Saturday, 17 March 2012

The old Port of Zofala (Part 2)

While our intrepid explorer, Coenraad de Buys lived amongst the Xhosa on the south-east coast of Africa he became romantically involved with the mother of Gheika, the young Xhosa king. They eventually got married and in our story he received a silk cloth from Yese, the queen mother, as part of his wedding gift. The silk cloth was found in a small wooden box that washed ashore on the Wild Coast hundreds of years before. The silk cloth was very well preserved and when Coenraad opened it, he realized that it was a map of Southern Africa. Three hundred years ago maps were very hard to come by and for an uneducated pioneer like Coenraad this silk map could just as well have been spun out of gold. The silk even looked like gold to him and for many hours he would stand over this map dreaming about exploring the interior of Africa...

Silk map of Africa

It is not unrealistic to assume that maritime trade could have been going on in and around the Indian Ocean for thousands of years. Unfortunately we have no historical record of that or of the people that could have been involved in it. We previously speculated about the biblical land of Ophir and the possibility that it could have been located in south-east Africa about 3000 years ago. Rock art and archaeological evidence lead us to believe that the earliest inhabitants of Southern Africa were small groups of hunter gatherers like the Bushmen and Hottentots. These nomadic peoples were eventually pushed south by the Bantu-speaking tribes that came into the area from the north-west almost 1500 years ago. At that time the Maya civilization was already in its Classical Era and China was in its Three Kingdoms Period. In India the Kushan Empire had been replaced by the Gupta Empire, the Roman influence was on the decline and the Persian Empire was getting stronger. In the eighth century, Arab traders began establishing trading posts along the east coast of Africa moving further and further south. By the fourteenth century, those settlements along the coast had developed into independent city-states and were the main political and commercial centres in the area. By the 1500's the trade in gold and ivory that passed through Zofala probably reached its peak and as a result inland African kingdoms developed that were known, even in the courts of Europe and the King of Portugal really wanted to get his hands on some of that gold.

The Arab influence

More than a thousand years ago, Al Masudi recorded that the Arabs visited the east coast of Africa in search of ivory, gold, rhino horn and slaves. Masudi, and subsequent Arab writers, such as Ibn al-Wardi made special mention of the trade in gold, the latter describing Zofala in the eleventh century as a "very large city; it sells plenty of gold and iron, exporting the latter to India, but its inhabitants prefer copper ornaments to gold". Early Arab and Swahili traders settled along parts of the east coast of Africa, mainly at Lamu (in Kenya), Kilwa (in Tanzania), the island of Zanzibar, Cuama (near the Zambezi estuary), Zofala and as far south as the site of present-day Inhambane in Mozambique. This co-operation between the Arabs and Bantu peoples produced a mixed culture that was heavily influenced by Islam and led to the development of the Swahili language. Part of the reason why the Muslin faith spread so rapidly along the African coast was its unspoken benefit as an "insurance" against being taken into slavery. Individuals and communities that displayed their alliance with Islam were immediately seen as allies by the Arabs while those without ties to Islam became the targets for slavery.
 Portuguese fort on an island in the Sofala River

The Swahili-Arab alliance pushed into the interior, and developed a network of trade routes across much of east and southern Africa, looking mainly for ivory and gold, but the demand for slaves continued to grow. They used their cottons, beads and manufactured steel and copper goods to trade for the gold and ivory and over time developed a lucrative market for their goods. The location of the rich deposits of gold and the convergence of the Southern African trade routes made Zofala ideally suited for these imports and exports of trading goods. More and more vessels from an increasing number of trading countries began to visit Zofala. I am sure that Indian merchant ships docked there looking for gold and possibly other ships from as far as China. (If anyone could direct me to information about ancient trade with India, I will really appreciate it.) We know that Persian traders even settled at Zofala in the year 1020 which led to bitter rivalry between them and the Arabs. In order to keep Arab control, Zofala became the strategic southern outpost of the Islamic sultanate of Kilwa, at least for the next two centuries. The trade in gold, ivory and other base metals prospered in Arab-Swahili hands and probably reached its peak in the 15th century. By this time there were mighty inland states like those of the Monomotapa that flourished on this trade with the Arabs and other nations visiting the port of Zofala.

African Kingdoms of gold
From India Al Masudi travelled south to the island of Madagascar and the eastern seaboard of Africa. He described Shofala as a city of gold and the cities of Africa as rich and prosperous. These African cities of gold were known even in the courts of Europe. None of them got the excitement going like the Kingdom of Prestor John. After years of hostilities between Christian and Muslim countries around the Mediterranean this fabled Christian kingdom was seen as a possible ally against the threat of Islam. Apparently the Pope corresponded with Prester John and many attempts were made to send emissaries to the court of this famous African leader, without any success. More information to follow.

