They Came Before Marco Polo  

 
(@obadelekambon)
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http://www.blackjadeworld.com/images/spacer.gi f" alt="" /> [h=3]The following article is an excerpt from the e-book
They Came Before Marco Polo,
by Khalifa A.Khaliq[/h]







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Early depiction of the giraffe brought to China by African sailors.

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[h=2]Swahili Sailors in Early China[/h]ln 133l a very famous scholar and world traveler from the City of Fez, Morocco traveled down the east coast of Africa. This traveler's name was Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta left in his memoir descriptions of all the foreign cities he visited all over the world.

When he went to East Africa he visited the famous city of Kilwa. Ibn Battuta described Kilwa as "one of the most beautiful and well constructed towns in the world." In the city of Kilwa government officials, teachers and accomplished business men greeted Ibn Battuta.

The people of Kilwa are generally called "Swahili". Today, as in the past, the Swahili people mainly reside in East Africa. The name "Swahili" comes from the Arabic term "Sahel" or "Swahil". These words mean "shore" or "coastline". Since they resided along the coastal areas these east African peoples called themselves "Swahili" meaning "people of the coastline".

The period when the Swahili people initially occupied East Africa goes back more than 2000 years. Initially small groups coming from other parts of Africa began to settle in the area. These groups established small villages along this east coast area. Because of its close proximity, these peoples took to the ocean. Due to their frequent contact with the Indian Ocean their ocean navigational capabilities and ship sailing skills evolved to a high level. Soon the Swahili people were able to voyage for long distances and for extended periods across the Indian Ocean.

The Swahili eventually made contact with other countries along the Indian Ocean. Swahili sailors were able to reach Arabia, India, Indonesia and even China. Strong trade links were established between East Africa and these other nations. The Swahili became very wealthy due to these trade links. Between the 10th to the 15th century more than 30 trading-cities or trading~empires developed along the east coast of Africa. These cities existed in the areas which today are called Kenya, Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar.

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During the peak period of this commerce, on any given day, Swahili sailors could be seen loading their large ships with gold, iron, ivory and coconuts, and unloading from them textiles and jewelry from India and exquisite porcelain from China. The Swahili also saw ships from China and other nations pulling into their harbors. These ships were making frequent stops at Lamu, Malindi, Mombosa and other trading city-states along the east African coast. These cities had developed into affluent thriving cosmopolitan cultures due to this trade. East African ivory was in high demand during this period and this ivory found its way into India, the Persian Gulf and China. South African gold was also in high demand.

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Three major items used in East African trade. Ivory, gold and salt. African elephant tusks were the source of most of Asia's ivory.
Gold coins were much sought after in North Africa and cylinders of salt were in demand in South Africa.

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In 1500 the Portuguese sailed to East Africa for the first time. This expedition was under the command of Pedro Alvares Cabral. When the Portuguese saw the Swahili they were astonished. One sailor on the ship wrote:
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    [*]ln this land there are rich merchants and there is much gold and sliver and amber and pearls. Those of the land wear clothes of fine cotton and of silk and many fine things, and they are blackmen.
    ').'")."\n

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The liveliest and most prosperous city in all of East Africa during this period was the island of Kilwa. The island essential1y functioned like that of a market middleman. The Kilwa rulers controlled the exchange of goods between inner Africa and other nations along the Indian Ocean. This middleman role made the Kilwa rulers some of the wealthiest individuals on the entire continent. In 196l Nevill Chitic unearthed the mosque and pa1ace of the last Kilwa ruler. This structure is called the "Husuni Kubwa". It was the largest domestic residence in all of East Africa. The palace had wel1 over 100 rooms, with galleries, patios, and separate sections for residential and commercial purposes.

The citizens of Kilwa possessed very lavish, modern looking homes on the is1and. Some of their homes were actually two to three stories high. Many of them contained rugs from Persia, jewelry from India, spices from Southeast Asia and bowls from China. The Swahili made their homes out of the most available materials: namely, mangrove poles and coral. The main building material was a coarse vesicular coral broken into irregular blocks. When this coral is initially taken from the reef it is very soft and easily cut. As it is exposed to weather and rain, though, it starts to harden and become more durable. This need for the coral to weather meant buildings were often erected in stages over several years. The houses often had very impressive entrances. They usually had large arched doorways which led to private courtyards. A wide raised bank usually ran around three sides of the courtyard and provided space to sit. In this space visitors could be received and business transactions could be conducted. Usually a large narrow reception room, with wide doors and long windows, faced onto the court. Private rooms, often beautifully decorated, led off the reception rooms.

