Origins of the Zimbabwe Ruins: Asiatic Immigrants In South-Eastern Africa

[*Note: Asiatics refers to Middle Eastern peoples. Not to Far East peoples such as Thai’s or Chinese.]

The wonderful website Rhodesia and South Africa Military History has made a number of hard to find books available online for free. The following is an important historical journal article that sheds light on the real origins of the Zimbabwe Ruins. For easier reading I have highlighted sections that are of great relevance to correcting the false narrative about Rhodesia.

It is worth keeping in mind that if the invading black Bantu were the builders of Zimbabwe Ruins and the mining works, we should see their endeavors repeated everywhere from the Congo down to southern Africa. Yet we do not. There should also be an obvious refinement over centuries of their building structures and mining works. Yet we found the reverse.

Though a long read, it is enjoyable. Notice how it is written without the self-conscious, guilt ridden shame so prevalent in the writings by ethnic Europeans today. That is because it was from the pre-cultural Marxist era.

Asiatic Immigrants In South-Eastern Africa

An extract from Volume 7, Pages 459-501 Asiatic immigrants in South-Western Africa.

At some unknown period in the past, probably many centuries before the commencement of the Christian era, people more civilised than the Bantu, but still very far from reaching the level of modern Europeans, made their appearance on the central tableland of Africa south of the Zambesi. They were Asiatics, but of what nationality is uncertain. It is indeed possible, if not probable, that they came from the great commercial city of Tyre on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean sea, and that in holy scripture there is an account of them. The conditions mentioned of those fleets that went down the Red sea to Ophir in the time of Solomon are perfectly applicable to voyages to the mouths of the Zambesi or to Sofala, and the articles—gold, silver, precious stones, almug trees, ivory, apes, and peacocks—with which they returned are all found in South-Eastern Africa, if by almug trees ebony or some other very hard wood is meant, by precious stones pearls, and by peacocks the bustards that to-day are called wilde pauwen (wild peacocks) by the Dutch colonists.1

Mr. J. Theodore Bent, an eminent archaeologist, who spent a portion of the year 1891 in examining the ruins of massive buildings in the country, came to the opinion, however, that the men who constructed them were probably Sabaeans from Southern Arabia.2 Be that as it may, the intruders must have come down in vessels to some part of the coast, and then gone inland, for no traces of them have been found north of the Zambesi.

They erected buildings of dressed stone without cement or mortar, some of considerable size, the ruins of which excite the wonder of all who see them. From their position and form there can be no doubt that most of the buildings were constructed as forts, by means of which the foreigners could dominate the earlier inhabitants of the country.

At least one, however, is pronounced by Mr. Bent to have been exclusively a temple, and several others appear to have been combined fortresses and places of worship. The temple at the place now termed the Great Zimbabwe, in latitude 20° 16′ 30″ south, longitude 31° 10′ 10″ east, fourteen miles from the present township of Victoria, was elliptical in form, two hundred and eighty feet in its greatest length, and was built of granite blocks dressed to about double the size of ordinary bricks. The greatest height of the wall still standing is thirty-five feet, and its thickness varies from sixteen feet two inches to five feet. The only ornamentation consists of two courses of stone laid in oblique positions in contrary directions along a fourth part of the wall, but in some other structures courses of outer stones were laid about two inches apart for the same purpose. These ornamentations are always on the south-eastern faces of the buildings, and lines drawn from the centres of the structures through the entrances point to the sun rising or setting at the time of the solstices.

The labour required for the erection of such a building as the temple at Great Zimbabwe, or of the fortress on the hill beside it, would be enormous at the present day; what then must it have been at a time when mechanical appliances such as are now in common use were unknown ? But this was only one of a very large number of sites similarly, though not so massively, built upon over the whole extent of country between the Zambesi and Limpopo rivers.

The civilisation of the builders was not of a high order, however, for these structures were not perfectly regular in form, nor were any of the walls absolutely perpendicular or of equal thickness throughout. The architects were not sufficiently refined to appreciate mathematical correctness of shape or finish. The masonry in some of the buildings, which are believed to be the oldest, was much superior to that in others, the courses being far more regular. This shows that decadence took place, which is easily accounted for by the supposition, amounting almost to a certainty, that a mixture of blood with that of the Bantu was in progress from the outset.

A large solid tower in the temple at Great Zimbabwe, supposed to have been a phallus when perfect, and numerous stone phalli found in the ruins show the nature of at least one branch of the religion of the intruders, while from peculiarities in the buildings sidereal worship is supposed to have formed another. There is no trace of either of these systems in the religion of the Bantu now, from which circumstance it might be concluded that the blood of the Asiatic immigrants does not flow in the veins of the present inhabitants of the country, if it was not certain that ancestor worship has in another instance to be related elsewhere entirely driven out a foreign creed adopted for a time by a section of the people.