Trade with India

More research is needed.

Visits by the Chinese fleets

China it seems always had this love hate relationship with the sea. Dependant on the seafood from the shallow waters of the Yellow, East China and South China seas they were also afraid of those sea monsters that lurked in the deeper oceans. However it was the Chinese leadership and the philosophies that they supported that had the biggest influence on their navel power. Those unlucky mariners that set sail in an easterly direction past the islands of Japan either came back empty handed or were never seen again. Voyages in a westerly direction were more profitable and most probably culminated in the Treasure Fleets that were commanded by Admiral Zhang-He.

Admiral Zhang-He
Chinese sea-going junks probably visited the east coast of Africa long before him but Zhang-He sailed down the east coast of Africa with a fleet of 300 ships and made a lasting impression on all that gazed at the might of the Chinese fleet. The fleet was made up of many different vessels of different size, with the impressive flag ship junks that were more than a 100m long. This fleet was equipped to sustain itself at sea for months at a time. Click on this link for an introduction to the voyages of Zhang-He or on the second link for a one-and-a-half hour video from National Geographic.  or

Zhang-He's Flagship Junk
On his voyage down the east coast of Africa the chances are very good that they stopped at the "trading city" of Zofala and even rounded the Cape decades before the Portuguese. If any of the Portuguese explorers sailed next to Zhang-He's flagship junk, it would have looked tiny in comparison. Gavin Menzies in his controvertial book "1421: The year China discovered America", proposes that the Chinese travelled to all corners of the earth in an attempt to map the world. This means that the Chinese discovered America decades before Columbus and that these Portuguese exploreres even used maps that had their origins in Chinese works. Unfortunately the decline of the Ming Dynasty and the strengthening of Confucianism, led to the suspension of exploration and many of the maps and ships logs were burnt by the Emperors decree. Those marvels of maritime technology were left to rot at their moorings while China closed its windows to the world and turned inward on itself.

Portuguese sailed into the Indian Ocean

The Portuguese burst into the Indian Ocean like a bull into a china shop. In contrast to the Chinese gentle demonstration of size and power the Portuguese arrived in smaller ships that were armed to the teeth and with Captains that didn't hesitate to use that fire power for King and Christ. The discovery of the route around the "Cape of Storms" to the riches of India can be traced back to the eternal struggle between the Cross and the Crescent. Portugal was a tiny country fighting the Moors in North Africa as part of the greater war between the Christians and Muslims that raged around the Mediterranean. Two of the Royal Infants of Portugal, the brothers Prince Henry and Prince Ferdinand fought valiantly against the Infidels, they captured the Moorish town of Ceuta, but lost the battle of Tangier. Prince Henry eventually withdrew to Portugal but his brother died a captive in the Sultan's dungeons. This had a profound impact on the young prince that realized the Muslims strength lay in their domination of the trade routes to the East. Read more about this at:

Picture of Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry was a patient but determined man. He read everything he could put his hands on and accumulated maps and expertise from all over the world in an effort to break this stranglehold on the trade with the East. Two things gave him hope, he learnt about a great Christian King, called Prester John, that ruled over vast areas of Africa and India and he wanted to make contact with him. He also saw maps that indicated the possibility to sail around the southern tip of Africa on the way to India. While Prince Henry the Navigator was building up his nautical capabilities he was also sending out secret expeditions to explore these possibilities. The secretive nature of these investigations makes it very difficult for any historians to discover but some of it did come to light.

Picture of Diaz

We know that Duarte Pacheco sailed around West-Africa into the Gulf of Guinea and tried to reach Prester John via the rivers of central Africa. Pedro Cavilhao and Afonso de Paiva went via North-Africa in search of Prester John and India. Bartholomew Diaz was most probably shown the secret map of Africa and asked to find a route around the southern tip of Africa. We know that Diaz was partly successful and did manage to round the Cape before his crew threatened mutiny. On his return trip none of his messengers found Prester John and he picked up Duarte Pacheco on the coast of Guinea seized by the "fever-demon". None of them had news of Prester John but Diaz did find a way around the southern tip of Africa. Cavilhao and Paiva took different routes in their search with very different results. Cavilhao travelled from Egypt through Arabia and took a ship to India where he learned the secrets of the Indian Ocean trade. He sailed from India to Africa and saw the Port of Zofala from where he sailed north again and returned to Cairo. There he learned that Afonso de Paiva was dead and after the sad news wrote a letter to his king that changed the course of history. This is more or less what he wrote: "Keep southward: if you persist Africa must come to an end. And when ships come to the Eastern Ocean, let them ask for Zofala and the Island of the Moon, and they will find pilots to take them to Malabar."

