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North Africa: ° Algeria ° Egypt ° Libya ° Morocco ° Sudan
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East Africa (The Horn of Africa): ° Djibouti ° Kenya ° Eritrea ° Madagascar ° Somalia ° Sudan ° Tanzania ° Zanzibar


As civilization developed and evolved during the New Stone Age, Kenya became a major migratory route for groups in search of fertile land for food production and grazing.

As far back as 2,000 BC, evidence indicates that early tribal groups began experimenting with agriculture and the tending of cattle. The highlands and Rift Valley regions of southern Kenya are especially rich in this early history of human evolution. The first migrants to arrive were pastoral nomads from Ethiopia who moved south to Kenya in search of fertile land to graze their flocks.

As tribes migrated throughout the valley, they exchanged and developed cultures that are still identifiable. When trade routes were established in the 17th century, European explorers discovered four basic population groups: Hamitic, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, and Bantu. Although the Kenyan interior was marked by early and frequent tribal migrations, the coastal region evolved in a very different manner. The rugged terrain of the interior was a natural barrier isolating the coast from tribal activity. Coastal inhabitants, therefore, were greatly influenced by Arabs and Persians who came to the East African coast to trade.

Near the end of the 15th century the first Europeans arrived on the Kenyan coast. In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama found the East African coast while in search of China. The new immigrants did not settle in quietly, however, and within a few years the Portuguese had looted and ransacked several Swahili cities. The Portuguese remained on the East African coast for 200 years with well established trading posts; they traded gold from the interior and exported slaves to work on the plantations in North America and East Indies. Portuguese rule was harsh, unpopular, and economically debilitating for the local people.

Throughout the 17th century, the Arabs attempted to reestablish links with their East African outposts. The Omani ships prevailed and by the early 1700s, the Portuguese had been routed completely. By 1720, the last remaining Portuguese left for good, leaving the East African coast again under Arab control.

The 18th century brought an emphasis on rebuilding the cities and reestablishing the once thriving trade routes. Under the leadership of the Sultan of Oman, Seyyid Said, the Arabs worked to regain economic and political supremacy over the region.

The island of Zanzibar quickly became the center of a very lucrative trade in slaves and ivory from the interior and spices from the island itself. During this time, Arab slavers moved into the interior of Kenya with the primary goal of exploiting rivalries between local tribes. The Arabs encouraged the powerful groups to conquer their weaker neighbors and sell them into slavery. The slaves were then forced to the coast and on to Zanzibar to be traded. Both ivory and slaves were hugely profitable and Zanzibar grew rich on the trade. This pattern continued despite the public outrage in Europe demanding an end to all slave trade. Eventually, the British brought their forceful anti-slavery message directly to the Sultan as they established a consulate at his court. After years of pressure, the Sultan finally relented and agreed to ban slavery in 1847.

By the mid-19th century, European interest in Kenya focused primarily on abolishing the slave trade and discovering the source of the Nile River. This period of exploration was characterized by Europeans as the Golden Age of Exploration. Between 1840 and 1880, famous names such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, and Speke mapped and recorded the interior of Africa. For the first time, Europeans witnessed first-hand the unique beauty of Kenya and recorded it for history. The European governments, however, displayed no serious interest in the reports as the land appeared hostile and unproductive. At this stage, there was no incentive to occupy the newly discovered lands. The end of the 19th century brought a change in this attitude. Bismark, the leader of Germany, expressed a desire to join his other European neighbors in securing a portion of the new land. During this period of international rivalry, often dubbed the "Scramble for Africa," the European powers all laid claim to African territories. The various claims of the nations were settled at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. At this time, most of the continent of Africa was divided into colonies: France claimed the majority of West Africa; Germany received much of the eastern territory that is now Tanzania; Belgium got the Congo region; Portugal retained control of Mozambique and Angola; and Britain received the remainder of the continent. Africans were not invited to attend the conference and therefore received not even an acre of their own land.

