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The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco, 1505-

The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco, Viceroy of India, written in the ship Sam Rafael of Oporto, captained by Feman Suarez.

In the year 1505, on 25 March, Tuesday, the feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady, Dom Francisco d'Almeida sailed with a fleet of twenty vessels. There were fourteen large men-of-war and six caravels.

They rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 20 June and were driven away from it seventy leagues. On 2 July there were great storms with thunder, and two men from the flagship and one from the Lyomarda fell overboard. On 18 July they sighted land for the first time, 369 leagues beyond the Cape of Good Hope, near the Ylhas Darradeiras, which are thirty leagues from the island of Mozambique. On 19 July they were in sight of Mozambique, and on 21 July they were crossing the shallow waters of Sam Rafael, which are thirty leagues from Kilwa.

On Tuesday, 22 July, they entered the harbour of 'Kilwa at noon, with a total of eight ships. Immediately on their arrival the Grand-Captain, Dom Francisco d'Almeida, sent Bona Ajuta Veneziano to summon the king. He excused himself from coming, but sent the Grand-Captain gifts instead; They were five goats, a small cow and a large number of coconuts and other fruit.

Next flay the Grand-Captain ordered the ships to have their artillery in readiness. Then the captains, each in his best clothes, and full armour, went in his own boat to lie off the town in the hope that the king would decide to come out. The sheikh, however, sent a message to say that he could not come since he had guests, but, if required, he would send the tribute due to the King of Portugal. This message was brought by a party of five Moors, who were immediately seized.

At dawn on Thursday, 24 July, the vigil of the feast of St. James the Apostle, all went in their boats to the shore. The first to land was the Grand-Captain, and he was followed by the others. They went straight to the royal palace, and on the way only those Moors who did not fight were granted their lives. At the palace there was a Moor leaning out of the window with a Portuguese flag in his hand, shouting: 'Portugal! Portugal!'This flag had been left behind by the admiral [Vasco da Gamal when he had arranged for Kilwa to pay a tribute of 1,500 ounces of gold a year. The Moor was asked to open the door, and, when he did not do so, the door was broken down with axes. They found neither the Moor nor anyone else in the Palace, which was deserted.

In Kilwa there are many strong houses several storeys high. They are built of stone and mortar and plastered with various designs. As soon as the town had been taken without opposition, the Vicar-General and some of the Franciscan fathers came ashore carrying two crosses in procession and singing the Te Deum. They went to the palace, and there the cross was put down and the Grand-Captain prayed. Then everyone started to plunder the town of all its merchandise and provisions.

The town of Kilwa lies on an island around which ships of 500 tons can sail. The island and town have a population of 4,000 people. It is very fertile and produces maize similar to that of Guinea, butter, honey, and wax. On the trees hang beehives like jars of three almudes capacity, each closed with woven palm leaves. There are holes through which the bees go in and come out.

There are many trees and palms here and on the mainland, some of them different from those of Portugal. From the island to the mainland the distance is in some places two leagues and in others one.

There are sweet oranges, lemons, vegetables, small onions, and aromatic herbs. They are grown in gardens and watered with water from the wells. Here also grows betel which has leaves like ivy and is grown like peas with sticks at the root for support. The leaf is used by the wealthy Arabs for chewing together with specially prepared limes which look like an ointment. They keep the leaves as if they were to be put on wounds. These leaves make the mouth and teeth very red, but are said to be most refreshing.

There are more black slaves than white Moors here: they are engaged on farms growing maize and other things. There are various types of peas which are produced by plants as high as large pepper trees; when they are ripe, they are gathered and stored. The soil is red, the top layer being sandy; the grass is always green. There are many fat beasts, oxen, cows, sheep, and goats and also plenty of fish; there are also whales which swim round the ships. There is no running drinking water on the island. Near the island there are other small islands which are inhabited. There are many boats as large as a caravel of fifty tons and other smaller ones. The large ones lie aground on the shore and are dragged down to the sea when the people wish to sail them. They are built without nails: the planks are sewn together with rope made from knotted coir from the coconut palm. The same kind of rope is used for the rudder. The boats are caulked with black pitch made from crude incense and resin. They sail from here to Sofala, 255 leagues away.

The palms here do not produce dates but from some of them wine and vinegar are obtained. These come from the palm trees which do not produce coconuts. The coconuts are the size of large melons, and from the fibres inside the shell all kinds of rope are made. Inside the shell is a fruit the size of a large pineapple. It contains half a pint of milk which is very pleasant to drink. When the milk has been drunk the nut is broken and eaten; the kernel tastes like a walnut which is not fully ripe. They dry it and it yields a large quantity of oil.

People here sleep raised above the ground in hammocks made of palm leaves in which only one person can lie.

The Portuguese found here a large quantity of pure drinking water. Flasks of very good perfume are exported from here and a large quantity of glass of all types and all kinds of cotton piece-goods, incense, resin, gold, silver, and pearls. The Grand-Captain ordered the loot to be deposited under seal in a house.