Vasco da Gama

Pedro Covilhao's secret report to the King of Portugal identified Zofala as the main gateway to the riches of the interior. Many other similar attempts were made to reach places like Blouberg and Mapungubwe but the results still remain a secret and probably led to the demise of those unfortunate individuals. What we do know is that the Portuguese were really serious about reaching the Indian Ocean and in 1498 Vasco da Gama visited the east-coast of Africa in search of a pilot to guide them across the Indian Ocean to India. Da Gama and his men were well received and they even named the area Terra da Boa Gente ("Country of the Good People"). Most of the sailors they met knew the way to India but was not keen to sail to India at that time of the year. He eventually found a pilot at Malindi in Kenya which reluctantly helped him and they got to India in just over three weeks. More to follow...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tatsie, the thick skinned Bushman

One Bushman from the old generation caused a lot of problems in the community because of his ill temper and his unsocial behaviour. He showed very little respect to the rest of his people and abused his powers and standing amongst them. A strong and brave Bushman with extraordinary powers and access to magic, he had the potential to be a great leader and respected hunter. Unfortunately his laziness and bad habits made his fellow Bushmen resentful but they were scared to challenge him.

 The children were especially scared of him and the “daslat” that he carried with him. A “daslat” is a long straight shoot that grows from the Karee trees in summer. This new branch, as thick as a finger and about two meters long, often grew quite straight and was very flexible. Tatsie would strip the leaves off this young shoot, to reveal a sticky tip that was ideal for catching dassies, that like to hide deep down in their crevasses of the koppies. Tatsie would reach in and push the sticky part of the shoot onto the skin of the poor hyraxes.  The dassie's hair would stick to the tip of the shoot and by turning the stick; he wound the hair and then the skin around the tip of the “daslat”. This way the unlucky dassie found itself attached to the end of the branch and could be pulled from its hiding place kicking and screaming. He never shared any of this meat or skins of the dassies that he caught. This long thin straight branch is called a “lat” and a single hyrax is a “das”. That is why this straight young Karee shoot was called a “daslat”. No wonder the dassies hated Tatsie.

 Certain times of the year the “Watersnake” would move far away and the land of the Bushmen would get very dry. During those times the children have to walk long distances to fetch water for the household. The bigger and stronger of the children could carry a whole springbok stomach full of water but the younger ones only two ostrich eggs filled with water. Tatsie was too lazy to go and fetch water, for himself. He would wait for the children to come back and take one of the eggs and drink the water from it. If the child protested or cried he would simply break the egg on the ground and they would get into trouble with their parents. When he was very thirsty or wanted to wash his hands he would grab the springbok “pens” or stomach from one of the bigger children and use all of that water. If the child protested or tried to run away he would cut a hole in it with his knife and drink from the water pouring out of the hole.

 The children tried to avoid him and would run away when they saw him coming. He could run very fast for his size and would hit them over the head with his “daslat” until they stop. They complained to their parents about Tatsie's nasty habits but to no avail. The parents had their own problems with Tatsie and because he was so much bigger and stronger, they were afraid of him. On top of it all Tatsie also knew some very powerful magic and that was why most of the adults pretended to like him. They would smile at him and be friendly towards him but deep in their hearts they rather wished he was dead. He would pitch up unannounced at the most inconvenient times and it wouldn't bother him at all. His uncanny ability to know when the meat was almost ready amazed them the most. It didn't bother him in the least to walk in on a family and cut the juiciest piece of eland meat for himself .

Even when food was scarce, he would walk in and dish up most of the “Bushmen rice”. Women would gather thousands of termites and fry it on the fire to make “Bushmen rice”.  If they complained about him taking the “Bushmen rice” he would just say that there are still thousands of termites out there for them to gather tomorrow. When asked why he doesn't collect his own “Bushmen rice” he would say that he has better things to do. If the women try to take the food from him or start nagging him to give it back he would eat his fill and throw the rest into the fire to burn. This unsocial behaviour carried on for a long time and the Bushmen even tried to move away from the place where they were staying but he followed them wherever they went.

One year there were many tortoises in the veld and the Bushmen would just pick them up and take them home to eat. They noticed that Tatsie would never eat the heart or liver of the tortoise which were sought after morsels to the other Bushmen. One evening one of the wise old Bushmen women came across the owl and asked him what they could do to get the upper hand over Tatsie. The owl softly whispered into her ear (because even he was scared of Tatsie) to give him the heart and liver of a tortoise to eat. When she tried to do that, he just threw it into the fire and murmured to himself that it would make him dumb and slow like a tortoise. That gave her an idea, which she kept secret even from her own husband because she was scared of Tatsie's magic.