Spirit Lake Beacon, September 11, 1896, Spirit Lake, Iowa, USA

Marvels to the Natives.

Dr. Gregory, in exploring the lofty ranges of Mount Kenya in Africa, was accompanied by native followers from the coast, to whom the frost and snow met with at great altitudes were inexplicable wonders that could , be attributed only to magical agencies.

"They came to tell me," writes the traveler," that the water they had left in their cooking pots was all bewitched. They said it was white and would not shake. The adventurous Fundi had even hit it with a stick, which would not go in. They begged me to look at it, and I told them to bring it to me. They declined, however, to touch it and implored me to go to it. The water, of course, had frozen solid. I handled the ice and told the men they were silly to be afraid of it, for this change always came over water on teh tops of high mountains. I put one of the pots on the fire and predicted it would soon turn again into water. The men sat around and anxiously watched it. When it had melted, they joyfully told me that the demon was expelled, and I told them they could not use the water, but as soon as my back was turned, they poured it away and refilled their pots from an adjoining brook."

Hamilton Daily Democrat, June 7, 1902, Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.A.

The long drawn out war in the south of Africa that has been just closed, has not entirely diverted attention upon the part of the English people, ever seeking new worlds to conquer, from their territory along the east coast of the same continent.

Probably in no other of the dark continent has civilization made such rapid strides after it once secured a permanent foothold as in Uganda and around the shores of Lake Victoria Nyanza. In the days of the explorations of Dr. Livingstone and Henry M. Stanley there was no darker spot in all Africa than this same east coast. Lake Victoria, Nyanza, was then almost inaccessible, and the great fertile tropical region lying around it was practically closed to any advancement of civilizing influences.

But the route to Central Africa has been so changed by the building of the Uganda railway that it is now a very ensy matter to reach the Victoria Nynnza. Most travelers proceed by the German mail boats from Marseilles to Zanzibar, or direct to Mombasa, or by the Messaeries Maritimes vessels from Marseilles to Zanzibar, returning by coasting steamer to Mombasa. Passengers by P. and 0. or British India steamers tranship at Aden, and proceed by a smaller boat, direct to Mombasa, but it is to be hoped that before long direct communication by British steamers will be possible to a place that owes its existence solely to British work and money.

The passage from London to Mombasa, via Marsilles, occupies about 20 days. Communication from Bombay is through Aden by British India steamer, or direct by German steamer, the time occupied on the direct journey being about 12 days, or longer in bad weather. In pre-railway days, the "jumping-off place" for travelers bound for the interior was-Mombasa, and anything left behind there had to be done without for the rest of the trip. Much trouble was experienced in getting a caravan together. If any bullocks, camels, donkeys or horses were taken it was quite possible that none would survive the first 220 miles of the route. Desertions among the porters were common, and it was quite understood by many of them that getting an advance of three months' wages and disappearing after a fortnight's work paid very well, and seldom resulted in being caught. The rule has now been altered to one month's wages in advance, on engagement, and desertions are uncommon, the privations, dangers , and discomforts of the road hving disappeared. The Swahili porters being natives of a hot country and very susceptible to cold, were naturally adverse to crossing the high ranges between the coast and the lake, and it is not surprising that the naked Wakavirondo living near the lake should have the same objections to caravan work over the cold hill tops. Once over the hills, and in the land of plenty, the Swahili is quite happy and contented.

Anyone now wishing to travel up country lands at Mombasa, and from the new Grand hotel can walk across to the Mombasa terminus and get into a first-class sleeping carriage in which he can travel through in comfort to the lake shore.

Pier at Entebbe, Uganda - Lake Victoria

Pier at Entebbe.

At present there is only one steamer working on the lake, a small vessel, 75 feet in length, the parts of which were made in Glasgow some 11 years ago, and which, in 1900, were carried up to the lake and put together under the superintendence of the chief engineer of the railway. Two larger steamers, 175 feet in length, and properly fitted for passengers and cargo, are now being built to extend traffic over the lake. The trains will run alongside the steamers, and passengers will run from teh coast to the west side of the lake in three and one-half days, on the completion of the permanent line.

