehicles for African memory and identity in the Indian Ocean world’ that have become integrated ‘into the culture of different host societies’43 A reflection of the ‘Afrabia phenomenon’ as also having ‘a real basis in the contemporary reality’44 and that becomes observable through a ‘cultural approach, with the aim of overcoming the historical sensitivities that are embodied by the negative mental images and stereotypes prevailing between the Arabs and Africans’45 is part of this aim. Ultimately, as Chandra De Silva argues, there is a ‘tendency to deny Africans of some of their achievements’46 in regard to their influence on commerce in the Indian Ocean historical arena, and this may hold true also in regard to their important influence on Omani nation-building.

21More recent framings that echo the critiques and of the aforementioned accounts include initiatives that have gained visibility through both scholarly and social media activities, such as the ‘Black Arabs Collective’ or ‘The Black Indian Ocean Reading Series’. The Black Arabs Collective serves as a ‘platform to share the stories and amplify the voices of Black Arabs’47 and was founded by Amuna Mohamed48, a queer black Arab activist, working as an entrepreneur in the United Arab Emirates49 The Black Indian Ocean Reading Series which was founded by Hiba Ali, ‘a digital artist, educator, scholar, DJ, experimental music producer and curator based across Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, and Toronto, ON’, ‘visualizes the histories and futures of African descent communities in the Indian Ocean region through curated film screenings and generative pedagogy’50 These contemporary approaches share in common the underlying aim to acknowledge nuances and multiple layers in constructions of national belonging. They also both emphasize voices that remain silenced in the overlapping contexts of Afro-Arab worlds and work towards more social inclusion and equality as part of the global justice movement.

22In light of these contemporary framings and their historical precedents, I frame the aim of this article to contribute to a deeper understanding of ‘Gulf youth’ beyond assumed categories of ‘Arabness’ only. Young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ everyday lives and contributions, their quotidian opportunities and struggles as they develop their personal identities and contribute actively to the formation of transnational identities (Buscemi and Kaposi 2020) can tell us much about that. ‘How young people construct their identities as they negotiate a sense of belonging’, or put differently, young people’s ‘relationship between place and a feeling of belonging’ (Habib and Ward 2019: 2) between Oman and Zanzibar is here central to my inquiry.

Young Swahili-speakers Belonging in Oman

  • 51 Ghassany, 2015, p. 75.
  • 52 There is little available information on official numbers of Swahili-speakers in Oman or their resp (...)
  • 53 Deffner and Pfaffenbach, 2011, p. 14.
  • 54 Patterson, 2013, p. 15f.

23‘It is a demographic fact that outside the United Republic of Tanzania, there are more Swahili-speaking Zanzibaris in the Sultanate of Oman and the Arab Gulf in general than anywhere else in Africa or in the world’51 In line with this, young Swahili-speaking Omanis52 specifically make up a significant part of the Omani population. That the presence of the Swahili language in Muscat is found everywhere, as also described by Patterson (2013), and that Muscat consists of many diasporic communities53, holds true also second and third generation Zanzibari-Omanis (Swahili-speaking Omanis with Omani citizenship and Zanzibari or other East African heritage) and Omani-Zanzibaris (Swahili-speakers with Tanzanian or other East African citizenship and Omani heritage) – the descendants of those Swahili-speakers who moved to Oman over the course of the historical events of the 1960s and 70s. While Oman’s national language is Arabic, ‘approximately 22,000 people speak Swahili out of a population of three million’54 Still, a trilingualism of Arabic, Swahili and English is a constituting part of ‘Afro-Arab’ identity constructions for many Omani citizens today.

24According to Said Al Jahdhami’s (2015), an assistant professor of linguistics in the Department of English at Sultan Qaboos University, Swahili – alongside other languages like Balochi, Zadjali, and Lawati – is a ‘definitely endangered’ language in Oman. In a newspaper article in the Times of Oman55 (2019), Al Jahdhami calls to save a total of eight Omani languages from extinction, Swahili being one of them, and underlines the need for ‘more preservation of these languages especially from their speakers because it is up to them to save their native tongue before it dies’. He elaborates, that what further endangers the ‘survival’ of the Swahili language in Oman, is the fact that many Omanis who claim some affiliation with Swahili communities ‘no longer identify themselves as speakers of these languages or may frown upon being identified as speakers of these languages though they may not deny their connection to these groups’56

  • 57 Mannheim, 1928.
  • 58 Koselleck, 2004, p. 59-63.