The next time the men brought some nice fat eland meat home, the wise lady took the heart and liver of a tortoise and hid it in the juiciest part of the meat before they started to “braai” the meat over the open fire. Lo and behold when the meat was almost perfectly cooked, Tatsie walked into the circle of light around the fire and asked what they were busy cooking for dinner. They just looked at him and put on their fake smiles as usual. He didn't wait for an answer and as usual proceeded to cut a large piece of the juiciest meat for himself, hardly leaving enough for the others to eat. Once he finished his meat the wise old lady noticed that he was moving much slower and asked him some questions.

“Why don't you eat the heart and liver of the tortoise?” she asked.

“Because - - it will - - make  - - me  -  - mmm - - dumb  - - and - -  slow  - - just like - -  my cousin - - er - -  the - - tortoise”, he answered in a slow and slurry voice without looking up from the fire.

That is what the wise old lady was waiting for and she called her husband aside and told him to shoot Tatsie with one of his poison arrows. Tatsie didn't even know what hit him and after a short while fell over backwards and died. All the Bushmen were shouting in celebration and were so happy to get the upper hand over Tatsie that they danced around the fire most of the night. They kicked sand into his eyes to stop him from recognizing them and even the children spat on him and laughed happily because he was dead! Later they pulled his body far away from the kraal and left him there for the wild animals to eat. When they heard his bones being crushed by the hyenas and the jackals fighting over the pieces, they didn't feel sorry at all and carried on sleeping with a smile on their faces.

Those smiles disappeared like darkness before the sun when they saw Tatsie walking towards them the next morning. He was healthy and happy without a scratch and said he was hungry from fighting with the hyenas the night before. The other Bushmen couldn't believe their eyes and got even more scared of him and the powerful magic that he had.  Tatsie was his mean old self and didn't seem to remember anything that happened to him the night before. He kept on scaring the children and abusing his powerful position to get whatever he wanted. Because the Bushmen were so scared of his magic they didn't even try and hide food from him and just smiled their fake smiles when he walked into their huts and drank their water. Not long after this the wise lady saw another chance to get rid of this troublesome thick-skinned character.

The hunters shot a fat Gemsbok (Kalahari Oryx) and again the wise lady put the heart and liver of a tortoise into the best part of the meat. When the meat was grilled to perfection Tatsie walked into the kraal and again without asking cut the best piece for himself. As with the previous time he started  moving slower and slower and when he just stared into the fire without eating, the wise woman got three of the hunters to shoot their poison arrows into Tatsie's neck. When he fell over and died, they took him down to the river and tied a big stone to his neck and another to his ankles. They threw him into the deepest part of the water. This way if he woke up again and started breathing he would be under water and drown. Back in their kraal there was already dancing and celebration because this time they were sure they would never see Tatsie again.

The happy mood in the kraal stopped in mid sentence when the children got to the river the next day. Out of the water walked Tatsie alive and well! He had such a nice swim he said and now he is feeling really hungry. He walked back to the kraal with the children a distance behind him. The grown-ups were even more surprised to see him and didn't budge when he ate all the “Bushmen rice” and most of the left-over meat from the night before. Now they were even more scared of him and all of them walked around with those silly fake smiles pretending to like Tatsie. He didn't seem to remember anything from the night before and for sure nobody was going to tell him what happened. The wise old woman kept her secret and patiently waited for another chance to kill this nightmare of a person.

When they shot another eland the wise woman knew exactly what to do and asked all the hunters to make sure that they put lots of poison on all their arrows. That night Tatsie pitched up as usual and again ate some of the tortoise infested meat with the same result as before. This time the wise lady asked the hunters to shoot all their arrows into Tatsie and when he keeled over, looked more like a porcupine than a Bushman. They dragged his body on top of a little hill nearby, slit his throat and watched in silence while his life blood drained out into the sand. A gust of wind came up later and Tatsie's body got carried up into the hollow belly of the sickle moon. There was a collective sigh of relief but nobody dared to celebrate and couldn't sleep as they waited for the next morning.

All day they looked around in different directions waiting for Tatsie to make another miraculous appearance but nothing happened. Towards the evening there was a lot of excitement building up and everybody was very happy that Tatsie stayed away. That night there was plenty of dancing and celebration when they saw that Tatsie was fighting with the other souls waiting on the moon. Every night the stomach of the sickle moon grew bigger and bigger leaving less space for the souls resting there. Every night they could see how Tatsie started the shoving and pushing and always claimed the best spot for himself. They saw the small children being pushed off first and how they changed into swallows as they fell down to earth. One night the other people ganged up against Tatsie and started pushing him off the moon which was now in its first quarter. Tatsie fought back as much as he could but he was outnumbered.