There, is a good club, at Mombasa, and another at Nairobi, the railway headquarters, 320 miles from the coast, which any properly accredited traveler can use as an honorary member. Telegrams. can be sent to all parts of the world from any station on the railway, and telephonic communication was established in 1900, by the railway telegraphinc staff, between railhead and Uganda headquarters, and Mengo, lately known as Kampala, the capital of the King of Uganda..

Good fishing can be obtained in the Athi river, but followers of the gentle art would be well advised to be careful how they enter the water; crocodiles of large size and abnormal appetite frequent it.

Westminster Budget, November 21, 1902

The New Route to the Interior of Africa -
Mombasa - The Uganda Railway

By Herbert Samuel, M.P.

Nothing is simpler nowadays than to make an excursion to the heart of Africa. After hardly more than three weeks' travelling from London you can stand where Speke stood on the shore of the Victoria Nyanza and see that source of the Nile, which was for so many centuries one of the hidden goals of geographical discovery. All the way from England to the very centre of the Dark Continent you can now go by train and steamer without discomfort and in absolute safety.

Protected by the walls of a railway carriage, you may pass through one of the grandest of Nature's zoological gardens. Far in the interior you may take up your quarters at an excellent English hotel, and within a mile of it may pay a friendly visit to the kraals of the once-dreaded Masai. In Uganda itself you may sit one day at an Englishman's table and be served with a meal worthy of a London club, and on the next you may visit spots where no white man has ever set his foot. The east and centre of Africa are lands of astounding contrasts. The highest civilisation and the frankest savagery stand side by side.

From London to Aden, via Marseilles, takes as a rule eleven days. From Aden, down the east coast of Africa, to Mombasa takes about seven days more. Mombasa is the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate, the coast terminus of the Uganda Railway and the point of departure for the interior.

Method of attacking the Crocodile.

An unpretentious town not unattractive with its seventeenth-century fort built by the Portuguese, its white, flat-roofed Arab houses, its waving coca-nut trees, its fine and picturesque harbour, its narrow, hilly streets with the native labourers chanting at their work as they haul along the trucks of merchandise--Mombasa makes a favourable impression as one goes in the hot sunlight from the quay to the hotel. In England it is usually regarded as a hot-bed of malaria; but the residents declare very emphatically that, except during the rains and in the lower part of the town, it is no more unhealthy than any other tropical seaport. It was here that the leaders of East African expeditions would engage their regiments of porters and make their elaborate preparations for the long and arduous march into the interior. It is here that nowadays one goes to the booking-office at a trim railway station and takes a return ticket to Port Florence on theVictoria Nyanza.

The Uganda Railway is a metre-gauge line, which runs for 584 miles in a north-westerly direction from the East African coast to the shore of the great lake. Strictly speaking, it is not a Uganda railway," tor it never enters or even touches the borders of the Uganda Protectorate; the whole of its length is within the boundaries of the Protectorate of British East Africa; and the name is only due to the tact that it was built to connect Uganda with the sea. It is a somewhat primitive railway. When I first travelled on it, in the middle of last March, the line had been open for through traffic for only a few days. Three times a week a passenger train ran from Mombasa to Nairobi, the headquarters of the railway administration, 300 miles from the coast; and once a week the train went on from Nairobi to the terminus on the lake. The journey, excluding the longer stops, occupied a little under forty-eight hours, giving an average speed of just over twelve miles an hour.