25Especially for young Omanis with East African heritage, the Swahili language remains one of the central uniting factors and markers of belonging that have resulted from the Western Indian Ocean historical entanglement and of the continued presence of Swahili-speaking communities in Oman. Nevertheless, this shared generational experience, or the formation of a ‘social generation’ along these processes57, also entails the shared experience of young people’s need to engage with and position themselves towards an (imagined) East African heritage. In this sense, the ‘making of generation’58 for young Swahili-speaking Omanis, who make up one important part of the contemporary young generation of the Omani nation, is constituted by and through language practice.

26Speaking Swahili in Oman also entails a certain positionality towards East Africa, and in regard to the degrees of belonging to each geographical and socio-cultural setting. Patterson reminds us, that

  • 59 Tanner, for example, argued similarly that ‘the Swahili-speaking Afro-Arabs can be adequately descr (...)
  • 60 Patterson, 2013, p. 2.

(…) upon returning to Muscat, Omani Arab émigrés from the Swahili Coast were faced with a choice between potential social and economic marginalization or having to shift their cultural identities from Afro-Arab elites to that of Omani Arab citizens. In order to become fully-integrated Omani citizens, English- and Swahili-speaking families had to face the possibility of abandoning portions of their own East African identity for the purpose of rejoining the larger Omani community59 The choices they made would cement their role in modern Omani society as well as influence the social and educational policy of Oman’s current government60

  • 61 In her work on love and marriage amongst young Omanis, Marion Breteau, for example, mentions the se (...)
  • 62 Hopper, 2014, p. 327.

27This situation co-constituted a shift to an official performance of Omani Arab citizenship that did not, however, unmake existing feelings of belonging to a distinctly Afro-Arab elite or, more broadly, to East African sociality. I disagree with Patterson, that portions of Swahili-speaking people’s East African identities were abandoned altogether. Rather, they were shifted to less visible spheres but never ceased to exist as steady parts of the larger Omani community. The fact that Swahili-speaking Omanis, or those who are assigned or self-assign an affiliation with East Africa, have repeatedly been categorized as less ‘conservative’ than Arab Omanis without Swahili heritage has certainly contributed to this shift61 This reinforces the fact that even though ‘in each of the Arab states of the Gulf, a substantial African presence is visible today’, ‘the vast majority of people of African descent in eastern Arabia today speak Arabic as their primary language and self-identify as Arabs rather than Africans’62

  • 63 Valeri 2007, p. 479.
  • 64 Binte-Farid, 2018, p. 47.

28The common narrative about the history and identities of the generation of those Swahili-Omanis who are considered to have returned ‘home’ to Oman from Zanzibar in the 1960s and 1970s tells a story of exclusion despite (re)integration into Omani society. According to Marc Valeri, ‘these Swahili-speaking Omani faced prejudices from the population who stayed at home and were forced to give guarantees to the others of their full belonging to the nation’63 Arabic-speaking and social norms-abiding ‘non-Arab Omanis, such as the Balushis and Zanzibaris’ were ‘nevertheless marked as outsiders because of their non-Arab tribal names and transnational genealogies’64 While these assessments certainly continue to hold true for some of the members of the ‘elder’ generation of Zanzibari-Omani – who were born before 1985 –, my young interlocutors’ accounts will diversify these historical assessments of exclusion and show how the young generation of Swahili-speaking Omanis claims, practices, and fosters inclusion too.

  • 65 Yuval-Davis, 2011, p. 10.
  • 66 Ibid., p. 18.
  • 67 Habib and Ward, 2019, p. 3.

29The dominance of an Arab, or in this case Omani identity, thus, does not negate a multi-layered sense of national belongings as a part of it. Young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ contemporary conceptualisations of belonging therefore need to be understood as being ‘about an emotional (or even ontological) attachment, about feeling ‘at home’65 in different places. Multiple emotional attachments and present or absent feelings of home or (not) belonging in either Zanzibar or Oman continue to be influenced by the historical events and framings that lead up to them. As Sandhya Rao Mehta (2019) shows for second-generation Indian residents in Oman, the meaning of home may have become ‘more potent in the imagination as its physical presence erodes’ due to institutional forces outside the control of individuals and that through a certain sense of ‘non-belonging (…) opportunities for reconceptualization of home’ may arise and be termed ‘creative transnationalism’. Post-independence nation building in Oman is thus ‘always situated and always multi-layered’66 as it becomes particularly visible from the standpoints of young Swahili-speaking Omanis. Following this, it is ‘the manner in which the practices, discourses and ethos of particular locales, spaces and institutions contribute to shaping’67 young people’s ways of being, that I understand as central to the notion of belonging.

‘Doing’ Swahili and ‘Being’ Omani

  • 68 Yuval-Davis, 2011, p. 12.