In the Kalahari the festivities had stopped because they were worried that Tatsie might be back amongst them sooner than they thought. When Tatsie was pushed off the edge of the moon he grabbed onto the tip of the sickle moon in a desperate attempt to save himself. Unfortunately for him the tip broke off and he tumbled to the ground, still holding tightly onto the sharp piece of the moon.  Unaware of what was going on in the night sky above him grandfather tortoise was snacking on some sweet bushes at the edge of a pond. Tatsie fell with such force on the tortoise that his shell cracked open and their two bodies merged into one. Completely out of breath, lying in the shallow muddy water was the first rhino with a sharp lip, similar to that of a tortoise. Even today if you compare the hind legs of the tortoise and a rhino you can see the remarkable similarity. On closer inspection one can still see where they cut his throat the night he bled to death. Most remarkable of all, Tatsie didn't let go of the tip of the moon and that ended up as a single horn attached to his nose. These rhinos also enjoy rolling in the mud to cool down their bodies and protect themselves against parasites.

Unfortunately his personality is still the same, thick-skinned and foul tempered with a tendency to charge at or break anything he doesn't like. The children are still scared of him and the adults avoid him too. Lucky for them Tatsie became a vegetarian after his big scare and the meat and “Bushmen rice” can finally be savoured by the rightful owners. Listen to the Bushmen next time you see a sharp lipped rhino and you will hear them say – “Kyk daar gaan Tatsie!”

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

The old Port of Sofala

On the East-coast of Africa just 35 kilometers south of Beira in Mozambique, lie the forgotten remnants of the port of Zofala. Once the busiest port in Southern Africa and for many decades the main seaport for the Kingdom of Monomotapa. The old harbour at the mouth of the Sofala river, is the oldest harbour in southern Africa. The strong flowing Sofala river in those days gave access to dozens of ocean-going ships and hundreds of Swahili dhows that plyed their trade between Zofala and the markets along the river on the way to the capital of Monomotapa at Mount Fura.
Today it is called the Buzi river but the Portuguese called it Rio da Sofala and it is on the northern banks of this estuary that the city developed. The oldest documented harbour in Southern Africa was most probably used in Biblical times already but it is recorded that the Arabs founded it as Zofala in circa 700 AD. The word Zofala is probably derived from the old Arabic word for "low lands" and not the Swahili because then it would be "tambarare". The name described the mangroves and flat coastal plains around the Bay of Sofala.
This map taken from Google Earth indicates the estuary and the bay south of the port city of Beira in Mozambique.

Zofala was considered a safe harbour that could hold up to a 100 ocean going ships if it needed to. The Sofala river connected the harbour with the gold producing region of Manica and its markets. Swahili dhows ferried the ivory and gold from the interior to the coast and returned with luxury goods from India and China, that was traded into the interior of Southern Africa as far as Kuruman.
Thome Lopes that sailed with Vasco da Gama on his second visit to India, wrote about the possibility of Zofala being the Biblical land of Ophir and the home of the queen of Sheba. We know from the Bible that there was some economic co-operation between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (and that they got along very well). They established a fleet of ocean going ships with the help of the Phoenicians and that these ships took three years to make their round trip to the land of Ophir and back. Bringing with them tons of gold and silver for the Temple. One gets the impression that they might have had some kind of presence in the area already and that they sent these "Tharshish ships" to collect the cargo and bring it back to Israel. Tharshish was then a city in present day Spain and the name "Tharshish ship" referred to the ships sea-going capabilities.

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible states in I Kings 10:22: “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks” Hiram was the king of the Phoenicians and he supplied the wood, craftsmen and sailors to help King Solomon to establish his fleet of ships. In I Chronicles 29:4 (KJV) it says:“Even three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses withal.“ These ships made this trip many times and every time they brought between 400 and 500 talents of gold at a time. In order for them to take three years for a round trip, this land of Ophir must have been a little bit further away than Nubia, Ethiopia or Yemen.
My feeling is that the East Coast of Africa is the perfect distance away. We know that there is to this day lots of gold in Southern Africa and ancient stone cities like Great Zimbabwe show that there must have been some thriving African Kingdoms in the interior that they could have traded with. Therefore the port of Zofala could easily have been a port of call for these Biblical fleets. Take a closer look at this old map and note the number of African Kingdoms that existed when this map was drawn.

