The decline of the Swahili community was particularly evident in members' beliefs about the quality of community life. My informants are unanimous in their belief that Twelve Tribes community life is not what it once was. Older people report that in their youth, neighbors and relatives were more dependable and the community as a whole more active. Younger people take the same basic view but refer, surprisingly, to the impropriety of their own behavior and the failure of their parents and respected community members to control them "better." I will return to the young people's view of their own conduct in chapter 4 when I consider the nature of culture's contents, but for now, the point is that informants of all ages agree that community life has declined.
Older informants sometimes mention the number, scale, and quality of group rituals—weddings, circumcisions, and funerals—that were held until fairly recently and the very substantial sums of money that were spent on
them. Men are quite ambivalent about this expenditure and sometimes say that the failure of the Swahili to keep up financially with their Hadhrami and Indian Old Town neighbors is due to the extravagance of the rituals held.
At the same time, there is a definite pride in their opulence. For women, this pride is particularly strong. There were still large weddings in the late 1970s, and large funerals were still held, although with lesser expenditures, throughout the 1980s. Outright regret from men at the diminished number and quality of rituals is only rarely heard, although it is heard from women, but there is a tone of regret nevertheless. As far as comparisons heard between the present and the recent past in amity, mutual assistance, and cooperation among neighbors, there is no ambivalence and no difference between male and female informants: all compare the present unfavorably.
In fact, so far as objective evidence is available, it appears that community life has declined along the dimensions informants mention. Not that the Twelve Tribes has ever been a society characterized by boundless concord, ubiquitous amity, and widespread cooperation. As we have seen, throughout the history of the Twelve Tribes, the two sections of the community, the Nine Tribes and Three Tribes confederations, have competed vigorously across a wide scope of activities, and there have been more than a few periods of sharp conflict. Still, the sections had been mainly united in a dynamic opposition that allowed the community as a whole to exist and even prosper. Sometimes the help of outside authorities, including the notably successful Mazrui rulers in the last century, was involved in overcoming the opposition when it became disruptive, but in the last century or two, a dynamic unity was usual.
As seen earlier, the confederations were made up of migrant "tribes," many of which included within themselves a variety of immigrant descent lines that, in time, became thoroughly integrated into the community through membership in one or the other of the sections, each localized in its own part of Old Town. A partial exception to this integration into the community through section membership is found for a number of families founded by men of Omani origin. These men married Swahili women and produced, over the generations, descendants who continued to emphasize their Arab identity even though in most respects they behaved in accord with Swahili, rather than Arab, culture. A majority of these "Swahili Arab," as they can be called for easy reference, families were in the Nine Tribes section, but the Three Tribes also included some. Despite their insistence on their Arab heritage, they participated in the rituals and activities of their confederations and of the community as a whole and patterned their social lives, including marriage, just as other Twelve Tribes members did.
With the ascendancy of the Busaidi in the nineteenth century, however, the internal solidarity of each of the sections was lessened by the commitment of the Swahili Arabs to the ethnically related (as they themselves understood that relationship) group and culture on Zanzibar, that is, that of the Busaidi
sultan and his retainers. I shall refer to this latter group, again for ease of reference, as "Zanzibar Arabs." It will become clear that the commitment of the Swahili Arabs of each section to the Zanzibaris has worked equally against the interests of the members of the opposite section and of members of their own section who do not share their claimed ethnic origin.
There was nothing new about the identification of the Swahili Arabs with the peoples of the Omani region. For many generations, there have been Swahili families that traced their founders' origins to the Persian Gulf area, but when the identification was used as a resource to gain political advantage beyond the community and to benefit from colonial racial policies, it had an influence both more profound and more lasting than it had ever had before. One of the earlier advantages that came to those who could prove they were of Arab descent appeared in 1910 when "Arabs" were exempted from the colonial Hut Tax, while others, including Swahili who did not go to court to prove they had Arab ancestors, were not (Salim 1973:187).