That a railway should exist at all, that it should have been built through an almost unknown country, carried over two mountain ranges, with labour imported from far-off India, is, however, s o wonderful an achievement that it would be ungracious to complain of its modesty in the matter of pace. Nor, taking into account the comparatively low charges for the use o f so great a convenience for a first-class ticket costs only 11 for the double journey of eleven hundred miles, with a very reasonable charge for luggage should the passenger grumble at such minor inconveniences as the constant jolting, the lamps that will not burn, the doors that will not fasten, third-class carriages grossly overcrowded, engines which have to stop every twenty miles to take in water, and which not seldom enliven the journey by running more or less completely off the rails. A graver matter is the expenditure on building the line. Estimated to need less than two millions, the Foreign Office has had to demand from the British Exchequer the immense sum of six millions before it completed its undertaking. 1 discussed this question of cost with a number of residents in East Africa, Government officials, traders, missionaries, engineers, and others, and it was the emphatic opinion of every one of them that in the building of this railway there had been many cases of gross extravagance and not a little looseness of financial control. The traveller and the trader have reason to be grateful for the initiation of this work and for the rapidity with which it has been completed. To the British taxpayer the case may wear another aspect.

The scenery along the line is full of variety and interest. Passing through tropical country near the coast, with palm trees and bananas, baobabs and mangoes, cocoanut trees and cactus, the train soon rises into a higher elevation, a cooler climate, and a less luxuriant vegetation. At 150 miles from the coast we are 2,000 ft. above the sea level. Open grassy plains become more frequent. Away to the left one sees, if it is still daylight, the double peak, snow-covered, of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. On we go, hour after hour, still gradually rising, through scenery that sometimes recalls the Sussex Downs, sometimes the Westmoreland lake country, sometimes the wilder parts of the Irish plains, but never the conventional ideas of tropical landscapes, until twenty-eight hours after leaving the coast we reach a height of over 7,000 ft. Then we go down 1,000 ft. to the bottom of the Great Rift Valley; and up again on the other side, winding, reversing, doubling almost on our own tracks, to the Mau Summit, the highest point on the line, 8,300 ft. above the sea.Kikuyu Warriors. Here, ten miles from the equator, we are glad of our thickest ulsters and our heaviest rugs, and listen to tales of hoar frost on the ground a few hours before and of the trouble to thawing the water frozen in the jugs in the early mornings. A quick descent into tropical country once more brings us in, ninety miles from the Mau Summit, through scenery of great grandeur and beauty, to a level of 3,800ft. at the shore of the Victoria Nyanza.

Except near Mombasa and the lake, and except for one patch of country where the industrious Kikuyu tribe have their gardens, the districts traversed by the line are little cultivated and very sparsely inhabited. The villages round the stations are mere clusters of corrugated iron huts for the accommodation of the Indian officials and labourers of the railway.

Here and thereKikuya Tribe. East Africa. , a group of natives, scantily clad, will stand in the long grass and look at the train with interested and friendly eyes. Sometimes a knot of women, wearing loin-cloths, and decked on the limbs and round the neck with coils of iron and copper wire, will raise a laughing cheer and wave their hands as we go by. At the stations, men, who recall the pictures of savages in the books of one's boyhood, lean on their long spears and watch the passengers climb in and out.

Almost everywhere along the line there is game to be seen zebra, sometimes in herds of many scores, sometimes cantering in groups of half a dozen close alongside the train, as horses out to grass will often do in England; ostriches in numbers; gazelle and antelope of many different species, scattered by the thousand over the vast plains as far as the eye can see; now and then a jackal or a hyaena; sometimes, if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a giraffe, rhinoceros, leopard, or lion. Everywhere Indian labourers, thin-legged and large-turbaned; everywhere huts and sheds of corrugated iron; a continual shaking; unending delays; at one stage a penetrating red dust covering every article in the carriage; at another a gloomy silence when a fourth passenger enters a compartment with sleeping-room for only three; an eager anticipation of one's meals; a constant look-out for large game; hours and hours of uninteresting plains and hours and hours of splendid forests and beautiful mountain prospects those are my impressions of the new Uganda Railway.

Lamu Island

Lamu Island in the Indian Ocean is part of the ancient Arab trade route. It is believed that the Lamu port established by the Arab traders has existed for at least one thousand years. On some unconfirmed accounts, the legendary Chinese fleet of Zheng He sunk near the island, where survivors are believed to have settled in the island.