The fortress of Kilwa was built out of the best house there was there. All the other houses round it were pulled down. It was fortified and guns were set in place with everything else a fort needs. Pero Ferreira was left in command of it with eighty men.

The country is not very hot. The men are armed with bows and large arrows, strong shields of palm leaves bound with cotton, and pikes better than those of Guinea. Few swords were seen. They have four catapults for hurling stones but do not yet know the use of gunpowder.

The sea laps the entrance of the fortress at high water near where the ships enter.

When the king fled from Kilwa, the GrandCaptain appointed another, a local Moor beloved by all, whom they took in procession on horseback through the town.

Lime is prepared here in this manner: large logs of wood are piled in a circle and inside them coral limestone is placed; then the wood is burnt. The process after that is the same as in Portugal.

Cotton is found in abundance. It is of good quality and is planted and grows well in the island. The sheep have wool no better than goats. The slaves wear a cotton cloth round the waist and down to the knees; the rest of the body is naked. The white Arabs and slave owners wear two pieces of cotton cloth, one round the waist down to the feet and the other thrown over the shoulders and reaching down as far as where the first cloth is tied.

They have copper coins like our ceptis, four being equal to one real; Portuguese coins have the same value there as at home. There are no gold coins but the weight of their mitical is equal to 460 reis in Portugal.

The winter season in Kilwa is from April to September. It is not cold and for this reason the people wear scanty clothes.

The Grand-Captain twice went from one side of the town to the other. Once he saw twenty-five gazelle which had been let loose on the island. There are also many wild cats in the bush.

There are many vaulted mosques, one of which is like that of Cordova. All the upper-class Moors carry a rosary.


On 9 August the ships left Kilwa for Mombasa, sixty leagues up the coast. The ship Sam Rafael reached there on 14 August, but the Grand-Captain arrived with the other ten ships a day earlier.

The Moors of Mombasa had built a strongpoint with many guns at the entrance of the harbour, which is very narrow. When we entered, the first ship, which was under the command of Gonzalo de Paiva, who was going in front to explore the channel, was fired on by the Moors from both sides. We promptly replied to the fire, and with such intensity that the gunpowder in their strongpoint caught fire. It started burning and the Moors fled, thus allowing the whole fleet to enter and lie at anchor in front of the town. And on that day, the vigil of the feast of the Assumption, the town was bombarded with all the guns on the ships, while the guns of the town replied to our fire.

When the Grand-Captain went ashore he seized a Moor who happened to be a member of the roya4 household. The Portuguese obtained good information from him.

The first night the fleet arrived in Mombasa there came out on the shore a Spanish Christian who wav, living there, a gunner by profession and a conv,-,,rt to Islam. He told the Christians to go away an d that Mombasa was not like Kilwa: they would not find people with hearts that could be eaten like chickens as they had done in Kilwa, but that if they were keen to come ashore the people were ready to set about them for their supper. The Grand-Captain, however, offered him his protection and pardon, but he refused.

Mombasa is a very large town and lies on an island from one and a half to two leagues round. The town is built on rocks on the higher part of the island and has no walls on the side of the sea; but on the land side it is protected by a wall as high as the fortress. The houses are of the same type as those of Kilwa: some of them are three storeyed and all are plastered with lime. The streets are very narrow, so that two people cannot walk abreast in them: all the houses have stone seats in front of them, which makes the streets yet narrower.

The Grand-Captain met with the other captains and decided to bum the town that evening and to enter it the following morning. But when they went to bum the town they were received by the Moors with a shower of arrows and stones. The town has more than 600 houses which are thatched with palm leaves: these are collected green for this purpose. In between the stone dwelling-houses there are wooden houses with porches and stables for cattle. There are very few dwelling houses which have not these wooden houses attached.

Once the fire was started it raged all night long, and many houses collapsed and a large quantity of goods was destroyed. For from this town trade is carried on with Sofala and with Cambay by sea. There were three ships from Cambay and even these did not escape the fury of the attack. It was a moonless night.

On Friday 25 August, the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, the Grand-Captain drew up eight ships on one side of Mombasa. On the other side was his son, Dom Lourenqo d'Almeida, with three ships. Early in the morning they all prepared their arms and had breakfast. The Grand-Captain had ordered that all should land as soon as a shot from a big gun was fired. Thus all the boats were waiting ready on the water: when the shot was fired all got quickly on to the shore in very good order. The archers and gunners went ahead of everyone else, all going up the steep ascent into the town. When they entered, they found that some of the houses had been deserted as a result of the fire of the previous night. Further on they found three storeyed houses from which stones were thrown at them. But the stones which were thrown fell against the walls of the very narrow streets, so that much of the force of their fall was lost. There were also many balconies projecting over the streets under which one could shelter.

The Grand-Captain went straight to the royal palace: he was led by the Moor who had been captured on the previous day. He had ordered that no one should enter any of the houses, and that anyone who did so should die. When the Grand-Captain arrived at the palace, Captain Verraudez immediately climbed up the wall and hoisted our flag, shouting: Portugal, Portugal. And there were many Moors killed on the way there.