Figures of birds and other animals, rudely carved in a soap-stone which when quarried was almost as soft as moistened clay but which hardened upon exposure to the air, exhibit the extent of the knowledge possessed by these people of the art of sculpture. Smelting furnaces, an ingot mould, crucibles, fragments of soapstone bowls, bits of excellent pottery, and beads, tacks, and thin plates of gold have been found in the soil at the ruins. The thin plates or leaves of gold in little squares of uniform size were intended to overlay wood, perhaps the ceilings and ornaments of grand buildings in the ancient world, and the wedge shaped tacks were for fastening them on.

The object of the intrusion of the Asiatics was to obtain gold, and for this purpose they carried on mining operations over an immense tract of country. They were sufficiently skilful to be able to sink pits and run underground galleries along reefs, but they were obliged to cease operations when water was reached, as they had no means except buckets and human labour for keeping the excavations dry. The quantity of a reef that could be removed depended thus entirely upon its position, and where drainage was good considerable depths were reached.

With the appliances at their disposal there was only one way in which this kind of mining could be carried on profitably, for a vast amount of labour needed to be expended in bringing the gold bearing rock to the surface of the ground, there crushing it to powder, and then washing the dust to obtain less than an ounce of metal from a ton of quartz, though the value of that metal relatively to other articles must then have been very much greater than it is now. With the Bantu population reduced to a condition of slavery, the men employed in extracting and crushing ore and the women in raising food, it was possible to make gold mining profitable, and it may be taken for certain that this was the condition of things in those far-off times in the territory called Eastern Rhodesia to-day.

As little as possible was left by the enterprising immigrants to chance. Dry seasons were guarded against by a system of irrigation pronounced by competent authorities from its remains to have been almost as perfect as could be devised at the present day, so that abundance of grain could always be relied upon, for here, as everywhere else in the country, only water was needed to make the soil as productive as any in the world. At first sight it might seem that to conserve it nothing more was necessary than to construct dams across the courses of streams, but so violent were the floods in the rainy season that unless the dams were immensely strong they would certainly be swept away. Under such circumstances artificial reservoirs were requisite, into which water could be led when the streams were full, and from which it could be drawn into furrows for irrigating purposes when dry weather set in. Such reservoirs required skill and much labour to construct and afterwards to preserve in order. This part of Africa must therefore have presented a scene of industry in building, mining, and cultivation of the soil that is not easy to picture by those who know it at the beginning of the twentieth century of the Christian era. It is possible, however, that the whole of the vast territory from the Zambesi to the Limpopo was not occupied at the same time, but that sections of it were successively brought under the dominion of the Asiatic rulers.

How long a connection was kept open between the country from which the strangers came and that into which they had made their way there are no means of determining, but from the vast extent of their building and mining operations it seems likely to have extended over many centuries. From the first the intruders, being unaccompanied by females of their own race, would have taken to themselves harems of native women, and thus gradually a considerable class of mixed breeds must have arisen. These, as in all such cases, would have been lower in intellect, enterprise, and morality than their fathers, but they would have been unable to form a perfectly separate caste, because connection with one or other of the races from which they sprang was needed to create a balance of blood on one side, without which they must have died out. Half-breeds of negroes and Europeans or negroes and Asiatics are incapable of producing offspring among themselves alone for many generations. The males most likely would ally themselves with the Bantu, and the females with the ruling people, as is usual at present under similar conditions farther north on the coast. At last something occurred to prevent the arrival of any more foreigners, communication by sea with the country they had come from ceased, and then a complete fusion of blood between those in South Africa and the Bantu took place. This is of course largely conjectural, but everything that can be observed in connection with the subject points in that direction.

Gold mining was not carried on to any large extent after the cessation of intercourse with the country from which the promoters of it had come, but the art was never entirely lost, and quartz crushing continued on a small scale down to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Far the greater portion of the valuable metal obtained during the traditional and historical period, however, has been obtained from alluvial washing. When the massive buildings were abandoned, material accumulated within their walls, in which at length great trees sprang up and helped to complete the ruin. The pits by which the mines were reached became filled, and the irrigation works were all but completely obliterated. The Bantu, though improved by the mixture of foreign blood, when left to themselves without control or guidance reverted to their normal condition.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, when South-Eastern Africa was first visited by the Portuguese, all traditions concerning the ancient builders and miners had died out, and other Asiatics who had arrived at a much later period were in possession of the trade of the country, though not of its soil, or of dominion over its inhabitants. From the Moors, as they termed these people, the Portuguese learned of the existence of extensive ruins inland, which they do not appear at any time to have visited themselves, for the descriptions given by their writers are very far from being correct. Thus the temple at Great Zimbabwe, according to their accounts, was a square building, not circular as it really is, and they stated that there was an inscription over one of its doors which no Arabic scholar could decipher, whereas not only is there no such inscription now, but no indication of a stone having been removed on which one could have been displayed at any time.