Interesting that one of these is called the Kingdom of Sabia, just south of the "Estates of Monomotapa". Keep in mind that there was some economic co-operation between Solomon and Sheba, yet she is not mentioned in the operation of the fleet of ships. One could form the opinion that she was on the supply side of the gold and silver, almost like she would supply these precious metals to them if they sent their ships to come and buy it. Could her Kingdom of Sheba have been part of the land of Ophir? Or did the land of Ophir form part of her kingdom? Did she have a gold producing colony in southern Africa? Is that why it is named as the destination in the Bible and why the Queen of Sheba played no real role in the running of these fleets that went to Ophir to collect the gold. Is it possible that the flow of the Sofala river allowed bigger ships to sail up-river closer to the gold producing areas of Manica? How could the Queen of Sheba's influence have extended all the way to South-East Africa?

Understandably the fleet didn't set sail for Ophir without stopping along the way. There is specific mention of the spices that were brought to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba almost like nobody had seen them before. The Arabian spices and even some African spices from the Land of Punt (present day Somalia) were known at the court of Solomon but not these that came from the land of Ophir. Could they have been spices from the Indian Ocean islands like Zanzibar? Is it possible that the fleet crossed the Indian Ocean to India on the return journey and picked up some spices and specimens of the peacock there? Probably not, the risk with such a valuable cargo would not justify such an adventure. It is more likely that there were already peacocks on the East African coast because they have been trading with India for thousands of years before that. Besides the peacocks the rest of the recorded cargo could quite easily be explained as originating on the African continent.

The Queen of Sheba arrives at the court of King Solomon and if the attention given to her is any indication, she must have been a very powerful women, visiting from an equally powerful country. Therefore it was not just a social visit, I am sure the economic ties between the two kingdoms were also strengthened in the process. If she only reigned over the territories of Yemen, Ethiopia and even Egypt as some people suggest, why would Solomon need ocean-going ships to trade with them? Therefore her influence must have stretched much further than the areas around North Africa and Arabia.

The driving force behind this fleet of ocean-going ships was an economical one. We tend to focus on the gold for the Temple but how did they pay for all these treasures when they got to the land of Ophir? The biblical authors focused more on the romantic and political side of her visit but it is my guess that there was a lot more economic negotiations and far less hanky panky. I would like to propose that Solomon and Sheba agreed to form probably one of the first international “companies” that we know about and that it was mutually beneficial and made both of them a lot richer than they were before. Obviously this clever young queen saw the strategic importance of Israel where it lay on a small strip of land between East and West. Caravans over land could cross further to the north and miss Israel but any maritime trade between East and West most probably had to pass through Israel one way or another. It is said that she brought a fantastic gift of “Ophir gold”, gold of the highest known quality to Solomon. Perhaps we overlooked the fact that Sheba was the first “venture capitalist” when she made this investment of high grade gold in their new maritime trading company.

Did she manage to connect East with West in a deal that used the strategic location of Israel, the maritime expertise of the Phoenicians and her own people's skill in mining and trade? It is difficult to imagine what Solomon could have exported from Israel, maybe wine, olive oil or some dates but that would not have been sufficient to pay for all the gold and silver that they brought back from Ophir. Therefore they must have used their fleet as cargo vessels to transport goods between the major centres in and around Arabia and the Indian Ocean. If we look at where the major market was for the gold of East-Africa, it is my feeling that the Queen of Sheba's fleet was already sailing from Ophir directly to India (possibly as far as China in some cases) and then on the trade winds to their own harbours in Yemen and Ethiopia. In terms of trade this anti-clockwise routing of ships would have been the most lucrative. But as Sheba probably suggested to Solomon, it did leave the opportunity for another fleet to sail the clock-wise route on the opposite trade winds.

This clock-wise routing, starting at the port of Ezion-Geber (inland from Eilat on the Red Sea) would take Solomon's fleet, first to the Indian continent then across the ocean to East-Africa for the gold and then along the African coast back to their home base in the Red Sea. This routing was better suited for Solomon's fleet that needed gold for the Temple but opened opportunities for trade from Arabia directly to India, cutting the time to market by a whole year. If you traded frankincense and myrrh from Yemen to India for example, it would have been carried by the Shebean fleet first to East Africa and then to India. Now with Solomon's fleet it could go directly to India. Solomon's fleet would dock at all the major trading centres along the way before loading its main cargo of trading goods in India. One could imagine that they loaded beads, pepper, spices, cotton and silk cloth from the harbour cities in India. If they didn't go any further they could also have bought ceramics and other products brought by traders from the Far East and China. This would put them in a far better position to "pay" for the gold and other treasures once they got to Ophir.

