This paper situates Eastern Africa in the early maritime trade of the Indian Ocean, reviewing evidence for connections from Egypt and Red Sea, the Gulf, and Southeast Asia from prehistory to the Islamic Period. The region played a pivotal role in developing global networks, but we argue that it has become the “forgotten south” in an era of emerging empires. One reason for this is a lack of understanding of maritime mobility around the rim of the Indian Ocean, often undertaken by small scale or specialist groups, including sea nomads. These groups are characterised as marginalised and victimised during globalisation, yet dualising into categories—such as “exploiter” and “exploiting”—oversimplifies what was almost certainly in reality a complex array of roles and activities, both in the context of East Africa and elsewhere around the Indian Ocean. Through modern scientific-based excavation and analysis, we can now begin to more fully understand these interactions.