They saw from there some sixty Moors leaving the town, all dressed in gowns and turbans; they were going towards a palm grove and did not seem in any huffy. Some said that the king was among them. The Christians, however, did not follow them. All the people of the town were taken to this palm grove, and the entrance to it was guarded by more than 500 archers. These archers were all negro slaves of the white Moors, and obedient to their masters in their captivity like those of Kilwa.

The Grand-Captain ordered that the town should be sacked and that each man should carry off to his ship whatever he found: so that at the end there would be a division of the spoil, each man to receive a twentieth of what he found. The same rule was made for gold, silver, and pearls. Then everyone started to plunder the town and to search the houses, forcing open the doors with axes and iron bars. There was a large quantity of cotton cloth for Sofala in the town, for the whole coast gets its cotton cloth from here. So the Grand-Captain got a good share of the trade of Sofala for himself. A large quantity of rich silk and gold embroidered clothes was seized, and carpets also; one of these, which was without equal for beauty, was sent to the King of Portugal together with many other valuables.

When night came the Grand-Captain ordered all the men to a field which lay between the town and the sea. A section of it was allotted to each captain and a watch was set for the night. They were at a distance of a gun shot from the palm grove where the Moors were with their king. On the morning of the 16th they again plundered the town, but because the men were tired from fighting and from lack of sleep, much wealth was left behind apart from what each man took for himself They also carried away provisions, rice, honey, butter, maize, countless camels and a large number of cattle, and even two elephants. They paraded these elephants in front of the people of the town before they took it, in order to frighten them. There were many prisoners, and white women among them and children, and also some merchants from Cambay.

On Saturday evening the Grand-Captain ordered that all should return to the ships in a disciplined manner, keeping a watch for the Moors as they went on their way. And as the Christians left by one way, so the Moors entered by the other to see what destruction had been done. For the streets and houses were full of dead, who were estimated to be about 1,500.

Dom Fernando de Sà was wounded with an arrow which did not have an iron point. Some of their arrows are made of wood with iron points, others of burnt wood soaked in an unknown poison. Some say the wood itself is poisonous. The arrows with iron points have herbs at the tip, but these are not dangerous, as was evident from those wounded by them.

According to the Moors this town is the most famous of all the coast of Abyssinia. The island is very fertile, and produces a large quantity of sweet oranges, pomegranates, lemons, and sugar cane; all these things are more abundant here than at Kilwa.

All the guns e onging to t e town were taken to the ships. They found one old cannon lying in the street which five men could not lift. It was said to have belonged to a ship called Rey which had been lost nearby. They also found an anchor which had been stolen from the Admiral Vasco da Gama. Because the Portuguese could not take it the Arabs pointed it out to each other. There were only five Portuguese dead in the battle and many wounded-more by the grace of God than by any act of man.

After returning to the ships they weighed anchor and moved inshore so that the anchors were exposed on dry land at low water. They remained there for ten days. It was very difficult to go out through the narrow entrance and also because there were strong contrary winds blowing. The ship Lyomarda lost its rudder and they could not find it again. So they were obliged to make a new one, for which each ship had to give up one of its hooks.

The ship San Gabriel arrived on 20 August with its mainmast broken, but the whereabouts of the supply ships was still not known.

Now the King of Mombasa and the King of Malindi were at war, and many of their people had been killed on both sides, the cause of the war being the friendship of the King of Malindi with the King of Portugal. Eventually the King of Mombasa had been defeated by the King of Malindi, and for the present they were friends. So the King of Mombasa wrote the following letter to the King of Malindi:

May God's blessing be upon you, Sayyid Ali! This is to inform you that a great lord has passed through the town, burning it and laying it waste. He came to the town in such strength and was of such cruelty, that he spared neither man nor woman, old nor young, nay, not even the smallest child. Not even those who fled escaped from his fury. He not only killed and burnt men but even the birds of the heavens were shot down. The stench of the corpses is so great in the town that I dare not go there; nor can I ascertain nor estimate what wealth they have taken from the town. I give you these sad news for your own safety.

There were more than 10,000 people in Mombasa, of whom 3,700 were men of military age.


Thence they sailed to Malindi, twenty-five leagues further north. Five leagues outside Malindi they were halted by strong currents and there they met the caravel of Johan Homere, which had captured two islands for Portugal. One of them was 450 leagues beyond the Cape of Good Hope and was uninhabited. They took in firewood and water there.

The other island lies between Kilwa and Mombasa and is known as Zanzibar. As the Moors of this island already knew of the destruction of Kilwa, they presented the captain with provisions and said they were at the service of the King of Portugal. The ship had arrived there on 24 August, and they had taken in water, firewood and meat.

Mogadishu lies on this coast and is 100 leagues from Malindi. It is a large town with plenty of horses....


Source: E. Axelson, "South East Africa," 1940; pp. 231-238. Quoted in G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, The East African Coast: Selected Documents (London: Rex Collings, 1974), pp. 105-112.

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