30In this section I turn to some explorative ethnographic situations that suggest that for present-day Swahili-speaking Omanis ‘belonging is always a dynamic process, not a reified fixity’ and that people can indeed ‘“belong” in many different ways and to many different objects of attachment’68 For young Swahili-speakers in Oman, this may include a translocal sense of being Swahili, African, Zanzibari, Omani and Arab simultaneously and new ways of integrating these heritage concepts within the broader framework of their Arab identities without privileging one over the other. Thereby young Omani Swahili-speakers reinforce the idea of unity and cohesion that is central to the narrative of Omani identity which is fundamentally rooted in diversity.

In Muscat

31One afternoon in 2019 I met up with a young man aged of thirty-two who was born in Oman to an Omani father, who had been born in Zanzibar and had moved to Oman in the 1970s. His cousin, a young man of the same age but with Zanzibari citizenship and residing there, had linked us up. As we sat in a coffee shop in the Al Mouj, one of Muscat’s upmarket complexes, one of the topics he kept coming back to during our conversation was the question of language: ‘Swahili is not taught in Oman. Many of my generation speak it, but 90% of the 5-10 years olds don’t speak it anymore, so it will disappear’. As per his choice our conversation took place in English, because, he explained, even though he understood a lot of Swahili and was partially raised with it, he did not actively speak it anymore. However, it seemed to be one of the topics that concerned him a lot. For him, the potential loss of Swahili for insufficient efforts to teach it to the next generation of descendants of Swahili-speaking Omanis was interwoven with concerns over the potential loss of the transmission of Zanzibari-Omani history and memory, which presented another central theme he frequently touched on. A loss of the Swahili language indicated a loss of cultural heritage, and despite his own limited literacy, he perceived it as an important part of his Omani identity.

32That despite its perceived and real endangerment, Swahili continues to play a critical role in many Omani families’ everyday lives, but nevertheless embodies a complicated nature between embracing and concealing it by the young generation, was also observed by Breteau. She reports on code-switching practices made use of by her Swahili-Omani host family in Muscat used different languages according to whom they spoke with and observed that ‘une certaine habitude à dissimuler sa connaissance du swahili et moins bien maîtriser le dialectal apparaissent comme le témoin d’une différenciation infranationale qui prend le système identitaire omanais tout entier, basé sur la promotion d’une arabité hégémonique’ (2019: 62).

  • 69 Asili yetu ni Zanzibar lakini nikiwa nje sipendi kuongea Kiswahili. Baadhi ya waOmani wakikusikia u (...)

33The concealing of such a subnational differentiation along the lines of Swahili language practice was frequently paired with a fear of stigmatization. This was confirmed by a twenty-one-year-old Swahili-speaking Omani woman, who was briefly raised in Zanzibar before relocating to Oman as a child born to a Zanzibari mother of Omani heritage, and an Omani father who grew up in mainland Tanzania only to return to Oman later. Raised bilingually with both Arabic and Swahili at home, her concern with the actual use of the language echoes the previous accounts: ‘Our origin is Zanzibari but when I am outside I don’t like to use Swahili. Some other Omanis, when they hear you speaking Swahili, they will call you “African”, and I don’t like that’69

  • 70 Kharusi, 2012, p. 346.

34This young woman’s statement recalls the classification that Nafla Kharusi suggests for Swahili-speakers in Oman, differentiating between three groups of Zinjibaris: ‘those who willingly speak the language in public and private domains; those who speak it in private domains only; and those who refuse to speak the language no matter what the context and often pretend not to know it when spoken to’70 – the young woman falling into the second category. Her concern over being identified as a Swahili-speaker and thus as ‘African’ suggests a negative connotation assigned to the term that prevents her from fully and publicly claiming the multi-layered sense of belonging she was raised with.

  • 71 Bashkin, 2011, p. 294.
  • 72 See for example Krings and Reuster-Jahn, 2014.

35Another non-verbal example of this understanding of contemporary Omani identity took place when I was welcomed at a Zanzibari-Omani family’s house. One of the sons who was present that day and who was eighteen years old at the time, born to Omani-Zanzibari parents who later returned to Oman to become Zanzibari-Omani, expressed a similar concept of blended belonging, or ‘hybrid nationalism’71, as visible in the previous example. Upon me addressing and greeting him in Swahili, which his parents continue to speak amongst each other and to some of their children at different degrees, he seemed immediately delighted, sensing an opportunity to apply his Swahili-speaking skills, which I would later observe were generally confined to the private space and to a mostly passive use of the language. As we started to speak, he soon directed my attention to a bracelet in the colours of the Tanzanian flag that he was wearing on his wrist and then quickly reached for his smartphone to pull up a list of recent Bongo Flava72 songs, a popular Tanzanian music genre, and started playing them for me. What seemed particularly important to him was to display how he was up-to-date with the latest East African music developments, and even more so, that he was able to sing along all of the lyrics in Swahili. Here too, as in the previous examples, the pride that is associated with this multiple sense of identity is evident.