The Asiatics who were found trading and occupying various stations along the coast were Arabs and Persians, and as they possessed a literature and preserved records of their original settlements and subsequent transactions, the Portuguese writers into whose hands these records came were able to give a very clear account, not only of their condition in the early years of the sixteenth century, but of their previous history and dealings with the Bantu inhabitants. That history was as follows:-

A certain man named Zaide, great-grandson of Ali, nephew and son-in-law of Mohamed, maintained religious opinions that were not in accordance with the koran as interpreted by the Arabian teachers, and was therefore banished from his home. With his adherents, who from him were termed the Emozaidi, he passed over to the African coast, and formed some temporary settlements of no great importance along it. These people were of a roving disposition, and gradually moved southward, avoiding conflicts with the natives but incorporating many of them, until in course of time they became hardly distinguishable from Africans except by the profession of a form of the Mohamedan creed and a somewhat higher way of living. The trading instinct of the Arabs led them, however, to carry on a petty commerce in gold and probably in other productions of the country. How far south the Emozaidi eventually wandered cannot be ascertained with precision, but some of them appear to have reached the equator before the next stream of immigration set in.

This was from Central Arabia, and consisted of a number of families driven out by the oppression of a neighbouring sheik. In three vessels they crossed over to the African coast, and founded first the town of Magadosho, and subsequently that of Brava, both not far north of the equator. In time Magadosho became a place of importance, various subordinate settlements were made to the southward, and its trade grew to large proportions. The Emozaidi, who were regarded as heretics by these later immigrants, would not submit to their authority, and were driven inland and forced into still closer connection than before with the natives of Africa. They became the wandering traders of the interior, the people who collected the products of the country and conveyed them to the coast for sale.

A vessel belonging to Magadosho, having been driven from her course by a storm, put into the port of Sofala, where her crew learned that gold was to be obtained in trade. This led to a small settlement of Arabs at that place, and to a knowledge of the coast as far as Cape Correntes.

Rather more than seventy years elapsed after the founding of Magadosho and Brava when, towards the close of the fourth century of the Mohamedan era, that is about the time of the Norman conquest of England, another band of strangers settled on the East African seaboard. A ruler of Shiraz in Persia died, leaving seven sons, one of whom, named Ali, was despised by his brothers on account of his mother having been an Abyssinian slave. He was a man of energy and ability, however, so to avoid insult and wrong he resolved to remove to some distant land. With his family and a few followers he embarked in two vessels at the island of Ormuz, and sailed to Magadosho. The Persians and the Arabs were alike followers of the creed of Mohamed, and professed to hold the koran as their guide, but they formed rival sects, and at that time regarded each other with great bitterness. Ali could not settle at or near Magadosho therefore, so he steered down the coast in search of a place where he could build a town of his own, free of the control of every one else.

Such a place he found at Kilwa, the Quiloa of the Portuguese. The island was occupied by blacks, but they were willing to sell their right to it, which Ali purchased for a quantity of cloth, when they removed to the mainland. He then formed a settlement, and constructed fortifications sufficiently strong for defence against the African natives and the Arabs higher up the coast who were unfriendly towards him. Whether the island had a name before is not known: he called it Kilwa. Admirably situated for commerce, the settlement attracted immigrants and grew rapidly, so that even in Ali’s lifetime it was able to send out a colony to occupy the island of Mafia not far to the northward. Successively different settlements were formed or those founded by the Arabs were conquered, until in course of time Kilwa, notwithstanding various civil wars, became not only the most important commercial station, but the ruling town on the East African coast.

At first the houses were built of wood and clay, but these were afterwards replaced by others of stone and mortar, with flat roofs or terraces which could be used for the same purposes as stoeps in the Cape Colony in our day. The streets between the rows of houses were very narrow, mere alleys in fact, but in the outskirts were large gardens planted with various kinds of vegetables, in which grew also palms and different trees of the orange species. In front of the town, close to the harbour, was the residence of the ruler, which was built to serve also as a fortress, and was ornamented with towers and turrets. The mosques were adorned with minarets, so that, as looked upon from the sea, Kilwa presented the appearance of a beautiful and stately eastern town.

