The Portuguese in Southeast Africa
In the coastal regions of the modern colonies of Kenya and Tanganyika, the Portuguese, first among Europeans, came into contact with the Arab-African civilization that flourished on the edges of the Indian Ocean.
Please note: this article is from a 1959 issue of History Today, and its language contains outdated terms and descriptions. Articles in our archive remain as they were printed, and do not reflect the current values of the magazine.
In the bloodstained history of mankind upon this earth, that portion of the East African shore successively described as Azania, the Land of Zanj,1 and the Swahili Coast, has certainly had its full share of strife, and not least during the period covered here.
The region vaguely defined by those various names extended at one time from Somaliland to Sofala, but for present purposes it may be taken as the coastal belt and off-shore islands from Kismayu to Cape Delgado.
The population of this region was—and is—a very mixed one. When Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese, who pioneered European expansion into the Indian Ocean, reached the “Land of the Blacks” at the end of the fifteenth century, they found it dominated by a string of Arab and Arab-African ports, of which the four principal ones were Pate, Malindi, Mombasa, and Kilwa.