When we look at the documents and sources on Swahili or East African trade we find early Arab writings mentioning a few details here and there about the Swahili traders. We find them mentioned in such sources as the Muruj al-Dhahab, an Arab historical encyclopedia. We also have the archaeological evidence from various Asian countries, information from the Swahili oral and religious traditions and modern research now being conducted in this field.

When researching about East Africa the source most often cited is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. This is the earliest detailed account about Swahili trade. This book was written around the first century by a Greek ship captain living in Egypt. It discusses Swahili imports and exports, their habits and hospitality and many things about their skills and interest.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about Africa is the belief that in the past Africans never ventured outside their homeland. This belief has proven to be a myth because in ancient times it was a generally held view amongst the Swahili that all male children were born sailors. When we look at the Swahili religious practices we find that early in their history the Swahili accepted Islam. This faith became their dominant religion. Islam also helped develop them as a mercantile sea-faring people because the pursuit of trade, commerce and traveling to distant lands are highly encouraged in the Islamic faith. "Go in quest of knowledge, even unto China." was a popular saying of Mohammed, the founding prophet of Islam. Other sayings of his include "Travel for vigor and profit", and "The timid merchant gains nothing but disappointment while the bold one makes a living."

Ma ku Mbôngi, ka matômbulawanga za ko. "The community's political institution does not borrow foreign dialects to discuss its political matters or to educate its' members" – Kikôngo proverb “The history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of Egypt [...] The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest or objective, nor unruffled, he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic.” – Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality "African champions must break the chain that links African ideas to European ones and listen to the voice of the ancestors without European interpreters." – Jacob Carruthers, Mdw Ntr
Ọbádélé Kambon, PhD Email: info@abibitumi.com Skype: obadele.kambon Paypal: www.paypal.me/akali Abibifahodie Family of Websites:
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Posted : 08/22/2008 10:47 pm
(@obadelekambon)
Most BlackNificent Afrikan! Admin


Chinese sculpture of an African merchant from Zanzibar.
This piece dates back to China's Tang Dynasty 618 A.D - 907 A.D.

When we turn our attention to some of the more ancient Chinese writings we find a few hints suggesting Swahili sailors arrived on Chinese shores. An interesting passage can be found in the Ch'en-han-shu. This document discusses China's maritime trade links with other countries during the early Han Dynasty. It states:
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    [*]Going again by boat about four months, there is the country of Yi-li-mo. Going by land about ten days, there is the country of Fu-kan-tu-lu, two months beyond again, there was Huang-chih; and from Huang-chih Emperor P'ing received an envoy who brought a rhinoceros as a present.
    ').'")."\n

"'
Bear in mind rhinos are indigenous to Africa. In the past, a Swahili trading center existed on the island of Zanzibar. This is a small island located just off the coast of East Africa. "Zanj" or "Zaniji" was the term medieval Arabs used for east African peoples. The name still survives today. It can be seen in the island named "Zanzibar". The term "Zanzibar" derived from "zanj-bahr". "Zanj-bahr" merely means "coast of the Zanj". Interestingly, the term "zanj" resurfaced in an Arab writing of 1154 AD. The passage speaks about India and China establishing trade links with one another. It stated India fell into a state of confusion and as a result the Chinese had to withdraw their trading post and establish them on the islands of a place it called "Zanedji".