On Social Media

36Young Swahili-speaking Omani’s online practices added another layer of insight onto the variety of ways in which transnational postdiasporan identities are shaped in Oman. The digital space allowed for and accommodated a yet again more fluent approach to crossing supposed borders between categories of belonging.

Happy 50th National day to everyone who told zanzis that they are not omani [Omani flag; laughing emoji; peace sign] also I’m fully aware I’m wearing a Dhofari dress when I’m not from that region, however I AM OMANI. In choosing this dress, I hope it makes a statement towards unity and love [heart] we are all proud OMANIS no matter what region we come from. (see Fig. 2)

37On 18 November 2020, the Omani National Day celebration of the 50 years of the nation, this statement was posted on the popular Instagram account ‘novemberus’ which has 20,000 followers and is run by run by Fatma Al Bakry, an ‘Omani photographer’73, ‘videographer’74 and a ‘top female musician in the UAE’75, who introduces herself in her bio as ‘tumi’ and ‘DJ Don’t Touch My Hair’ who splits ‘life livin’ Dubai x Muscat’. The statement accompanies an image of herself, in which she poses with hands folded and her face only half-visible (see Fig. 2). The account had been recommended to me by a Swahili-speaking Omani woman in her late twenties whom I had become friends with in Zanzibar, where she spent many of her holidays visiting family. She had pointed me to it as a ‘good example’ of a contemporary and expressive take on the claim of being a young Swahili-speaking Omani.

38Al Bakry’s emphasis on her Zanzibari heritage, and her simultaneous strong and direct claim of Omani belonging, stood out to me in this post. By addressing those ‘who told zanzis that they are not omani’ she refers directly to people who seem to have rejected such claims by Zanzibari-Omanis in the past. By opposing them she takes the celebration of Omani National Day as an opportunity to make clear her own understanding of national belonging. ‘I am Omani’ and ‘we are all proud Omanis’, almost entirely written in capital letters, underlines the extent to which she no longer considers it a relevant or adequate question whether being Omani and being Swahili, or Zanzibari, can exist alongside each other. Through stressing that her inclusive conceptualisation of what it means to be Omani is intended to contribute towards ‘unity and love’, she reinforces the importance of national unity and cohesion as aspired to in the context of Oman’s renaissance narrative and the Oman Vision 2040, and does so not despite but precisely because of its valuation of diversity. Some of the comments in underneath her post include statements like ‘Thanks for supporting us ... from one Zanzi to another’, ‘I think every zanziiii RELATES TO THIS POSTTTTTTTT’, or ‘YEES TELL ‘EM’, that echo and support her claim seemingly from others who feel similarly. In another post from 14 March 2021, Al Bakry makes a similar statement in addition to an image in which she poses with Swahili kanga fabric:

Too African for the Arabs, too mwarabu (Arab in Swahili) for the Africans. @reminhoo’s vision for this project was to dive into what it’s like to be a product of both cultures. Proud to be a part of a project that has depth, weight & history depicted through the eyes of young talented Africans. Also the cast is BANGIN so just wait on it [fingers crossed emoji; Omani flag; Tanzanian flag] (see Fig. 3)

39The comments include ‘Love this and the caption is sadly so true. Great awarness’, ‘The relatability is insane’ and ‘African beauty’, again mirroring the importance that her follower attribute to what she says. Among the hashtags Al Bakry included herself are ‘#omani #zanzibar #african #oman #muscat’. What is striking in this post is her emphasis on the perceived conflict that some people apparently identify as inherent to identifying as both ‘African’ and ‘Arab’. Her use of the Swahili term for Arab (mwarabu) indicates her claim also on a linguistic level that links Afro-Arab Omani identity to the ability to Swahili literacy. Her self-referential claim of being ‘a product of both cultures’ refrains from a hierarchization of Omani or Swahili/Zanzibari/African belonging but considers them as equally valid and valuable.

40In search of further publicly accessible sources on social media, that would correspond with search terms such as ‘Swahili + Oman + Zanzibar + Arabic’, I found another example that illustrates how the second and third generation of Swahili-speaking Omanis are reimagining and reconfiguring belonging specifically in regard to Swahili language use on YouTube. Here a young man from Burundi who lives in Oman and who refers to himself as Mo Rasheed has started creating Swahili language learning videos specifically addressed at non-Swahili speaking Arab youth. What shows nicely in the screenshot (see Fig. 4) of one of those videos is the combination of the flags of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Burundi suggesting a fluid understanding of both ‘Arabness’ and ‘Swahili-Africanness’ and in relation to each other. His individual initiative and approach to preserving and promoting his own Swahili-speaking heritage in Oman within his age-group emphasises again the continuous relevance and celebration of Swahili heritage through the young generation in Oman.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Screenshot of one of Mo Rasheed’s Swahili learning videos on YouTube.

