Thursday 14 March 2024


The excerpt from Springer’s account focuses on the Swahili city-states of Kilwa and Mombasa, both of whom maintained strong ties with seaborne merchants in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The shipping and commercial port at Kilwa was a part of a network of key trading posts that also included Zanzibar, the gold supplying area of Sofala, and the harbor and commercial port of Mombasa. Mombasa became the only one to mount a series of resistance against the Portuguese, though it was later defeated and burned. The excerpt describes some of these events.

“Further on, an advance along the coast towards India, there is an isle hard by the mainland, on which is a town called Mombaça. It is a very fair place, with lofty stone and mortar houses, well aligned in streets [after the fashion of Kilwa]. The wood is well-fitted with excellent joiner's work. It has its own king, himself a Moor. [The men are in colour either tawny, black or white and also] their women go very bravely attired with many fine garments of silk and gold in abundance. This is a place of great traffic, and has a good harbour, in which are always moored craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of those which come from Çofala and those which go thither, and others which come from the great kingdom of Cambaya and from Melynde [Malindi]; others which sail to the Isles of Zinzibar [Zanzibar], and yet others of which I shall speak anon.

This Mombaça is a land very full of food. Here are found many very fine sheep with round tails, cows and other cattle in great plenty, and many fowls, all of which are exceeding fat. There is much millet and rice, sweet and bitter oranges, lemons, pomegranates, Indian figs, vegetables of divers kinds, and much sweet water. The men thereof are oft-times at war and but seldom at peace with those of the mainland, and they carry on trade with them, bringing thence great store of honey, wax and ivory.

The king of this city refused to obey the commands of the King our Lord, and through this arrogance he lost it, and our Portuguese took it from him by force. He fled away, and they slew many of his people and also took captive many, both men and women, in such sort that it was left ruined and plundered and burnt. Of gold and silver great booty was taken here, bangles, bracelets, ear-rings and gold beads, also great store of copper with other rich wares in great quantity, and the town was left in ruins.”

Source: Charles Henry Coote, ed. and trans., The Voyage from Lisbon to India, 1505-6: Being an Account and Journal by Albericus Vespuccius (London: B. F. Stevens, 1894), 24-29.

Images from various Swahili ruins.

#africa #swahili

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