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    [*]And it was said that when there were rebellions in China and injustice and excesses prevailed in India, the Chinese transferred their commerce to Zanzibar and the dependent islands nearby. They entered into relations with the inhabitants and felt very comfortable with them because of their fairness, the pleasantness of their conduct, and the ease with which they transacted business. And so it is for that reason that the island prospered and travelers to it were many.
    ').'")."\n

"'
Documents from China's Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD) have also provided some details. The Sung records of 1083 AD speak of another foreign envoy visiting the imperial court. The last three characters in this envoy's name translate as "the zanj". The document stated since the envoy traveled such a long distance, the emperor decided to do something special for him:

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    [*]...besides giving him the same presents for which he formerly bestowed on him, added thereto two thousand ounces of silver.
    ').'")."\n

"'
Several contemporary writers on east African culture have noted in ancient times the Swahili possessed the capability to build and navigate large ships. For example, in one of his more recent books, historian Basil Davidson notes:

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    [*]All this reflected the Swahili role as market middleman, linking the caravans of the interior with the ships from overseas. Their own entrepreneurs traveled far in both directions, sharing in the caravan trade with the kingdoms of the Zimbabwe culture, and also sharing in the maritime skills of the region. Like the Arabs and Indians, the Swahili had the sailing and navigating expertise...to voyage out of sight of land for long distances; and they possessed these skills many years before such things were learned in the Atlantic waters.
    ').'")."\n

"'
Davidson has actually discovered Chinese testimonials of Swahili sailors visiting their country. He writes:

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    [*]A Chinese commissioner of foreign trade in Fukien province of southern China recorded in 1226 that the East African cities imported 'white cotton cloth, porcelain, copper, and red cottons' by way of ships that came every year...
    ').'")."\n

"'
Substantial findings have been yielded by archaeological excavations in East Africa. Researchers have uncovered several plates and bowls in East Africa with Chinese characters written on them. Research has also turned up thousands of ancient coins found at various sites in the region. During the 1950s G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville began work on systematically classifying the ancient coins discovered. By 1959 he had classified a total of 19,600 coins. In 1960 Freeman-Grenville published his results in the Journal of African History. This journal presented a few details about the coins he examined. His study revealed a lot of the coins discovered were not from East Africa. It was discovered 233 of the coins came from China. Five of the coins dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in China, 212 from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), six from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and ten were from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD).

The study of ancient Chinese artwork has also provided evidence to us. The Chinese made small sculptures of the Swahili merchants visiting their country. In his book, Black Jade: The African Presence in the Ancient East, art historian James E. Brunson displays a miniature clay figure of a Swahili sailor. This clay figure was actually unearthed in China. It was made in the likeness of a merchant from the east African island of Zanzibar. The piece dates back to China's Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).


One of many types of East African trading ships.
These ships were used to sail northward to Arabia and eastward to India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China.

There also exist a record of an eyewitness account of Swahili merchants in the Far East. The Portuguese trader Tome Pires lived in Malaysia from 1512 to 1515 AD. In his memoir he reported seeing in Malaysia peoples from the east African cities of Kilwa, Mombosa and Malindi. The most famed and well documented Swahili visits to China center around the trade links Chinese and African people established during the 1400s. On September 20, 1414 sailors from the east African city of Malindi had presented a very extraordinary present to the emperor of China. The ruler of Malindi ordered his ambassadors to tranship a giraffe to China. Louis Levathes in her book, When China Ruled the Seas, tells us the Chinese:
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    [*]...had never seen the creature before and mistook it for the mythical qilin, one of the four sacred animals in China, along with the dragon, the phoenix, and the tortoise. The qilin was believed to make its appearance only in times of great peace and prosperity. It was said to have the body of a musk deer, the tail of an ox, the forehead of a wolf, the hooves of a horse, and a fleshy horn like a unicorn. Other descriptions noted that the male animal, called simply lin, sometimes had two or three horns. The qilin did not eat meat and avoided treading on any living thing, even grass, and thus became for the Chinese a symbol of goodness, appearing only in a land well governed or when a sage was born. Confucius' mother was thought to have become pregnant by a qilin when she stepped on the footprint of the animal while walking in the woods.
    ').'")."\n

"'
When the Malindi sailors unveiled this creature at the imperial court the court officials gathered closer "to gaze at it and their joy knew no end." The emperor was so impressed with the gift that he ordered a calligrapher named Shen Tu to paint the animal. This famous painting now sits in the National Palace Museum of Taipei. The painting contains classical Chinese characters retelling the story of the giraffe being transported and presented to the court by African ambassadors. Shen Tu also composed a poem commemorating the animal:

