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Hail to thee blithe Spirit
Bird thou never wert
That from Heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art

. Percy Bysshe Shelley.

 

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I was only a little girl, only 18 months old, when my parents went out to Africa – back in 1956. My father was tired of the life in England and the Government politics and systems. A company was looking for people to go out to Africa or America to build towns, houses, roads etc. My father, being an engineer, was given the choice to accept the job in either country – he chose ...

 

 

Africa

Zambia  Zimbabwe  Mocambique  Swaziland

South Africa  Transvaal  Orange Free State  Durban/Natal  The Wild Coast/Transkei  Drakensberg  Natal  Shaka

 

One of the first explorers of tropical Africa was Herkhuf from Egypt (2272-2182 BC) under Pepi II's reign. On one of his trips he brought back a pygmy (a small tribe of man measuring no more than 4ft 10inches) who causes much excitement and wonder by his presence. 300 years after Herkhuf, another Egyptian, Hennu, made a journey across the desert to Somalia, and during the next 1,500 years other Egyptian explorers followed ... thus the Egyptian civilization began to spread southward, bringing with it the use of iron.

 

The east African coast was known to Greek and Roman traders in the early centuries AD. They referred to the region as Azania and it is mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (The Voyage of the Indian Ocean) which was a guide for Greek trading ships to the known ports of the Indian Ocean. The most southerly port being Rhapta. And the Greek general Ptolemy founded a dynasty of Greek speaking pharaohs in Alexander The Great's time, who ruled for 300 years.

Rhapta (possibly modern Tanzania) and the eastern African coastal towns were also regularly in touch with Arabia. In 916 AD Abdul Hassan ibn Ali-al-Has'udi sailed from Oman down the Indian Ocean then called the Sea of Zinj as far as Kilwa and Sofala on the Mozambique coast.

By the time Ibn-Battuta, another Arab, visited Kilwa in 1331, the area had been under Islamic control for more than 300 years and had become one of the most richest and most important ports on the Zinj coast. Intermarriages between the local African peoples and the Arabs were common.

Swahili, the official language of Tanzania and Kenya, is said to contain some Arabic words as a common trade language built up between the two peoples.

Leo Sarkisian

Kilwa, located so that ships to and from the gold fields near Sofala had to stop there, became the commerical capital of the south-western Indian Ocean. It carried on regular trade with India and Arabia and was visited by ships from China and from Indonesia. By the 1400's there were 37 Moslem towns strung along the East African coast between Kilwa in the south and Mogadiscio in the north.

In 1487 Bartolomeu Dias, sailed from Lisbon, Portugal in search for a sea route to the Indies. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the tip of southern Africa, in 1488 and returned to Lisbon to report that he had found a route around Africa.  And 9 years later, in 1497, another expedition by Vasco Da Gama rounded the Cape. On the eastern coast of Africa, instead of encountering wild men and wilderness, they found civilization ... the prosperous Moslem cities.

The European trade stuffs, cloths and foodstuffs, created no interest among the wealthy Moslem and Swahili sheiks, and greeted Da Gama with hostility.

However, the Sultan of Malindi, on the coast of Kenya north of Mombasa, proved friendly enough to provide Da Gama with an Indian Ocean pilot who took the Portuguese to the port of Calicut in India where the Portuguese loaded up with spices and sailed for home, sighting Mogadiscio in 1499.

At Malindi, they erected a commemorative stone pillar. The Portuguese followed up with a more ambitious expedition and hoped to make treaties with the rulers of Mozambique and Kilwa, but again found them hostile suspicious and unwilling to trade.

The Portuguese then decided to use force and again under the command of Vasco Da Gama sent out a larger fleet and compelled the Sheik of Kilwa to submit. Kilwa was eventually captured in 1505, under the command of Francisco de Almeida who went on to storm Mombasa and within a few years the whole seacoast of Zinj between Sofala and Mogadiscio was in Portuguese hands.

Between 1505 and 1514 Antonio Fernandes, a convicted criminal that the Portuguese had brought along to undertake hazardous tasks, made journeys inland to explore the area called Mashonaland in what is now eastern Zimbabwe.

Although Fernandes reported that the Sabi River offered the best route inland, the Portuguese decided to explore the Zambezi River as it was more navigable, and in the early 1530's they founded two outposts of Sena and Tete. From these outposts the Portuguese established a regular trade with the Bantu kingdom of the Monomotapa.

 

The main town of the Monomotapa's kingdom was 300 miles north of the fortified stone citadel now called Great Zimbabwe where once Monomotapa's people had lived. They left this place a century earlier because their salt supplies had failed.

 

Modern research has shown that Great Zimbabwe was built by Bantu-speaking Mashona peoples at various times between 1000's and 1400's and was the headquarters of a wealthy kingdom whose gold, silver, and copper were transported to Sofala and sold to Arab and Swahili traders.

 

Great Zimbabwe is the largest, but by no means the only, structure of its kind. Over 300 similar stone ruins, sites of former dwellings and temples, have been found in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and all were built by the local resident tribes people.

 

 

 

The Portuguese rule was continually challenged by the Arabs, and by Turkish raiders, and by warlike tribes from the interior. In 1587 warriors of the Zimba tribe sacked Kilwa and advanced up the coast rampaging.

However in 1629 the King of Monomotapa was forced to declare himself a servant of the King of Portugal, to agree to the building of a Christian church, and to receive resident priests in his kingdom. Again in 1698 the Moslems regained their influence over the coastal cities when Fort Jesus in Mombasa fell to the Arabian Sultan of Muscat.

During the 1800s Zanzibar became the great slave market of the east coast. And it has been established that in the 1860s east Africa was exporting up to 70,000 slaves a year.

 

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Last Updated: 

7 April 2006

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