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Sailing Down Africa's East Coast

Poster: David KUIJT <kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu>

On Wed, 9 Dec 1998, Neil Maclay wrote:

> This is one of the very few times that I can correct somthing said by 
> Earl Daffyd. From roman times on the east coast of Africa was included 
> in the trade patterns of the Indian Ocean. Sailing instructions to east 
> Africa are included in Roman manuals. The medieval arab influence was 
> especially strong in the founding and development of the Swahili city 
> states that ran down the coast from the horn to Mozambique. The first of 
> these cities appear in the 11th century. The Swahili language is a 
> mixture of Bantu and Arabic. The cities were visited by the Ming Chinese 
> in the 15th century. Their trade and population declined after the 
> Portuguese invaded the Indian Ocean in the 16th century and conquered 
> most of the Swahili cities in order to take over the Indian Ocean trade 
> with India. I do not have my reference books handy but any standard 
> history of Africa will have this infomation. Earlier this year there was 
> an article in Scientific American about the archeology of the Swahili 
> coast.
> By the way the island of Madagascar was settled from the east by 
> Indonicians who grew rice. There was a pretty advanced culture there but 
> it did not have much to do with Africa. I would consider the Swahili 
> culture more advanceed as it was literate, often in both Swahili and 
> Arabic.
> Master Malcolm MacMalcolm - Marshal
> ( Just say MMMMM... )

I'm glad you're correcting Earl Daffyd, but I (Earl Dafydd) stand by my
earlier statement.  I checked my source, and it says quite certainly that
Medieval Arab influence did not extend below Zanzibar; the southward
currents below that point were considered too strong for a return voyage.

I don't contest that the Ming Admiral (I forget his name) went tooting all
the way around the Indian Ocean in the 15th century (a really amazing true
story, by the way, and worth investigation by anyone who hasn't heard it). 

Several possibilities exist:
1) "East Coast of Africa" in your source is/includes from Zanzibar up; my
source only claims Arab trade stoppage south of Zanzibar.


2) My source is incorrect.  Certainly possible, even for reputable
historians.  My source is the Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (title may
not be quite that -- I'll check and post it, and the author, when I get


3) Your source is incorrect.  Also possible, of course.


4) Medieval Arab influence among the Swahili came through another path --
up the Nile, for example, where long-term Arab contact is very well
established (although there is an awfully long way to travel cross-country
to reach Madagascar); or through the Saharan routes; or through Timbuktu
(a powerful sub-Saharan African state for several hundred years with
Berber trade contacts) or even indirectly through the Marinids of Morocco
(who briefly invaded an African state in the Niger, which could
(conceivably) have had contact with the Swahili states.  Some of these
paths are less likely than others, of course -- I'm just thinking out

Note that the Arabs had influence over a far broader region than they
actually had trade with.  The Arabs conquered Sind around 710 AD in their
initial expansion; within a generation the Caliphate was oblivious of Sind
and it was entirely independent.  Similarly, Islam expanded beyond the
reach of the Arabs (or even their traders).


Dafydd (three "d"s, one "f")

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