Ma ku Mbôngi, ka matômbulawanga za ko. "The community's political institution does not borrow foreign dialects to discuss its political matters or to educate its' members" – Kikôngo proverb “The history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of Egypt [...] The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest or objective, nor unruffled, he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic.” – Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality "African champions must break the chain that links African ideas to European ones and listen to the voice of the ancestors without European interpreters." – Jacob Carruthers, Mdw Ntr
Ọbádélé Kambon, PhD Email: info@abibitumi.com Skype: obadele.kambon Paypal: www.paypal.me/akali Abibifahodie Family of Websites:
www.obadelekambon.com | www.abibitumikasa.com | www.abibifahodie.com | www.abibifahodie.org www.sankofajourney.com | www.letsbuyblack.com | www.asaseheals.com www.kamaukambon.org | www.amakambon.com | www.bennucenter.com www.nubusinesssolutions.com | www.onipa.com | www.lastblackman.com
 

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Posted : 08/22/2008 10:47 pm
(@obadelekambon)
Most BlackNificent Afrikan! Admin

Swahili Sailors in Early China

Page 3

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    [*]In a corner of the western seas, in the stagnant waters of a great morass, Truly was produced a qilin, whose shape was as high as fifteen feet, With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a fleshy, boneless horn, With luminous spots like a red cloud or purple mist. Its hoofs do not tread beings and in its wanderings it carefully selects it ground, It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm, Its harmonious voice sounds like a bell or a musical tube. Gentle is this animal, that in all antiquity has been seen but once, The manifestation of its divine spirit rises up to heaven's abode.
    ').'")."\n

"'
The emperor of China was delighted with the gift and hospitable to the Swahili. At the time of their departure the emperor ordered a large fleet of several thousand men to escort them back to Africa. Louis Levathes describes for us the commotion in East Africa upon their arrival:

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    [*]Alarmed spread quickly through the East African town of Malindi. Across the sea, beyond the coral reef, strange storm clouds appeared on the horizon. Fishermen hastily dragged their outriggers to safety on dry land. As the clouds gathered, it suddenly became clear that they were not clouds at all but sails-sails piled upon sails, too numerous to count, on giant ships with large serpent's eyes painted on the bows. Each ship was the size of many houses, and there were dozens of these serpent ships, a city of ships, all moving rapidly across the blue expanse of ocean toward Malindi. When they came near, the colored flags on the masts blocked the sun, and the loud pounding and beating of drums on board shook heaven and earth. A crowd gathered at the harbor, and the king was summoned. Work ceased altogether. What was this menacing power, and what did it want? The fleet moored just outside Malindi's coral reefs. From the belly of the big ships came small rowboats and men in lavish silk robes. And among the faces were some the king recognized. These men he knew. They were his own ambassadors, whom he had dispatched months ago on a tribute-bearing mission. Now emissaries of the dragon throne were returning them home, and they brought wonderous things to trade.
    ').'")."\n

"'
Cheng He is a very famous admiral of the Chinese Naval fleet. He was also a eunuch and a Muslim. Under his command the Chinese naval force was the largest it had been in all of history. Their huge naval ships were four hundred feet long and were able to house thousands of men. Between 1405 and 1433 Cheng He had made seven great voyages with his fleet. It was Cheng He and his fleet who took the honor of escorting home the Malindi ambassadors.

An interesting twist to the story about the Malindi giraffe is the fact that when ever Cheng He visited Africa he usually returned to China with African ambassadors. And the ambassadors habitually brought exotic African animals to present to the imperial court. After his fourth voyage Cheng He returned to China with another group of ambassadors from Malindi. On September 16, 1416 these ambassadors presented another giraffe to the imperial court. Nearly two years after the giraffe painted by Shen Tu. At the palace gate in Nanjing the emperor also received from them zebras which the Chinese called "celestial horses" and "celestial stags" (probably oryx). This event again repeated itself three years later:

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    [*]When Zheng He returned to China on July 15, 1419, the emperor richly rewarded all the fleet's officers. The foreign ambassadors who came to pay tribute to the emperor were received at court on August 8 and caused a sensation. The African envoys paraded their curious animals, and court officials "craning their necks looked on with pleasure, and stamping their feet when they were scared and startled, thinking that these were things that were rarely heard of in the world and that China had never seen their likeness."
    ').'")."\n