There were now three distinct communities of Asiatic origin on the East African coast: the Emozaidi, deemed by both the others to be heretics, the orthodox Arabs, holding one form of the Mohamedan faith, and the Persians, holding another. They were all at variance, and strife between them was constant. This is the key to their easy conquest by the Portuguese in later times. They termed the Bantu inhabitants of the mainland Kaffirs, that is infidels, an epithet adopted by modern Europeans and still in use. None of them, however, scrupled to take women of that race into their harems, and thus at all their settlements the number of mixed breeds was large. At the commencement of the sixteenth century the majority of those who called themselves Arabs, including the descendants of the Persian immigrants, were undistinguishable in colour and features from the ordinary Bantu. It followed that while those in whom the Asiatic blood was predominant were strict Mohamedans, the others were almost indifferent in matters concerning that religion.

Sofala was wrested from Magadosho by the people of Kilwa in the time of Soleiman, ninth successor of Ali, and with it a trade in ivory and gold was secured which greatly enriched the conquerors and enabled them to extend their power. In the zenith of its prosperity Kilwa was mistress of Melinde and Sofala on the mainland, the islands of Mombasa, Pemba, Zanzibar, Mafia, Comoro, Mozambique, and many others of less note, various stations on the coast of Madagascar, and numerous small trading posts along the African shore as far south as Cape Correntes, beyond which no vessel in those times ever passed. But owing to internal strife and perpetual feuds among the different communities, all of these places except Mozambique were lost before the beginning of the sixteenth century, and each of the others had become a petty but sovereign state. The forty-third ruler of Kilwa after Ali was named Abraham,3 and it was he who held the government when the Portuguese arrived on the coast. He did not rule, however, by right of descent, but had seized the supreme authority under pretence of keeping it in trust for an absent heir. On this account he was conceded no higher title than that of Emir. When he thus usurped the administration of Kilwa a man named Isuf4 was governor of Sofala, having received that appointment many years before. This Isuf was held in high esteem for ability and valour, and as he did not choose to acknowledge Emir Abraham as a superior, he made himself independent and opened his port to the trade of Melinde and other towns on the coast.

The Asiatic communities on the African seaboard existed almost entirely by commerce. Except at Pemba, Zanzibar, and one or two other places they did not carry on agriculture to any large extent, though they introduced various fruit-trees and the cultivation of rice and probably a few foreign vegetables among the Bantu. The small islands were not adapted for the growth of grain, and the supplies of food needed by the inhabitants of such towns as Kilwa and Mombasa could be obtained without difficulty in exchange for such wares as they had to barter. One product of the ground, however, they paid particular attention to. That was the cocoa palm, without which they could not have existed as they did. From its fruit they obtained not only an agreeable article of diet, but a fibre of the greatest utility; from its leaves material for mats and thatching; and from its trunk timber for the habitations of the poorer classes, masts and spars for their vessels, and wood for a great variety of other purposes. There was no part of this valuable tree of which some use could not be made.

They built vessels adapted for the navigation of the upper part of the Indian sea, where the monsoons blow regularly at different periods of the year from the east and from the west, though in them they could not venture on such stormy waters as those south of Cape Correntes. In these vessels no iron was used, the planks being fastened to the timbers with wooden treenails, and all the parts sewed or bound together with cord of coir. As they did not use saws, the planks were formed by splitting the trunks of trees down the centre, and then trimming each block with an axe, a tedious and clumsy process, in which much timber was lost. The sails were of close and strong matting, and the standing and running gear alike was made of coir. The largest of these vessels – now called dows were used for crossing over to the coasts of Arabia, Persia, and Hindostan; those next in size – which were called pangayos by the first Europeans who saw them – for the most important part of the home trade; and the smallest termed zambucos and luzios – for communicating between the settlements, conveying cargoes up and down the mouths of the Zambesi, and other purposes where heavy tonnage was not needed. The zambucos and luzios, indeed, were nothing more than large boats, half decked, and commonly provided with awnings. In shallow places, as in rivers, they were propelled with poles.

The pilots, called malemos, who conducted the vessels to foreign ports, were remarkably expert. Steering across to the coast of Hindostan, for instance, they seldom failed to make the land within a very few miles of the place they were bound to. They determined the latitude by means of measuring the angular altitude of certain stars when on the meridian, for which purpose they used an instrument which they regarded as superior to that by which the first Portuguese navigators in those seas found their way. Of any other method of determining longitudes than by dead reckoning, however, they were as ignorant as all the rest of the world at that time.

The commerce carried on by these people with distant lands was indeed small when compared with that which passed from India either up the Persian gulf and thence by caravans to the shore of the Mediterranean, or up the Red sea, then overland to Cairo, and down the Nile to Alexandria, where the produce of the East was obtained by the Venetians to be distributed over Europe; but for Africa it was considerable, and it was not subject to much fluctuation.

