Form 1 History Notes : Contact Between East Africa and the Outside World up to 19th Century

Form 1 History Notes : Contact Between East Africa and the Outside World up to 19th Century

Secondary Notes
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Before the 1st century most of the east African community interacted with one another through intermarriage and trade.

However between the 1st and the 19th century they interacted with people from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.

This contact was first at the coast and later to the interior.

The contacts were between the African, Arabs, Greeks, Chinese, Romans, Portuguese, Persians, British and Dutch.

The dominant among these were the Arabs (introduced Islam) and the Portuguese (introduced Christianity)

They settled at the cost and conquered the local people at deferent periods hence creating a profound influence on the coast and the interior of east Africa.

The east African coast.

  • Historical information about east African coast before the 7th century is scanty due to inadequate written evidence.
  • The documentary, archaeological, authropogical, linguistical and oral traditions have appointed to the presence of early visistors at the coast.
  • Other sources include periplus of the Erythrean Sea which involved sailing around the IndianOcean. It was written by a Greekcommercial agent in 120AD in Egypt.

The Cloudius Ptolemy.

  • He wrote a book “geography’’ which talked about trade in the east African coast.
  • The book also had documents by Arabmerchant’s e.g ibu batuta, ali masudi, al edvis.

The Christian topography.

  • Written in the 1st half of the 6th century and talked about the Persian dominant of the IndianOcean trade.

Greco- roman documentary.

Early visitors to the east African coast up the 15th century.

Factors that enabled the early visitors to come and settle at the east African coast.

  • Contact between east Africa and the  early visitors was possible because of the accessibility of the coast by the sea from sofala(Mozambique) to Mogadishu(Somali)
  • The area had big harbour where ships could anchor.
  • Availability of islands e.g.Mombasa and Zanzibar which divided the mainland by anarrow channel.
  • There were moon soon winds which blew between November to April hence enhancing the most of ships.
  • The earliestvisitors were Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Portuguese.


  • They came to the east African coast after 326BC, after the death of Alexander the great.
  • The Greek empire had controlled the Middle East, North Africa and India.
  • Egypt in NorthAfricawas under the dynasty of Ptolemy and Syriawas under the dynasty of Seleucids who were both Greek generals.
  • Both Egyptians and Syrians got ivory from India via the Syrian route.
  • The Greek generals blocked the route to India forcing the Greek ptolemies of Egypt to get an alternative route and alternative source of ivory.
  • Hence they travelled via the red sea and down along the east Africa.
  • Therefore Egyptian ptolemies and east African coast developed and stretched as far as dar-es-salaam.


  • The Romans like the Greek had greater demand for goods such as ivory, species, gold, precious stones, rhino horns and slaves.
  • The Romans therefore wanted to break the Arab monopoly over trade.
  • In 45AD the roman sailor called hippaplus sailed via the red sea to the IndianOcean during the reign of Augustus ceaser.
  • He had the knowledge of the moonson winds, hence the Romanssailed directly to India via the Indian ocean and exchange their goods with glass, wine and wheat hence bringing them into Africa by the Indian ocean.
  • The Roman Empire collapsed in 15AD


  • Persia was ruled by shirazi dynasty form 224-636 AD.
  • They wanted to rebuild their empire after its destruction by the MacedonianGreek.
  • By the 6th century the Persians were trading with India and china.
  • They controlled the red sea, part of Egypt and Arabia; latter the Persians came to east Africa coast and established their ruling dynasty.
  • They intermarried with local people and introduced Islamic civilization which included trade, architecture, religion and culture.
  • They traded with local people in items like bowls, glass, pots and swords.
  • They build towns e.g Zanzibar and lamu.
  • They called the coast of Zanzibar zenj (black), bar(coast) i.e. zenj bar –black coast.
  • They called the land between Mogadishu and cape Delgado the land of zenj( land of black people).


  • They visited the east African coast in large fleets of sheep around 1430 AD.
  • Chinese authors during the dynast of sung (960-1279AD) and ming (1368-1644AD) were familiarwith the east African coast.
  • The Chinese coins dating 700AD have been found at the east African coast.
  • Through y=trade the Chinese silk cloths, porcelain bowls and plates in return they acquired ivory, gold, leopard skins, rhino horns and tortoise shells.


  • The Arabs came to the east African coast for trade by 650AD.
  • The earliest Arab settlement was at pemba and later kilwa, lamu, maunda, Mombasa and later to 37 other towns to the east African coast.

The east African coast was attractive to the Arabs due to:-

  • Its offshore islands which were well watered had cool climate compared to hot Arabia.
  • Fertile soils for crop growing for the Arab population.

Factors that facilitated coming of the Arabs.

  • Presence of moonson winds. I.e. the north east and the south west winds which blew the Arab ship from Arabia via the IndianOcean.
  • The ports of southern Arabia were good sailing places on the journey to east African coast.
  • East African also deep harbours for ships to anchor.
  • Arabs were skilled in marine technology i.e. boat making, map reading and use of compass.

Reasons for the coming of the early visitors on the east African coast.