URL:​watch?v=R4slieuY9hE&t=584s (accessed 01.07.2021)

41Finally, another young woman presents an equally hybrid example of Omani belonging that is inclusive of Swahili and Zanzibari heritage. Dina Macki, a young female chef who runs the Instagram account ‘dinewithdina’ and presents herself to her 19,100 followers as ‘Omani Brit meets Zanzibar & Iran all on a plate’76 Her multiple sense of belonging, that is does not discriminate any of her personal notions of heritage, is directly reflected in her food-making practices. In a post from 20 May 2020, in which she shares a recipe for mandazi (doughnuts), she has added hashtags such as #zanzibarfood, #omanicuisine, #omanifood, #swahilifood, #eastafricanfood, and #middleeasternfood alongside each other, which serve as qualifiers for the complex and inclusive approach to food-making she promotes (see Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Screenshots of dinewithdina’s account and a mandazi recipe on Instagram.

URL:​dinewithdina/​?hl=de and​p/​CAaP2JvgYXs/​ (accessed 01.07.2021)

42That negotiations of belonging also reflect in food practices, as elaborated above, was confirmed during several opportunities to acquire Zanzibari dishes that I knew from the Swahili coast. Dishes such as the widely-loved urojo/Zanzibar mix can be purchased and consumed at small stalls (see Fig. 6) in several settings of Muscat, and were often sold by young Zanzibari men with family ties in Oman who come to Muscat in search for work. And even outside of Muscat, Swahili dishes such as samosa, vitumbua, or katlesi (see Fig. 7) were available in restaurants that often dubbed as ‘Zanzibar Food’ or ‘Zanzibari Restaurant’ such as the one in Ibra.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

Urojo/Zanzibar Mix food stall in Muscat, Oman.

Photo by the author, 2018.

Blending Belongings in the Postdiaspora

  • 77 Laguerre, 2017, p. 25.

43Both the ethnographic insights I have presented from the field as well as those I was able to gain through social media have foregrounded a ‘deminoritization of their identity’77 that can be observed for young Swahili-speaking Omanis who directly claim both Omani and Swahili-related belonging. Ultimately, that young people’s practices allow them to claim an equal space to those young Omanis who do not identify as having Swahili – or Zanzibari heritage too in a present-day arena of an imaginary Omani sense of belonging. For those who make use of them, the practices I have offered insights into create shared diverse spaces in which multiple belonging is no longer considered marginal but rather shifted towards a visible standard that is acknowledged as another ‘norm’. Unlike their parental generation who were frequently regarded either as refugees, or as returnees, the young postdiasporan generation of Swahili-speaking Omanis claims Omani belonging while also partly constituting their identity through their generation’s shared experiences of growing up Swahili. Therefore, young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ diverse claims to belonging reinforce the state-led narrative of Omaniness that centers national cohesion, inclusion and unity.

  • 78 Ibid.

44In light of these observations, I want to propose the notion of ‘postdiaspora’ as well-suited to grasp this Swahili-speaking Omani generations’ practices of belonging that do not deny the existence of the previous diasporic generation, coexist alongside each other’78 The postdiaspora of Zanzibari-Omanis is a heterogeneous community that consists of Swahili-speaking Omanis with different family histories of Zanzibari ancestry. For the postdiasporic generation Swahili cultural practices and claims of belonging have become a vital and constructive part of their contemporary conceptualisation of Omani identity. This identity is continuously imagined and practiced as broad and multi-layered. Their identification with their varied Zanzibari origin and heritage appears as transformative and enabling of an inclusive sense of Omaniness. While associating with the Zanzibari-Omani postdiaspora, young people also fully claim Omani citizenship and belonging. This reiterates the importance of taking national identity building into account as interwoven with the idea of postdiaspora.

  • 79 Ibid.
  • 80 Ibid.
  • 81 Ibid.

45Postdiaspora does not ‘constitute a homogeneous community’ but rather reflects ‘disparate individuals of the same foreign ancestry’ as ‘a category of practices’ through which individuals ‘insert themselves as co-equal in society’ than a legal category79 Thereby, ‘the stigmatized, minoritized other status imparted on them by the rest of society’80 can be rejected. Ultimately, what is resented, challenged and at least partially overcome in the postdiaspora, is the identification as ‘other’ and socially inferior81 The varied techniques of inscribing degrees of Swahiliness into contemporary Omani identities are particularly well observed in this young generations’ contributions. The significance they assign to Swahili as a language of importance and in need of protection in present-day Oman serves as an indicator of the aliveness of Swahili language-communities as one group that co-constructs the heterogeneous and complex idea of Omani national belonging.