From India they obtained silks, spices, and other articles of luxury for the use of their own people of pure or nearly pure Asiatic blood, and cotton cloth and beads for trade with the Bantu; from Arabia and Persia rich fabrics, dates, scimitars, large sheathed daggers, and various other kinds of merchandise. Every man, no matter how black, who claimed to be a Mohamedan, wore at least a turban and a loin cloth, and carried a weapon of some kind on his person. The men of rank and wealth, who were of lighter colour, dressed in gorgeous robes of velvet, silk, or cotton, had sandals on their feet, and at their sides ornamented scimitars of finely tempered steel. The women naturally were clothed more or less richly according to the position of their parents and husbands, and they were particularly fond of trinkets. Every article of dress or adornment, all glassware, the best of the furniture of every description, the choicest weapons, and various luxuries of diet were imported from abroad.

With pieces of calico to be used as loin-cloths, beads, and ornaments of trifling value, the traders went among the Bantu on the mainland. Ingratiating themselves with the chiefs by means of presents, they induced those despots to send out men, here to hunt elephants, there to wash the soil for gold, and so forth. Time was to them of less importance than to Europeans, and their mode of living was so nearly like that of the native Africans that they could reside or travel about without discomfort where white men could hardly have existed. Thus the trade that they carried on was much greater in quantity than that of their Portuguese successors, though its exact amount cannot be ascertained. Upon their wares they obtained enormous profits. They received in exchange gold, ivory, pearls from the oyster beds at the Bazaruta islands, strips of hippopotamus hide, gum, and ambergris washed up on the coast, with which they carried on their foreign commerce; and millet, rice, cattle, poultry, and honey, which they needed for home consumption.

Commerce was open to any one who chose to engage in it, but practically was confined to the pure Asiatics, who employed the mixed breeds as their agents in conducting the inland barter, working the vessels, and performing the rough labour of every kind. The governments, Arab, Persian, and Bantu alike, derived a revenue from the trade that to-day seems extortionate. When an elephant was killed, the tusk next the ground belonged to the chief, and when the upper one was sold he took about half the proceeds. On all other articles disposed of by his subjects, his share was about the same proportion, besides which the traders on the other side were obliged to make him large presents before commencing to barter. When Mombasa after the independence of Isuf was able to trade with Sofala, an export duty of rather over fifty per cent, was levied on the merchandise for the benefit of the government of that town. At Kilwa any one desiring to trade with Sofala was obliged to pay about seventy per cent of the value of the goods before leaving the port, and on arrival at his destination one-seventh of what was left. Upon his return he paid a duty of five per cent of the gold he had acquired. The duty on ivory brought to Kilwa was very heavy, so that in fact the government obtained a large proportion of the profits on commerce.

On the islands the governments of the Asiatics were not only independent, but all other authority was excluded, and on some of them fortifications were erected, as well as mosques and houses of stone. But on the mainland south of Kilwa, it was different. Here the mixed breeds were permitted by Bantu chiefs to reside for purposes of trade, but they were by no means lords of the country. The sheiks ruled their own people, but no others, like native clans which are often found intermingled, whose idea of government is tribal rather than territorial. They were obliged to make the Bantu rulers large presents every year for the privilege of living and trading in the country, which presents may be regarded rather as rent for the ground and license fees than as tribute. Under these circumstances they did not construct any buildings of stone.

The pure Asiatic settlers on the African coast were grave and dignified, though courteous in demeanour. They were as hospitable as any people in the world, but they were attached to their ancestral customs, and keenly resented anything like an affront. They were enterprising, though so conservative in their ideas that they were incapable of making what Europeans would term rapid progress in civilisation. As superstitious as their Bantu neighbours, they especially regarded dreams as figuratively foreshowing events, and he was regarded as wise who pretended to be able to interpret them. The tombs of men celebrated for piety were places of ordinary pilgrimage, but every one endeavoured when in the prime of life to visit the city of Mecca in Arabia, thereby to obtain the highly honoured title of hadji.

The mixed breeds, who formed the great bulk of the nominally Mohamedan population, had all the superstitions of both the races from which they were descended. They would not venture to sea on a coasting voyage if one among them had an adverse dream, or without making an offering, if only of a shred of calico or a piece of coir cord, at the tomb of some holy man. They believed that the winds could be charmed to rise or fall, that the pangayos were subject to bewitchment, that even the creatures of the sea could be laid under spells. They lived in short in the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights, darkened by the gloom of Bantu fear of malignant sorcery.

Coming down the eastern coast of Africa in the year 1500, the principal Mohamedan settlements and trading stations were in geographical order as follows:-

Magadosho,5 in latitude 2° 2′ north of the equator. The town was on the coast of the mainland, partly built upon an eminence rising to a height of about forty feet above a sandy plain. It contained several mosques and many stone houses with flat roofs. In front, at no great distance from the shore and parallel with it, was a coral reef four or five miles in length, which protected the channel within from the fury of the sea. At low spring tides the water in the channel was only two fathoms in depth, but that was sufficient for the dows used in the Indian trade. There was no other port.

