The Somali Community in the Port of London
|Frankincense and myrrh|
The people of northern Somalia were influenced by the Sabean Kingdom of South Arabia. This is the same kingdom that the Bible links with the Queen of Sheba.
First century BC pottery from the Middle East, the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia has been found along the coast of northeast Somalia. This demonstrates the region's trading links.
Somali legends talk about a migration of Arabs into northern Somalia around 1200 AD. They intermarried with the locals and gave rise to the Somali people. All Somali clans traditionally trace their ancestry to two brothers Samaal and Sab.
Over the next four centuries the Somalis moved east into Djibouti and Ethiopia and south into eastern Kenya. They conquered or absorbed the Galla and Bantu peoples in the course of their migration.
The Zelawi also have a history of maritime trade with the Greeks, Romans and the people of South India. Roman glass has also been found in the northeast of Somalia.
The northeast of Somalia was known to the Romans as the Cape of Spices. This may be because Indian traders brought their spices here in exchange for Roman glass and olive oil.
Northern Somalia is a source of two commodities that were prized in the ancient world. These are:
With the rise of Christianity and Islam, the demand for incense decreased. By the early 14th century Zeila had become a source of meat and dried fish for ships trading between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The decline in the Arab Empire was marked by the arrival of the Turks at Zeila in 1500.
Berbera and Brava
Berbera was also a major centre for the export of myrhh. The Chinese name for myrrh is 'moyao' and may be of Somali origin.
Despite the lack of a good harbour Mogadishu was an important port during the 11th and 12th centuries. During that period it controlled the flow of gold from southeast Africa and ivory from east Africa.
In the 13th century Mogadishu lost much of her trading power to the better-protected Swahili ports of eastern Africa. Nevertheless, Mogadishu was a port of call for the Chinese Imperial fleets and it even sent an ambassador to China in 1416 and 1419.
The Kiswahili speakers
It is in the town of Brava that a group of merchants and sailors known as the Amarani originate. This community speaks a form of Kiswahili known as Chimbalazi or Chimini.
Portuguese sources and a Swahili document known as the Pate Chronicle suggest that in the mid-16th century some of the Kiswahili-speaking inhabitants of Brava were forced to sail to Pate Island in the Lamu Archipelago. This was perhaps due to the arrival of the Somali.
Further south along the coast, near the border with Kenya and on the offshore islands, live the Bajuni. These people speak a Kiswahili dialect and have a settled culture with a strong fishing and seafaring tradition.
The Bajuni traded with Ming China (1368-1644) in tortoise shell, shark fins and sea cucumbers. This community has some cultural features that suggest links with Indonesia. These include:
Arrival of the Portuguese
Despite these attacks Portuguese control was erratic and by the mid-16th century the Somali had reached the mainland opposite the Lamu Archipelago.
In the early 20th century there was an area within the city of Mogadishu that was inhabited by seamen and traders. Some of these traders claimed part Portuguese and part Indian ancestry.
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