  • 82 Mathews, 2018, p. 302.
  • 83 Ibid.
  • 84 Mathews, 2018, p. 280.

46This conceptualisation also echoes Mathews’ claim, who rightly emphasises, that ‘diaspora-thinking can, instead of liberating us from national boundaries, be a racial way of recognizing fellow nationals’82 In order to avoid that diaspora imaginaries, and despite the ‘strong bonds of affection they create’, lead to a ‘reductive form of racial thinking (…) when deployed as a litmus test for finding the nation in distant spaces and times’83, a conceptual understanding of the practices discussed in this article may be better addressed by through a postdiasporic lens. I also agree with Mathews’ suggestion, that ‘the Omani-Zanzibaris do not fit the mold of de-diasporization that commonly accompanies becoming citizens in a new nation-state’ because they did not abandon ‘co-responsibility to Zanzibar; rather, they have transformed their memory of it in a way that echoes the way their grandparents and great-grandparents generations related to it’84 It is thus the notion of postdiaspora that achieves to capture this complex situation more adequately.

  • 85 Dunn and Scafe, 2019, p. 3.

47Thus, the Swahili-speaking postdiaspora ‘is neither a departure from, nor a continuation of contemporary usages of diaspora: rather the “post” signals a new problem space that allows us to imagine new futures’85 The future-orientation that is inherent in this definition of postdiasporic practice corresponds with the active role the young generation takes in, for example, continuing to shape an inclusive and diverse sense of Omani nation-building as set out in the Oman Vision 2040. As Michel Laguerre points out, ‘for some, postdiaspora status begins with second generation’ and

  • 86 Laguerre, 2017, p. 25.

is a site of contestation against the minority status where immigrants in society are designated as outsiders, which they view as discriminatory in their attempts to secure legal, equal status as insiders. They refuse to contribute to the maintenance of an exclusionary status that demeans their identity and minoritizes their membership in society. Refutation and empowerment are two pillar elements that define the ascription of the postdiaspora in a society86

  • 87 Ibid, p. 23.

48Such a contestation against a minority status in Omani society have become visible in the verbal and non-verbal expressions of young Swahili-speaking Omanis. The postdiasporic generation here ‘encapsulates different forms of de-diasporization’ and implies ‘a set of practices that come about from different mechanisms and through different routes such as (…) return migration, in which former members of a diaspora now live in the homeland (…) or cosmonational membership and integration, in which homeland and diaspora form a crossborder multisite nation, or cosmonation’87 – all characteristics that apply and hold true to the group of my interlocutors. For them the concept of a cosmonation responds to their various practices of belonging and unification of ideas of several homes across larger geographical spaces and without restricting notions of belonging to national boundaries.


49I have argued that a blended, multiple and diverse concept of Omani national belonging can be observed in young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ sociocultural practices and discursive spaces and that these practices and spaces indeed reinforce the Omani renaissance narrative and the diversity and tolerance that is inherent in the idea of contemporary Omani nationhood as put forward in the constitution or in the Oman Vision 2040. I have contextualised this claim against the backdrop of longstanding discussions on the historical and continuing links and their effect to shape belonging between Oman and Zanzibar, or the Arabian Peninsula and the East African Swahili coast more broadly and in regard to framings and concepts that have been applied here in the past and presently including those of Afrabia, Gulfrica, the Black Indian Ocean and Afro-Arab societies. In this context, I have suggested the need for increasing scholarly attention on ongoing ‘African’ influences in the Arab world and more specifically on the socio-cultural contributions that young Swahili-speakers in Oman make to contemporary concepts of Omani nationhood, or across the Arabian Peninsula more broadly.

50I then underlined the importance of specifically young Swahili-speaking Omanis in discussions of nation-building and belonging in this socio-geographic space of the Western Indian Ocean, particularly with reference to the value that is attributed to the preservation of the Swahili language. Some ethnographic examples unravelled how young people are simultaneously ‘doing Swahili’ and ‘being Omani’ and what that means in light of their sense of belonging as integrative to and constituting of self-affiliating with both categories. I conclude with a section on the possible consideration of this very group of actors as part of a postdiaspora that embodies such blended notions of identity. This discussion led me to propose the analytic category of the postdiaspora as suitable in light of the described practices that show how that current generation of Swahili-speaking Omanis achieves a blending of belongings that reflects translocal ideas of tolerance and inclusivity as constituting parts of contemporary Omani identity. This conceptual approach may serve to frame other subnational socio-cultural communities that understand themselves as belonging both in Oman and elsewhere at the same time. Finally, the dynamics of belonging displayed by young Swahili-speaking Omanis remain heterogeneous and varied and call for further research that engages with these nuanced practices in regard to young people’s historical trajectories, socioeconomic positions, and more.

