Garden Cities: Rise and Fall
Swahili mosques and tombs before the 18th century had a style quite unique to
the Swahili and independent of Arabia. Doors of houses were, and still are,
ornately carved. There was a very large population of craftsmen, working in
wood, stone and metal. The ruling classes (the Sultan, his family, and government
officials) lived in large houses, some several stories high. Their plates were
porcelain and came from China.
One of the greatest cities was
Situated on an island very close to the mainland, Kilwa had by the 13th century
broken the hold that Mogadishu had on the gold trade. By the 14th century it
was the most powerful city on the coast. The Moroccan scholar and writer, Ibn
Battuta, describes the Sultan of Kilwa being both gracious and kind. He also
describes him making regular raids into the interior and looting the settlements
of people there. Kilwa is now in ruins.
THROUGH THE AGES
"Of the original people who built Kilwa Kisiwani,
the first were of the Mtakata tribe, the second the people of Jasi from
the Mranga tribe. Then came Mrimba and his people. This Mrimba was of the
Machinga tribe and he settled at Kisiwani."
"The city comes down to the shore, and is entirely
surrounded by a wall and towers, within which there are maybe 12,000 inhabitants.
The country all round is very luxurious with many trees and gardens of all
sorts of vegetables, citrons, lemons, and the best sweet oranges that were
ever seen… The streets of the city are very narrow, as the houses are very
high, of three and four stories, and one can run along the tops of them
upon the terraces… and in the port there were many ships. A moor ruled over
this city, who did not possess more country than the city itself."
Correa describing Vasco da Gama's arrival in Kilwa.
"The woods are full of orange, lemon, citron,
palm trees and of a large variety of good fruit trees. The islands grow
millet, rice, and have large groves of sugarcane, but the islanders do not
know what to do with it."
friar, Gaspar de Santo Berndino account on visiting in 1606.
"We the King of Kilwa, Sultan Hasan son of Sultan
Ibrahim son of Sultan Yusuf the Shirazi of Kilwa, give our word to M. Morice,
a French National, that we will give him a thousand slaves annually at twenty
piastres each and that he shall give the King a present of two piastres for each
slaves. No other but he shall be allowed to trade for slaves…"
treaty between French trader and Sultan of Kilwa, dated 1776.
"the town of Quiloa [Kilwa], [was] once
a place of great importance, and the capital of an extensive kingdom,
but is now a petty village. The greatness of Quiloa…was irrecoverably
gone. The very touch of the Portuguese was death. It drooped never
Like other cities then on this coast, said to be flourishing and populous,
it sunk from civilization, wealth and power into insignificance, poverty
Prior, surgeon on the frigate Nisus, visiting Kilwa as part of a hydrographical
survey of the western Indian Ocean.
All excerpts from East African Coast, Selected Documents.
Portuguese came on the scene in 1498 when they sailed round the southern tip of
Africa and went north up the East African coast. Just five years later, they began
a relentless campaign to subjugate local rulers and take control of the trade
in gold, textiles, spices and ivory. They did an immense amount of damage to some
of these cities, pounding them with their guns to force their Sultans to give
tributes to the King of Portugal. The first place to be attacked was Zanzibar
in 1503; two years later Kilwa and Mombasa were attacked and looted.
"Then everyone started to plunder the town and to
search the houses, forcing open the doors with axes and iron bars…A large quantity
of rich silk and gold embroidered clothes was seized, and carpets also; one of
these was without equal for beauty, was sent to the King of Portugal together
with many other valuables."
witness account of the sack of Mombasa by Francisco d'Almeida and Hans Mayr.
Taken from East African, Coast, Selected Documents.
Mombasa suffered the greatest damage as its Sultan refused to give in to the Portuguese.
In 1599, the Portuguese completed their largest fortress in Mombasa, Fort Jesus,
which still stands today.