The port of Lamu has existed for at least 1,000 years. To this archipelago, consisting of seven islands, the Portuguese arrived in 1506. They invaded Lamu and Lamu town became a thriving port in the 16th century. At that time Lamueconomy was based on slaves, ivory, mangrove, turtle shells and rhino horn, which were shipped on dhows to Yemen, Arabia, the Persian Gulf and India. The blend of cultures resulted in the rich Swahili culture. A great tradition of poetry was developed and architectural stone houses were built. Clothing was elegant jewelry ornate, and furniture was inlaid with silver and ivory.

During 17th century, nomadic Oromo tribes invaded the islands resulting in conflicts between island states. From the battle at Shella 1813, when Lamu received protection from the Sultan of Oman and defeated the forces of Pat , the golden age for Lamu started. Lamu was a protectorate of Oman; local viceroys administrated the town. Slaves were smuggled from Kilwa and Zanzibar and normally stopped at Lamu before sailing in dhows to Benadir and Arabian ports, as well as slaves from Lamu district to Somalia. Lamu s population consisted of a large number of slaves (who were working on the plantations) and a small number of free men and women (land-owning merchants, religious oligarchy and fishermen and artisans). This lasted up to 1873 when Britain's Royal Navy patrolled the coast and the slavery was abolished.

Lamu Town is Kenya’s oldest existing town and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the original Swahili settlements. Like Mombasa and Malindi farther south, Lamu is one of a string of port towns. Men wear full-length white robes and caps; the women are draped in the Islamic black purdah.


Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer, September 7, 1889, London, United Kingdom

The Government has given its approval to the establishment of a direct line of regular mail steamers, calling probably at Naples, between London and Mombasa and the other principal ports of British East Africa.

The Fortunes of Africa.
The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and EndeavorAfrica: A 5,000 year history of wealth, greed, and endeavor. Martin Meredith, Author.
Africa has been coveted for its riches ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew fortune-seekers, merchant-adventurers, and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other valuable minerals. He traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization.

The Diary of Antera Duke: An Eighteenth-Century African Slave TraderAn 18th Century African Slave Trader.
TheDiary of Antera Duke.Stephen D. Behrendt, A. J. H. Lathma, David Northrup
In his diary, Antera Duke (ca.1735-ca.1809) wrote an eyewitness account of the slave trade by an African merchant. A leader in late eighteenth-century Old Calabar, a cluster of Efik-speaking communities in the Cross River region, he resided in Duke Town, forty-five miles from the Atlantic Ocean in what is now southeast Nigeria. His diary, written in trade English from 1785 to 1788, is a candid account of daily life in an African community at the height of Calabar's overseas commerce. It provides valuable information on economic activity with other African businessmen and with European ship captains who arrived to trade for slaves, produce, and provisions.

Basil Davidson states that by examining three important areas of Africa in the history of slavery against a general background of their time and circumstance he was taking "a fresh look at the overseas slave trade, the steady year-by-year export of African labour to the West Indies and the Americas that marked the era of forced migration." (Africans were joined in forced camps by abused laborers from China, "indentured servants" from Ireland, and Britain's hideous prison hulks.)

The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black CargoWhite Ships, Black Cargo.
Tom Feelings
Alex Haley's Roots awakened many Americans to the cruelty of slavery. The Middle Passage focuses attention on the torturous journey which brought slaves from Africa to the Americas, allowing readers to bear witness to the sufferings of an entire people. 64 paintings.

The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of AmericaSlave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.
Gerald Home
The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then residing in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with London. Gerald Horne complements his earlier celebrated Negro Comrades of the Crown, by showing that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt.

Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa.
James T. Campbell
Many works of history deal with the journeys of blacks in bondage from Africa to the United States along the middle passage, but there is also a rich history of African Americans traveling in the opposite direction. In Middle Passages, award-winning historian James T. Campbell recounts more than two centuries of African American journeys to Africa, including the experiences of such extraordinary figures as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou. This series is under presiding editor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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