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1 Phillips and Hunt, 2017, p. 646.

2 National Priorities, Vision Document, Oman Vision 2040, online. URL: (accessed 10.11.2020)

3 People and Society, Vision Document, Oman Vision 2040, online. URL: (accessed 10.11.2020)

4 Swahili-speaking Omanis have been addressed with a variety of terminology including ‘back-from-Africa Omani’, ‘Swahili’ (Valeri 2009), ‘Zanzibari’ (Limbert 2010), ‘Zinjibari’ (Kharusi 2012), ‘Afro-Omani’ (Al-Harthy 2012) or ‘Zanzibari-Omanis’ (Binte-Farid 2018). Importantly, despite these attempts to find generalising terms to address this group of the population, of course, the people who identify with any or some of these labels are not a homogenous group and position themselves on various ends of this spectrum depending on family history and resulting interpretations of the terms.

5 Today, the term Zanzibari, or ‘Zinjibari’ as it is used in Oman, ‘refers to individuals associated with any part of the East African region that at one time was under the political control of Oman or had commercial ties with it’ (Kharusi 2012: 338). Speaking of Zanzibari heritage or culture in Oman thus does not refer only to the present-day Zanzibar archipelago of Unguja and Pemba, but includes different places in East Africa from the Swahili Coast to Burundi. References to Omanis with East African connections as ‘Zanzibari’ therefore take place ‘regardless of where the African connection originated’ (Peterson 2004: 46).

6 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 654-655.

7 Valeri, 2009, p. 222.

8 Ibid.

9 Abu-Lughod, 2005; Winegar, 2006.

10 See for example African Youth Charter, 2006.

11 Wolf, 2002, p. 99.

12 Zeleza, 2010, p. 15.

13 This article does not include any identifying information of my interlocutors. References to social media platforms are not anonymised when they refer to public accounts and profiles.

14 Al Zidjali, 2019, p. 361.

15 The Omani presence in Zanzibar poses a longstanding topic of debate in scholarly literature (see for example Piazza 2019; Verne and Müller-Mahn 2013; Glassmann 2011).

16 Peterson, 2004, p. 46.

17 Kharusi, 2012, p. 338.

18 Valeri, 2007, p. 485.

19 Chatty, 2000.

20 Qaboos, 1970, cited in Records of Oman, 2003 as cited in Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 653.

21 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 650-651.

22 Even though Oman was presented to Omani-Zanzibaris as their ‘home’ which they were considered to ‘return’ to, many of them had never previously been there but instead were socialised and familiar only with the home they had had in Zanzibar.

23 Valeri, 2007, p. 485.

24 For the years of the early 2000s when the population of Omani citizens counted only around two million instead of five million people, Valeri estimates the ‘back-from-Africa’ Omani population to number ‘about 100,000’ (2007: 486), or ‘4.3%’ (Kharusi 2012). A lack of official numbers regarding the diversity of the population continues to leave more recent numbers to be guessed.

25 Peterson, 2004, p. 46.

26 Nevertheless, according to Peterson, ‘no Zanzibari has ever been a minister and they are routinely denied promotion to other top positions’ (2004: 51).

27 Philips and Hunt, 2017, p. 650f.

28 Wippel, 2013; Von Richthofen, 2016.

29 Mathews, 2018, p. 281.

30 Hassan, 2017, p. 124.

31 Eickelman and Abusharaf, 2015, p. 1.

32 Verne, 2012, p. 31.

33 Hassan, 2016.

34 Mazrui, 1975, p. 725.

35 Hassan, 2017, p. 124.

36 Ibid., p. 128.

37 Ibid., p. 126.

38 Ibid., p. 125.

39 Zeleza, 2010, p. 12.

40 Patterson, 2013, p. 15.

41 Alpers, 2000, p. 84f.

42 Mazrui quoted in Ghassany, 2015, p. 76.

43 Alpers, 2000, p. 90.

44 Hassan, 2017, p. 125.

45 Ibid., p. 134f.

46 De Silva, 1999, p. 688.

47 Black Arabs Collective, Instagram, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

48 Anti-Racism in the Arab World with Black Arabs Collective, Juhood Magazine, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

49 Episode 123: Amuna, The Queer Arabs, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

50 Black Indian Ocean Series, South Asian Visual Arts Centre (SAVAC), online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021) and The Black Indian Ocean Reading List, Hiba Ali, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

51 Ghassany, 2015, p. 75.

52 There is little available information on official numbers of Swahili-speakers in Oman or their respective levels of fluency or literacy. This poses a difficulty to assess with more accuracy the current status of Swahili in Oman.