Brava, in latitude 1° 7′ north, was also built on the coast of the mainland. It stood on an eminence about a hundred feet above the beach, and was enclosed with a wall. The town was well built, and was governed as an aristocratic republic, the only one of the kind on the coast. The port somewhat resembled that of Magadosho, being a channel along the shore partly protected by islets and reefs, but was more exposed to heavy rollers from the sea.

Melinde,6 in latitude 3° 15′ south of the equator, situated on the coast of the mainland, was also a well-built town. Adjoining it was an extensive and fertile plain, covered with beautiful gardens and groves, in which flourished fruit trees of various kinds, principally orange and lemon. To gain this advantage the town was built some distance from the nearest anchorage, which itself was far from safe, being a roadstead protected to some extent by a reef, but made dangerous by numerous shoals. It possessed, however, in a narrow rocky peninsula extending into the sea an excellent natural pier for landing cargo from boats.

Mombasa, on a coral island about three miles long by two broad, was situated in the estuary of the Barrette river, in latitude 4° 4′ south. The island was like a huge fortress, standing from forty to sixty feet out of the water and presenting steep cliffs of madrepore on the seaward side. It possessed one of the best natural harbours in the world, easily accessible at all times. On each side the passage between the island and the banks of the estuary was broad and deep, though winding, and when in them or in the fine sheet of water to which they led a vessel was perfectly sheltered. This sheet of water could only be reached by large vessels through the northern strait, because a submerged reef stretched across the inner end of the other, and at low tide formed a ford to the mainland. The town was built along the steep shore of the northern passage, not far from the sea, and was next to Kilwa the most celebrated on the coast. The houses were of stone, so well constructed that the first Europeans who saw them compared them favourably with residences in Spain. Mombasa, owing to its excellent site and to the prevalence of sea breezes, was less troubled with fever than any other settlement on that part of the coast.

Pemba, a coral island, rising in the highest part to three hundred feet above the level of the sea, was thirty-eight miles in extreme length by thirteen in width. It was about eighteen miles from the mainland, with a clear passage for ships inside, though coral reefs abounded near the shore. The island was fertile, and produced large quantities of provisions, particularly rice, for exportation. The principal Arab settlement on it was in latitude 5° 25′ south.

Zanzibar, not far south of Pemba, was an island similar in every respect, though larger, being forty-seven miles in extreme length by twenty miles in breadth. It rose to a height of four hundred and forty feet above the level of the sea. The principal Arab town, from which the island took its name, was on the western side, in latitude 6° 3′ south. The anchorage in front of it was good and capacious, and there were many secure harbours among the islets and reefs in the channel between it and the mainland. Here were built the greater number of the vessels used in the Indian and the coasting trade, and from the island considerable quantities of provisions were exported.

Mafia,7 a coral island rising abruptly from a great depth of water, lay about nine miles from the mainland. This island was about twenty-seven miles in length by nine in extreme breadth, between 7° 38′ and 8° south latitude. It was of much less importance than either Zanzibar or Pemba.

Kilwa, a low coral island, rather over four miles in length by two in breadth, rising on the northern side to fortyfive feet above the sea level, was set like an arrow in a drawn bow in the estuary of the Mavudyi river. It lay in latitude 8° 57′ south. With the sea in front, a strait on each side, and a sheet of water extending ten or twelve miles beyond its inner extremity, it was a very strong position. As at Mombasa, the southern strait was crossed at its far end by a reef, along which access to the mainland could be had at low water. This strait was interspersed with islets, and made a capacious harbour, admirably adapted for shipping, but that on the northern side of the island was difficult to navigate on account of its containing numerous reefs and sand banks.

Passing south of Cape Delgado, in latitude 10° 40′, a chain of coral islets and reefs parallel to the coast at a distance of eight to thirteen miles, and extending one hundred and seventeen miles along it, was to be seen. The principal islet was termed Kerimba, or Querimba, and from it the whole group was named. Next in importance was Ibo. Most of the others were uninhabited, being mere rocks rising from the sea. Along the strait within were numerous harbours for ships.

The northern extremity of the Mozambique channel has now been reached, and halfway across it lay the Comoro islands, all of volcanic origin. The principal of these were named Comoro, Johanna, Mohilla, and Mayotta, but there were many smaller in size. These islands were also possessed by the Arabs, who made use of them as convenient stopping places on their way to the great Island of the Moon, which we term Madagascar.

