A journey down the Swahili coast of Kenya (from Lamu island to Zanzibar island – in Tanzania; separate posts will follow on these two destinations). Meantime: here’s some of the in-between places that form the Islamic, Swahili coast of East Africa.
The ancient Swahili culture is African Islamic, with a touch of India, and east Asia, too. For centuries traders from Shiraz in Iran and Oman had traded and later settled along the East African coast. Along with Islam, they brought with them a written language and connections to vast ocean trade routes that reached India, Indonesia, and China.
Swahili culture developed in about 60 cities long the eastern coast (from present-day Mogadishu in Somalia to Sofala in Mozambique). Most famously however, were the centers of power established at the archipelago sultanates of Lamu and Zanzibar.
The Islamic world controlled these trade routes to India and Asia. Until the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498, who first sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, looking for a sea-route to India; within 3 decades of Da Gama landing, Portugal had subdued and controlled the region, in its desire to muscle in on the lucative spice trade that had been dominated by Muslims for many centuries.
After Da Gama’s voyages, Portugese forts and firepower began sprouting up along strategic ports / resupply locations around the coasts of west and east Africa, and across the Persian Gulf to India (Goa + Diu), and later to Indonesia’s Spice Islands (Ambon and East Timor) and up into China at Macau.
But the Portuagese invaders didn’t get it all their way on the coast, with fort seizures by other European powers and devastatingly defeated by the armies of Oman. And by the early 18th century, Portugal had lost its control of the Swahili coast to the Omani Arab sultanate, based in Zanzibar.