53 Deffner and Pfaffenbach, 2011, p. 14.

54 Patterson, 2013, p. 15f.

55 Call to Save 8 Omani Languages from Extinction, Times of Oman, online. URL: (accessed 04.10.2021)

56 Al Jadhami, 2015, p. 105.

57 Mannheim, 1928.

58 Koselleck, 2004, p. 59-63.

59 Tanner, for example, argued similarly that ‘the Swahili-speaking Afro-Arabs can be adequately described as Swahili but they nevertheless wish to be regarded as Arabs by outsiders and to speak as much Arabic as they can learn. The cultural and social interrelationship is so strong that a term must be used which will include the Arabs at one end of the scale and the Swahili at the other’ (1964: 127).

60 Patterson, 2013, p. 2.

61 In her work on love and marriage amongst young Omanis, Marion Breteau, for example, mentions the self-ascription of some of her Swahili-speaking Omani interlocutors who explain ‘que leurs origines swahilies font d’eux des gens plus ouverts d’esprit que les autres’ (2019: 67) and emphasises further that ‘les Swahilis revendiquent leur origine arabe pour légitimer leur appartenance à la nation omanaise’ (2019: 253). Peterson emphasised similarly, that Zanzibaris’ ‘children, born in Oman and educated in Omani schools, speak Arabic fluently but they remain distinct from non-Zanzibari Omani children because of the more liberal and cosmopolitan cultural traits of their families’ (2004: 47).

62 Hopper, 2014, p. 327.

63 Valeri 2007, p. 479.

64 Binte-Farid, 2018, p. 47.

65 Yuval-Davis, 2011, p. 10.

66 Ibid., p. 18.

67 Habib and Ward, 2019, p. 3.

68 Yuval-Davis, 2011, p. 12.

69 Asili yetu ni Zanzibar lakini nikiwa nje sipendi kuongea Kiswahili. Baadhi ya waOmani wakikusikia unaongea Kiswahili watakuita Mwafrika, na mimi sipendi hii.

70 Kharusi, 2012, p. 346.

71 Bashkin, 2011, p. 294.

72 See for example Krings and Reuster-Jahn, 2014.

73 This Omani Photographer’s Empowering Exhibition Celebrates Women, Vogue (Arabia), online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

74 Fatma Al Bakry – UAE, Suede Guerrillas, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

75 Top Female Musicians in the UAE, Time Out Sharjah, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

76 Dine With Dina, Instagram, online. URL: (accessed 01.07.2021)

77 Laguerre, 2017, p. 25.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid.

82 Mathews, 2018, p. 302.

83 Ibid.

84 Mathews, 2018, p. 280.

85 Dunn and Scafe, 2019, p. 3.

86 Laguerre, 2017, p. 25.

87 Ibid, p. 23.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Légende Exhibition of “Omani national dress” including a Swahili kanga at the National Museum, Muscat, Oman.
Crédits Photo by the author, 2018.
Fichier image/jpeg, 299k
Titre Fig. 2
Légende Instagram screenshot.
Crédits URL:​novemberus/​ and​p/​CHu_8_sjHfR/​ (accessed 01.07.2021)
Fichier image/png, 443k
Titre Fig. 3
Légende Instagram screenshot.
Crédits URL:​novemberus/​ and​p/​CHu_8_sjHfR/​ (accessed 01.07.2021)
Fichier image/png, 803k
Titre Fig. 4
Légende Screenshot of one of Mo Rasheed’s Swahili learning videos on YouTube.
Crédits URL:​watch?v=R4slieuY9hE&t=584s (accessed 01.07.2021)
Fichier image/png, 851k
Titre Fig. 5
Légende Screenshots of dinewithdina’s account and a mandazi recipe on Instagram.
Crédits URL:​dinewithdina/​?hl=de and​p/​CAaP2JvgYXs/​ (accessed 01.07.2021)
Fichier image/png, 453k
Titre Fig. 6
Légende Urojo/Zanzibar Mix food stall in Muscat, Oman.
Crédits Photo by the author, 2018.
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Titre Fig. 7
Légende Swahili food at a ‘Zanzibar Restaurant’ in the town of Ibra, Sharqiyah region, Oman.
Crédits Photo by the author, 2018.
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Fichier image/jpeg, 78k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Franziska Fay, « “To Everyone Who Told Zanzis That They Are Not Omani”: Young Swahili-speaking Omanis’ Belonging in Postdiaspora Oman », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 15 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2022, consulté le 25 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Franziska Fay

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

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