Keeping down the African coast, an inlet about five miles and a half across and six in depth was reached, in latitude 15° south. Into its inner end ran three streamlets, but of inconsiderable size. Lying across the centre of the mouth of the inlet, within a line joining its two outer points, was a low coral island, about a mile and a half in length and four hundred yards in breadth, named Mozambique. About three miles farther out in the sea were two others, similar in formation, then uninhabited, one of which is now called Saint George and the other Saint Jago. Behind Mozambique was a spacious harbour, easily accessible and perfectly sheltered. At long intervals indeed a furious cyclone would sweep over it and cause great destruction, but the same could be said of any part of that coast and sea. Such a position as the island of Mozambique could not escape the observation of the Mohamedans, though it had not the advantages of Kilwa or Mombasa. The island itself produced nothing, not even drinking water. On the northern shore of the inlet, since termed Cabaceira, the ground was fertile, but it was exposed to irruptions of the Bantu inhabitants, who were generally hostile. So Mozambique never rose to be more than a dependency of Kilwa, a mere halfway station for vessels bound up or down the coast. Its Mohamedan occupants had their gardens and cocoa nut groves on the mainland, but could not always depend upon gathering their produce.

The Angosha8 islands lay off the mouth of the Angosha river, between latitude 16° and 16° 40′ south. The river was three miles wide at the bar, aud could be ascended by boats nearly one hundred and fifty miles, which circumstance gave to the six coral islets off its entrance a value they would not have had in another position. There was a good roadstead between the bar of the river and the island Mafamede, which was a mere crown of sand on a coral reef seven or eight feet above sea level.

The Primeiras islands were nothing more than a row of coral hummocks extending northward from latitude 17° 18′ in a line parallel with the coast. In the channel between them and the mainland there were places where a pangayo could find shelter.

At Mozambique the direction of the coast line had changed from nearly north and south to north-east and south-west, and the aspect of the land had altered also. Thence to Cape Correntes as far as the eye could reach nothing was visible but a low flat tract, bordered along the sea by sand hills from fifty to six hundred feet high, with here and there a dark- coloured rock. In latitude 18° south the mouth of the Kilimane, or Quilimane, river was reached. This was the northernmost of the several outlets of the great river Zambesi, which therefore bounded the delta on that side. The other large outlets were the Luabo and the Kuama, but there were many smaller ones, a distance of a hundred miles separating the extreme southern from the extreme northern mouth, while the inland extremity of the delta, where the river began to fork, was over fifty miles in a straight line from the sea. In later years this whole tract of land and water was termed by the Portuguese the Rivers of Kuama, the largest of the islands in the delta bearing that name.

If an accurate survey of the delta and its streams had been made in any one year, in the next it would have been imperfect, and in a decade misleading, for two causes were constantly operating to alter the features of land and water. In the rainy season the Zambesi, which stretched nearly across the continent, poured down a flood bearing sand, soil, and gravel, which spread over great areas, blocked up old channels, tore away huge fragments of islands, and opened new passages in every direction. When the flood subsided, former landmarks were gone, and where vessels had sailed the year before sandflats alone were keen. The Kilimane arm in the year 1500 was the best entrance into the Zambesi during six months of the year, in 1900 its upper course is many feet higher than the bed of the great river farther inland, of which it is no longer regarded as an outlet. The other cause of change was the mangrove. This tree, with its gloomy dark-green foliage, grew only on the confines of land and water, where it spread out its roots like gigantic snakes, intertwining and retaining in their folds the ooze and slime that would otherwise have been borne away. Sand was blown up by the wind or deposited when the currents were gentle, vegetable mould accumulated, the inner line of the swamp became soil on which grass and herbs could grow, and the mangrove spread farther out to reclaim ever more and more land from the shallow water. So the floods washed away and reformed, and the mangrove bound together and extended, in the ever varying scene.

How far up the Zambesi the Mohamedans were accustomed to go cannot be ascertained with precision. They had a small settlement on its southern bank where the Portuguese village of Sena now stands, about one hundred and forty miles from the sea, but it is doubtful whether they had any fixed post farther inland, though travelling traders probably penetrated the country to a great distance. About two hundred and thirty-five miles from the sea the great river passed through the Lupata gorge, a narrow cleft in the range that separates the interior plain from the coast belt, where the rapids were so strong that they may not have cared to go beyond them with their boats, though the Portuguese afterwards navigated the stream up to the Kebrabasa rapids, about twenty miles above Tete, or three hundred and twenty miles from the sea.

At the mouth of the Pungwe river, where Beira now stands, there was a very small Mohamedan trading settlement, perhaps not a permanent one, and only at best an outpost of Sofala.