Does this painting show the arrival/departure of the Queen of Sheba to have happened by sea? Therefore it is quite plausible to argue that she and her Kingdom of Sheba were no strangers to shipping or trading by sea.
Due to their proximity it is understandable that the Arabs have been frequent visitors to the Bay of Sofala. The East African coast towards the Land of Punt must have been a very lucrative and exciting trading route for them. It is possible that the curious Queen of Sheba joined one of her trading vessels to visit the Land of Ophir or was it like some writers suggest her place of birth? Either way at the hight of its glory it must have been an impressive harbour with an assortment of ships from all over, possibly as far away as China. Even on this Google Earth picture one can make out structures on the beach and in the shallow water that dates from more glorious times.

A thousand years ago it was recorded that the Arabs visited the east coast of Africa in search of ivory, gold and rhino horn. They also found a lucrative market for their cottons and beads and it is not surprising that they encountered competition from Persian traders that came and settled at Zofala in the year 1020 AD. After this Zofala became the strategic southern outpost of the Islamic sultanate of Kilwa, at least for the next two centuries. By this time there were mighty inland states like those of the Monomotapa that flourished on this trade with the Arabs and other nations visiting the port of Zofala. These African cities of gold were known, even in the courts of Europe and the King of Portugal really wanted to get his hands on some of that gold.

Not surprising that the Portuguese mounted many secret expeditions to find these African cities of gold and in 1480 a spy Pedro da Covilha, disguised as an Arab merchant visited Zofala in search of the origins of the gold. His secret report to the King of Portugal identified Zofala as the main gateway to the riches of the interior. Many other similar attempts were made to reach places like Blouberg and Mapungubwe but the results still remain a secret and probably led to the demise of those unfortunate individuals. What we do know is that the Portuguese were really serious about reaching the Indian Ocean and in 1498 Vasco da Gama visits Zofala on his first voyage to India looking for a pilot to guide them across the Indian Ocean. We already know about his second visit in 1502 when it sparked the speculation about Zofala being the Land of Ophir. What dit they see to give them such an impression or who did they speak to, that would make them think like that?

This wall constructed in the estuary of the Sofala River, is it an ancient harbour wall or part of a Portuguese fort?
In 1505 Pedro de Anaia occupied Zofala for the King of Portugal and built a fort in the hope of capturing the trade in gold away from the Arabs.

Next time we will look at the Portuguese occupation of Zofala and how it affected the trade around the Indian Ocean.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Why I love eBooks

Armed with a good eReader that have weeks of battery life and a nice chunk of internal memory, it is possible to load thousands of books on this light-weight device and have your own library wherever you choose to go for the holidays. Admittedly there are a few disadvantages when compared with the traditional printed book. It doesn't feel or smell like a real book and you probably won't be able to swat an intruding insect with it. If you are struggling to get the fire going or there is a pressing bodily emergency, the blank pages can't be used to stroke the fire or any other personal needs. Therefore with a wife that is good at making fires and a little bit of planning, you might never need a conventional printed book again. Anyway after six weeks you grow to like the feel and smell of your eReader as much as most other books, especially if you look at the convenience and the amount of money that you save.

Just being able to pack a library with thousands of your favourite books in your carry-on luggage is a huge advantage. With a bit of planning you can have hundreds of books in each of your favourite categories to choose from. At last the luxury of choice for the "financially challanged". Whatever your mood, you are sure to have a book to tickle your fancy. If you are close enough to civilization to have some internet access, you can search for even more titles or authors to choose from. Just over a hundred years ago my great-grandparents had only three books to choose from: The Bible, Psalm-book and a school-book called "Trap der Jeugt", all written in Dutch because my language (Afrikaans) was still developing to become one. Look at our choices now.

The prices of eBooks are so cheap that one can easily afford to download this customized library at a fraction of the cost of its printed equivalent. Most of these books allow you to read a substantial percentage of the book for free, in the comfort of your own space, and then make the decision to buy or not. Many of the new indie authors give away their books for free in order to be read and those with a deeper back-list make one of the books free to connect with new readers. Therefore if you are on a tight budget, just be a little more adventurous and sample some of the thousands of new titles that are offered for free or greatly discounted.

Search capabilities make it so much easier to search for books that might interest you specifically. On the Smashwords site, where they boast that they have published 3,721 million words already, you find some handy filters at the top: Free ebooks , Best Sellers , New Releases etc etc. There is also a "search block" where you can type in what you are interested in. The first time I typed "Afrikaans" (the language that I speak) into the block only two titles came up Marionette Meester , and my mother's book: Gees van die Labrador. When I did the same now, twenty titles came up of books written in Afrikaans. I love history, especially "Ancient African History" but when I type that in, it gives me six titles of which only two are of interest to me. In that case it could be better to relax the search to only "African History" and then search through all 86 different books for the ones that interest me.

