European Exploration of the East African Coast (from Natal)

Portuguese Pero de Covilhao visited Sofala in 1489/90 - travelling disguised as a Muslim, having come there via Alexandria, Cairo, the Red Sea, Zeila, Abyssinia, Kozhikode -Calicut, Hormuz, down the East African coast. From 1493 to his death in 1524 he lived in Abyssinia, without contact to his native Portugal; he was found by a 1520 Portuguese embassy to Abyssinia.
Vasco da Gama left Lisbon in 1497, reached Calicut, on the Malabar Coast in India in 1498 and returned to Portugal in 1499. Along the eastern coast of Africa he visited a chain of trading cities, the population of which was composed of Arabs, Persians, Indians, Africans and even of Malays - the Swahili trsading cities. While Vasco da Gama was the first European on record to visit them, they have been visited and described by travellers Ibn Battuta and Zheng He.
On his first voyage to India Vasco da Gama visited Quelimane and Malindi; on his seconf\d voyage he visited Sofala (1502) which contemporaries identified with the bibliocal Ophir (Sofala had gold acquired from trade with the interior, see Mwanamutapa). Madagascar was found by Diogo Dias in 1500, Mauritius by Pero Mascarenhas in 1512.

The Portuguese conquest began with the construction of a fort at Sofala in 1505 by Francisco de Almeida; Kilwa (1505) and Mombasa (1505) were sacked; in 1507 another fort was built on Mocambique Island.
In 1520 the Portuguese established contact with the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia; finding the legendary 'Prester John', they were rather disappointed, both by the form of Christianity they encountered and by the military weakness of the state. In 1541 the Portuguese had to militarily aid Abyssinia to prevent it being overrun by the Muslim Sultanate of Adal.
The Portuguese made several attempts to travel into the interior west of Sofala. Gold was furst found in 1514; yet several expeditions (1534-1535, 1569-1573, 1574-1575) were unsuccessful, lost many of their men.

The Red Sea was an Arab waterway connecting the Indian Ocean with Egypt and Syria. In 1513 a Portuguese fleet under Afonso de Albuquerque appeared in the Red Sea, causing great concern in Cairo. The Ottoman Empire conquered Mamluk Egypt in 1517 and established outposts at Suakin and Massawa. The Portuguese landed at Massawa in 1520 and 1541. The main interest of the Portuguese in East Africa was to control the ivory and slave trade, to eradicate the competition of Muslim competitors in the Indian Ocean trade, to find the source of the gold traded at Sofala, to promote christianity in Abyssinia.

The Coast of Africa
History of Africa : Europeans get a Foothold, from Robinson Research World of Knowledge
Portuguese African Discoveries, from The Catholic Church in Tropical Africa 1445-1650 by Joseph Kennedy O.S.P.
Article Sofala, from EB 1911
Kilwa Kisiwani, from African Urban Heritage Foundation
Mombasa, from Blissites
Timeline of Portuguese Activity in East Africa, 1498-1700, by Jim Jones
The Portuguese Empire, from Kenyalogy
The Searoute to India and the Red Sea Trade, from The European Voyages of Exploration (UCalgary)
Religions in Eritrea, by Mebrat Tzehaie
Kilwa, Past and Present, from
Pero de Covilhao, from Discoverers' Web
Afonso de Albuquerque, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Descubrimientos Joao II., Manuel from MGS, in Portuguese
DOCUMENTS Medieval reports from visitors of Kilwa, from University of Minnesota, Dept. of History
Hans Mayr : The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco 1505, from Modern History Sourcebook, long paragraph on Kilwa
Lists of rulers of traditional states within Tanzania, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon (lists until 1962)
List of the Sultans of Kilwa, 957-1513, from Regnal Chronologies, scroll down for Kilwa
Vasco da Gama Collection, from Library UMichigan
REFERENCE Chapter Five : Sea Routes to the Indies, pp.60-73, in : Angus Konstam, Historical Atlas of Exploration, 1492-1600, NY : Checkmark Books 2000 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 23rd 2003, last revised on May 11th 2004

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