Sofala, the most important station south of Kilwa, was in latitude 20° 10′. It was at the mouth of an estuary a mile and three quarters wide from the northern bank to an island named Inyansata, between which and the southern bank there was only a narrow and shallow stream when the tide was low. Across the entrance of the estuary was a shifting bar of sand, which prevented large vessels from crossing, and inside there were so many shoals that navigation was at all times dangerous. The land to a great distance was low and swampy, and the banks of the estuary were fringed with belts of mangrove, so that the place was a hotbed of fever and dysentery. Farther in the interior the stream was of no great size, but it was always bringing down material to add to the deposits of sand and mud above the bar. The sole redeeming feature was a high rise of tide, often nearly twenty feet at full moon, so that when the wind was fair it was accessible for any vessels then used in the Indian trade. Along the coast was a great shoal or bank like a submerged terrace, extending far into the sea, upon which the waves ran so high at times and the currents were so strong that the locality was greatly dreaded by the mariners of olden days. But all these drawbacks were disregarded in view of the fact that gold was to be obtained here in exchange for merchandise of little value.

At Sofala there were two villages: one close to the sea, on a sand flat forming the north-eastern point, contained about four hundred inhabitants; the other, a couple of miles higher up the bank of the estuary, also contained about four hundred residents. The sheik lived in the last named. His dwelling house was constructed of poles planted in the ground, between which wattles were woven and then plastered with clay. It was thatched, and contained several apartments, one of considerable size which could be used as a hall of state. The floor, like that of Bantu huts, was made of antheaps moistened and stamped. It was covered with mats, and the room occupied by the sheik was hung with silk, but was poorly furnished according to modern European ideas. This was the grandest dwelling house in Africa south of the Zambesi, indeed the only one of its size and form, in the first year of the sixteenth century.

The island of Chiloane9 lay partly in the mouth of the Ingomiamo river, in latitude 20° 37′ south. The island was about six miles long by three wide, but a great part of it was a mangrove swamp. The channel into the Ingomiamo on the northern side of the island, now called Port Singune, was used as a harbour by an occasional pangayo or zambuco that put in to trade.

The Bazaruta islands were of much greater importance, for there were the pearl-oyster beds which yielded gems as much coveted by the Arabs and Persians as by the people of Europe and India. There were five islands in this group, stretching over thirty miles along the coast northward from the cape now called Saint Sebastian, which is in latitude 22° 5′ south. The principal island, from which the group takes its name, is eighteen miles in length.

The last place to the southward frequented by the Mohamedans was the river Nyambana, or Inhambane, the mouth of which is in latitude 23° 45′ south. They had a small settlement where the Portuguese village now stands, fourteen miles by the channel, though only eight in a direct line, above the bar. The river was easy of access, and formed an excellent harbour. It was navigable for boats about five miles farther up than the settlement, which formed a good centre for collecting ivory, an article always in demand in India. This place was reputed to be the healthiest on the whole coast.

Beyond Cape Correntes, in latitude 24° 4′ south, the Arabs and Persians did not venture in their coir-sewn vessels. Here the Mozambique current, from which the cape has its present name, ran southward with great velocity, usually from one to three miles an hour, according to the force and direction of the wind, but often much faster. The cape had the reputation also of being a place of storms, where the regular monsoons of the north could no longer be depended upon, and where violent gusts from every quarter would almost surely destroy the mariners who should be so foolhardy as to brave them. The vivid Arab imagination further pictured danger of another kind, for this was the chosen home of those mermaids – believed in also by the Greeks of old – who lured unfortunate men to their doom. So Cape Correntes, with its real and fictitious perils, was the terminus of Mohamedan enterprise to the south, though there were men in Kilwa who sometimes wondered what was beyond it and half made up their minds to go over land and see.



1 The name of the bird given in the Bible is said, however, to be of Tamil origin, and to be used for the peacock (pavo cristatus) at the present day in Ceylon. This appears to be the greatest impediment to the supposition that the Ophir of scripture is the Rhodesia of today, unless there was intercourse between Eastern Africa and Southern India in those early times, in which case an African bird might have received from strangers a Dravidian name.

2 See his very interesting volume The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, with a Chapter on the Orientation and Mensuration of the Temples by R. M. W. Swan, published in London in 1892, with several subsequent editions.

3 Habrahemo according to Barros, Abraemo according to De Goes.

4 Ycuf according to Barros, Cufe according to Castanheda and De Goes.

5 Variously spelt in books and on charts at present as well as in olden times Magadoxo, Magadaxo, Magadosho, Mogdishu, and Mukdeesha.

6 Variously spelt Melinde, Melinda, Maleenda, and Malindi.

7 Written also Monfia and Monfeea.

8 Spelt, also Angoxa, Angozha, and Angoche.

9 Variously spelt Chiluan, Chilwan, Chuluwan, Kiloane, &c.Return to Online Books index page

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