Talking about "search", how often does it happen to you that you look for specific words or phrases. This is almost impossible to do in traditional books unless you have a photographic memory, yet in eBooks it is again as easy as typing in what you are looking for and hitting the enter button. Imagine paging through the Bible and looking for the word "giant", this could take a long time and in the end you can still not be sure that you didn't perhaps miss an occurrence of the word somewhere. With my eBible, I just typed in "giant" and seconds later it lists all the occurrences of "giant" in all the books of the Bible. What is more it also makes you aware of any other words that contain "giant" as part of the word like giants.

Isn't this fantastic! The luxury of your own customized library in a light-weight mobile device at an affordable price? Add to this the convenience of search technology and you start feeling like a wizard of the electronic realm with the words and knowledge of the ages at your fingertips. Keep on dreaming.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Wish List

The end of any phase tend to do one of two things to people: If your are more sentimentally inclined you look back over that period of time and reminisce about the things that happened. The more go-orientated types look to the future and ask “what is next”.

At the end of a year as activities wind down, those extra hours of time seem to magnify this situation. For example while I am writing here, thinking about the future my wife is paging through pictures of our children when they were kids. I am sure it is a good thing to take a look where we come from because it gives us some direction of where we want to go in the future. For me, however it is not much more than a glance over the shoulder. Is it wrong to dig in the past and relive every detail of what happened yesterday and the day before? No, of course there is no wrong or right here. Each one of us do what we need to do.

There are days that I dig in the past. To be honest many days I dig in the distant past, hundreds of years before I was born – but this is not a direct emotional need that I have, it is part of the research that I am doing for my book. If you work as a historian, then that is what you do and you dig in other peoples past. This is like doing it as a hobby, in other words as a form of entertainment. Not surprising that I enjoy watching the History Channel in stead of the latest football match. Professional historians on the other hand might get home after a tough day at the museum and enjoy a game of football to unwind. What I am trying to say is that this kind of digging in other peoples past is different and might not have anything to do with your own emotions about past events.

A final thought about digging into your own history is also a cautionary note. Do just enough digging to satisfy your own needs. It could become a bit of a twilight zone where some sad events can take on a life of its own and you could find yourself being drawn deeper into the shadows of your own mind. Try and be realistic about those emotions, don't let them drag you down and if your soul starts feeling heavy in your chest, it is time for a break. Watch out for the dark spiral that pulls you down and makes it more and more difficult to escape. If you feel this spiral is pulling you down, call “time out”, move back to the sunshine and find some people to talk to. Some loners like me might need to take a walk in nature just to be amazed by this wonderful world that we live in.

I have been accused of taking too many “happy pills”. But the lady accusing me was wearing a badge that said: “You can't piss me off, I am on Prozac.”  It is all about perspective, the angle or lens that we use to look at things. My outlook might border on the rosy and sunny side of life but that is how I like it. I am one of those lucky ones that actually had a wonderful life so far. My childhood was fantastic and sorry for my siblings, I happened to be my parents favourite on top of it. Why do I get these funny looks when I say that I enjoyed school and actually did my school work? Is it so unusual to have a stunning job and to enjoy getting up in the morning to go to work?

How about an enjoyable retirement? That is what I am looking at now. Imagine being able to do what your hobby is – I like exploring, history, the countryside, books, photography and writing. I will just need something to distract my wife and give me the chance to do all of these things. Maybe she can continue working and I can take early retirement? Either way it sounds very promising to me. Just the excitement of learning all these new skills make me want to giggle. Sorry, those happy pills affecting me again. While some people are counting down the days to the end of the Mayan Calendar, I am looking to an exciting future of combining all my favourite pass-times into a retirement hobby.

Any change brings some uncertainty and a little doubt. To help me through this transition I am going to employ another of my magic tricks: Putting up a wish-list to guide my thoughts and lubricate my dreams. This is no big deal, just a few thoughts scribbled on a piece of the proverbial paper that I can cast out into the world and connect with the energy grid of the universe. By setting up this path back to the basis of my dream, like-minded energy will flow towards me and energise these wishes to grow. As they grow more energy will be channelled towards them allowing the more viable wishes to grow faster than the others and taking me into the right direction for my retirement. The growth of this energy grid comes with another advantage, it draws the right people to cross your path at the right time to help you achieve the right things when you need it. If this sounds too hocus-pocus and New-Age for you, just try it on a simple wish and see what happens. After all, what do you have to loose by making a wish like that?

These are my silly little wishes for 2012:

To love and respect everybody that comes in contact with me.
To live and make the most of every day.
To write from the heart in the simplest possible language.
To help others publish their work.
To honestly record the stories that come to me.
To listen to the voices from the past.
To ask for the information that I need.
To share these stories with everyone that wants to listen.

May all your wishes come true in 2012.