  • They wanted to trade and control the commercial activity along the coast.
  • Some Arabs came as refuge fleeing religious and political persecutions in Arabia.
  • Some came to explore the east African coast.
  • Some came to spread their religion.
  • Some came to establish settlement along the east African coast.
  • Accessibility of east African coast to the outside world made some of them to come because of the cool climate and fertile soils found at the coast.

Trade between the east African coast and the outside world.

Historically the east coast of Africa has had contact with the Middle Eastern and far eastern countries for long. It was established through Indian Ocean trade with the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenician, Chinese, Persians, Indians and Arabs.

Development of trade.

  • Availability of items of trade like ivory and slaves.
  • Demanding for the trade items in the outside world.
  • Presence of merchants at the coast willing to finance the trade.
  • Availability of long distance trader in the interior like akamba and mijikenda.
  • Accessibility of east African coast by sea.
  • There were good natural harbours.
  • Presence of moonson wind system which propelled the dhows.
  • Relative peace and stability along the coast.
  • Technological advancement in dhow and ship building.

Organisation of trade.

  • The coastal people organised themselves into caravans which moved along established trade routes. They took interior guns, glass, beads, swords and porcelain bowls. 
  • Slaves were obtained either by raiding or through exchange with other goods.
  • The major markets for this trade were at the coast like Mombasa, Zanzibar and sofala.

Impact of the Indian Ocean trade on the people of east Africa.

  • Trade contributed to the emergence and growth of settlements which developed into towns and eventually stone built cities.
  • It leads to the settlement of Arabs at the coast.
  • There were inter-city conflicts over trade and taxes.
  • There emerged new structures of administration controlled by sultans.
  • There was emergence of classes of wealthy merchants.
  • Trade contacts between the coast and the interior were expanded.
  • Islam spread into the region.
  • Arab and Persian architectural designs were introduced.
  • A new system of government based on sharia law was introduced.
  • There was the emergence of Swahili people a product of intermarriages between the coastal Bantu and Arabs.
  • There were new crops introduced like rice, cloves, coconuts and spices.
  • Indigenous trades such as weaving, ironworking declined due to importation of foreign goods.
  • Slave raids led to wars among African communities.

The coming of the Portuguese.

It was the 1st European country to explore east African coast at 15th century supported by PrinceHenry the navigator. The 1st appearance of the Portuguese to the east African coast was in 1498 by vasco d agama.

Reasons for the coming of the Portuguese to east Africa coast.

  • They were interested in establishing a trading empire in the east.
  • They wanted to convert the people of east Africa to Christianity.
  • They had skilled navigators who were ready to carry out exploration voyages at the sea.
  • They had for a long time been challenged by the Arabs and Turks over the eastern trade. To stop them, they had to control the east African coast.
  • The east African coast was a mid-way between India and Europe. It could provide a base for the supply of fresh food and water.
  • They were looking for a sea route to India.
  • They wanted to revenge their earlier defeat by the Muslims who had conquered the Iberian Peninsula.
  • The east African coastline had good natural harbours.
  • The spirit of adventure was developed in Europe after the renaissance and the emergency of various geographical societies.

Portuguese conquest and rule of the east coast of Africa.

  • In 1498 vasco da gama was the 1st sailor to reach east African coast with the aim to explore the coast.
  • He landed of the coast of Mozambique on March 1, 1498. The sultan of Mozambique was hostile to vasco d agama. He later sailed to Mombasa where he and his companions met a lot of hostility.
  • He left for malindi where he was warmly welcomed by seyyid ali, the sultan of malindi.
  • He was accorded all the assistance he needed including a gujerati pilot known as ahmed bin majid, to guide the crew to India.
  • The decisions to conquer the east coast of Africa was taken by the Portuguese after vasco d agama’s return to Portugal in 1499.he informed the king of Portugal about the lucrative trade between the coastal people and those from the middle and Far East.
  • In 1500 pedro alveres ras cabral led an expedition with the intention of capturing sofala but failed.
  • Vasco d agama led the next expedition against kilwa, which he conquered in 1502.
  • In 1503 ruy lourenco ravasco defeated Zanzibar and forced its sultan to pay tributes to the king of Portugal.
  • In 1505 a large expedition of 20 ships and 1500 men under Francisco de almeida was sent to east African coast. It conquered sofala, kilwa and Mombasa.

Reasons for Portuguese success.

  • They had superior weapons and well trained soldiers compared to the coastal traders.
  • They had better naval power like ships and dhows.
  • There was disunity among the coastal city states.
  • The Turkish and Persian navies in the Indian Ocean were too weak to offer any help to the coastal towns against the Portuguese.
  • The Portuguese made alliances with some local rulers who sent soldiers to fight alongside the Portuguese.
  • They were able to receive military assistance from their headquarters at goa in India.
  • There was lack of resistance from some towns like sofala.

Portuguese rule.

  • They established their rule which lasted for 200 years and in 1507 they made Mozambique their headquarters.
  • It was under a captain who took orders from the Portuguese viceroy stationed at goa in southern India, later they divided thearea into two and another captain was in Mombasa.
  • The duties of the captains were to collect tributes from the local rulers, impose custom duties on import and exports and to suppress resistance or opposition to their rule. They also supervised the ruling families in the city.

Factors that led to the decline of Portuguese rule.

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