Since the 10th century Arabian influence along the coast had been strong. Most of the port towns along the East African coast had been built by Arab Sultans, who brought the Muslim religion to the coastal people.
The Portuguese explorer and soldier, Vasco da Gama, was the first European to make contact with the people of the East African Coast. He had been paid by the King of Portugal to find a sea route to India.
The Portuguese at the East African coast 1500 – 1700 A.D
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to have contacts with the people of the East African Coast.
They invaded the east African coast in 1498 at a time when the Ottoman Empire occupied most of the Middle East thus blocking the overland route to India from Europe.
They were adventurous and in search for the sea route to India. This led them to the East African Coast where they stayed for 200 years.
The coming of the Portuguese
Reasons for the coming of the Portuguese at the East African coast
The need to establish a commercial empire in order to get the products of East Africa e.g. ivory, gold, silks and spices that were mainly controlled by the Arabs merchants.
They wanted to obtain control of the main trading towns, e.g. Kilwa, Mombasa etc.
They wanted to defeat the Muslim traders and rulers who had monopolized the Indian Ocean trade.
They wanted to prevent other European rivals from gaining access to the Indian Ocean Trade e.g. the French, Dutch, British
Desire to get revenue for the development of their country.
The Portuguese wished to share in the profits of the Indian Ocean Trade by imposing taxes and forcing wealthy coastal towns to pay tribute to the king of Portugal.
The coast had natural harbors where ships could anchor on their way to and from the East for fresh food and water. The Portuguese therefore wanted to establish a calling station for resting, refresh, treating the sick, repairing wrecked ships e.t.c
The coast was strategically located and this made it easy to control sea pirates and other rival powers.
They wanted to revenge on the Muslim Arabs who had conquered Portugal in 711 AD by converting them to Christianity and stop the spread of Islam i.e. the Arabs had ever run the Iberian Peninsula and forced the Christians to accept Islam.
They hoped to get assistance of King Prester John thought to be in the interior of north – east Africa. They hoped the king would help them in their crusade against the Muslims.
They had hope of stopping Egyptians and Turks from sending military aid to their fellow Moslems on the coast.
They were interested in exploration and adventure; this was a period of Renaissance (means to be born again/change) in Europe. Hence hoped to search for the unknown, new knowledge and sailing across un mapped seas.
Desire to acquire revenue for the development of their country.
Portuguese conquest of the coast 1500-1510 (Stages of conquest) Steps taken by the Portuguese to occupy the East African coast
In 1497 King John 11 sent Padro da Covillha on a land journey to India to gather information about the Eastern trades and the sea routes.
In 1498 Bathromew Diaz sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, thus proving that there was a way round South Africa to the Indian Ocean.
Between 1497- 1499 Vasco da Gama at the command of King Emmanuel the fortunate of Portugal visited Mozambique, Mombasa and Malindi on his way to India. He arrived in Malindi in March 1498 to a warm welcome by the locals.
He returned to Portugal in 1499 and gave a report of the flourishing Sofala trade, the Deep Harbour in Mombasa and the existing disunity of coastal people.
In response to Vasco da Gama’s expeditions, the king of Portugal sent fleets of ships to conquer the important trading towns of the East African coast.
In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral attempted to capture Sofala with its Gold trade but he failed.
In 1502 Vasco da Gama came back with 19 ships aiming at capturing Kilwa because it was the most important and prosperous. He captured the palace, imprisoned the Sultan and only released him when he accepted to pay tribute to Portugal.
From Kilwa he invaded Mombasa, which tried to get assistance from Malindi but since they were great rivals Malindi refused to give assistance, this disunity made the work of conquest easy.
In 1503 Ruy Laurence Ravasco was sent with a number of ships and forced the islands of Mafia and Zanzibar and other towns to pay tribute to Portugal.
In 1504, Lopez destroyed gold trade at Kilwa. Attacks were too much on the harbour that trade came to a standstill. But again the Arabs failed to unite to fight the Portuguese.
In 1505 Francisco D’Almeida arrived at the coast on his way to Gao where he had been appointed the first Portuguese viceroy (governor) of the Eastern Empire. With 1500 men and 20 ships, he attacked Sofala which surrendered without struggle because she was tired of Kilwa’s rule and therefore preferred the Portuguese to fellow Arabs. His forces continued northwards and attacked Kilwa. The Sultan and his followers took off to the bush while the Portuguese looted and burnt down the town before he departed to India. He also conquered Mombasa.
In 1506 – 1507 Tristao Da Cunha took on the Northern towns of Socotra, Oja, Brava and Lamu. Towns that submitted without struggles were only asked to pay tribute to Portugal. Malindi was even excused from paying tribute due to her friendship with the Portuguese.
In 1509 Alba quiqui captured the remaining towns i.e. the work of conquest was completed with taking the islands of Pemba, Mafia, and Zanzibar. Mombasa was burnt down.
By 1515 the Portuguese had succeeded in conquering most of the coastal towns, bring them under Portuguese rule. However towns like Gedi, Kilifi, Pate, Manda, Mombasa and Lamu continued with resistance. Mombasa was heavily attacked in 1528.
In 1585, a Turkish captain, Amir Ali Bey, arrived at the coast as an envoy of the sultan of turkey to free the coastal towns from the Portuguese. Rebellion then broke out between 1585 and 1588 between Ali Bey, the Portuguese, and the people of Mombasa and Zimba warriors. The towns of pate, Siyu and Pemba were attacked and forced to pay heavy fines while manda was completely destroyed.
Portugal finally brought all the coastal towns under her control establishing her headquarters in Mombasa that had been subdued in 1589. in 1593, the Portuguese built fort Jesus
Why the Portuguese build Fort Jesus.
a) They used it as a watch tower
b) To hide against attacks by the enemies
c) As military base
d) To offer food security and protection.
e) To act as an armament.
f) To act as a prison for the captives.
Portuguese control of the east African coast as greatly supported by the conquest of Hormuz, which made it easier for them to control sea traffic in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Eden and Arabian Sea.
Why the Portuguese defeated the East African Coastal towns/Why the Portuguese were successful
They had superior weapons e.g. cannon guns which made terrible noise and threw people in panic as compared to the poor musket guns of the coastal Arabs.
They had well trained soldiers with superior skills of fighting compared to the coastal people who had no permanent organized army e.g. Vasco da Gama, Francisco D’Almeida were ruthless army commanders which helped them to defeat the coastal dwellers.
They had better and faster ships (carracks) well equipped for naval warfare. The Portuguese soldiers wore Armour on their bodies and helmets on their heads, which protected them from the weapons of the coastal people.
The coastal towns were disunited which gave chance to the Portuguese to fight isolated enemies e.g. Malindi refused to unite with Mombasa due to local conflicts. Some cooperated with the invaders giving them food and bases e.g. Malindi and Sofala.
Some coastal towns like Kilwa were caught unaware. The Portuguese employed cruel methods of fighting like burning down towns and surprise attacks.
The ships acted as stages against the hostile weapons of the coastal people.
The coast had natural harbours and was not open to attacks.
The constant attacks on the coastal towns by the Galla, Zimba and Turkish e.t.c had weakened their defence.
The Portuguese were financially equipped and therefore supported their soldiers because they wanted to control the East African trade.
The coastal states had very weak economies that could not sustain prolonged fights especially against the economically strong Portuguese.
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