"'
In his book, They Came Before Columbus, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima points out the Swahili were actually transporting elephants to the courts in China in the thirteenth century. This demonstrated the level of sophistication in their ship building and navigational capabilities. In East Africa's Fort Jesus Museum there is presently on display a model of a type of ship the Swahili used to sail across the Indian Ocean. It is also worth nothing Levathe's words on this matter:

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    [*]In 1498, when Vasco da Gama and his fleet of three battered caravels rounded the Cape of Good Hope and landed in East Africa on their way to India, they met natives who sported embroidered green silk caps with fine fringe. The Africans scoffed at the trinkets the Portuguese offered- beads, bells, strings of coral, washbasins-and seemed unimpressed with their small ships.
    ').'")."\n

"'


The Husuni Kubwa palace as it appeared during the height of Swahili wealth and power.
The structure contained more than 100 rooms.

Throughout the period of this trade accidents and mishaps did occurred. Traveling great distances across the oceans has always been fraught with miscalculations and dangers for both the Chinese and the Swahili. Some voyages never made it to their destinations. Others were unsuccessful in returning home. In various places in the Pacific we can find small populations which are remnants of ship wrecked Swahili and Chinese sailors.

For example, off the coast of Kenya there exist a series of remote islands called the Bajun Islands. In 1935, while studying the Bajunis, an Italian anthropologist noticed their complexion was much lighter than other groups in the region.
Some of the men had very long flowing beards. A characteristic seen with many elderly Chinese men today. Many Bajunis claim their ancestors were shipwrecked Chinese sailors. One Bajunis group called the Washanga has a story about their origins. They have passed this story down from one generation to the next. As the story goes a Chinese sailing vessel was wrecked off the coast of the Bajun island of Pate. Having no way to return home the sailors settled at a place called Mui Wanga on the island. They converted to Islam and married the local women:

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    [*]The two dozen or so members of the Washanga tribe who live on Pate and some of the surrounding Bajun islands today all believe they are descended from Chinese. Some are proud of this heritage; some are not and will say they belong to another clan. The proud ones remember with particular fondness a story their parents passed on to them about the time long ago when the king of Malindi gave the emperor of China a gift of a male giraffe and a female giraffe. They like to point out that although one giraffe died on the way to China, the other lived. The Chinese emperor was very pleased with the unusual beast, which became a symbol of the friendship between the Chinese and the Swahili. It is remarkable that on this remote corner of the African coast, people who speak no Chinese should know the details of a story that is written in classical Chinese and read only by a handful of scholars.
    ').'")."\n

"'
The Washanga are not unique. There are other groups in the Pacific with similar stories. Located in the South Pacific are a set of islands called Fiji Melanesia. It is interesting to note the term "Melanesia" means "islands of the Blacks". The native Fijians say they arrived on the islands from East Africa and are proud of their African heritage. They also have an old Fijian saying:

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    [*]We, the Black people of Fiji, came here a long time ago to our present homes in Fiji from Tanzania, in East Africa. We don't know exactly when we came to Fiji but we know we came from Africa.
    ').'")."\n

"'

Ma ku Mbôngi, ka matômbulawanga za ko. "The community's political institution does not borrow foreign dialects to discuss its political matters or to educate its' members" – Kikôngo proverb “The history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of Egypt [...] The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest or objective, nor unruffled, he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic.” – Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality "African champions must break the chain that links African ideas to European ones and listen to the voice of the ancestors without European interpreters." – Jacob Carruthers, Mdw Ntr
Ọbádélé Kambon, PhD Email: info@abibitumi.com Skype: obadele.kambon Paypal: www.paypal.me/akali Abibifahodie Family of Websites:
www.obadelekambon.com | www.abibitumikasa.com | www.abibifahodie.com | www.abibifahodie.org www.sankofajourney.com | www.letsbuyblack.com | www.asaseheals.com www.kamaukambon.org | www.amakambon.com | www.bennucenter.com www.nubusinesssolutions.com | www.onipa.com | www.lastblackman.com
 

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Posted : 08/22/2008 10:47 pm
 Khalifa A. Khaliq
(@Khalifa A. Khaliq)

The site www.blackjadeworld.com is up under a new name now.  You can find at www.blackjadejournal.com. The ebook "They Came Before Marco Polo" is not available to the public and can be acquired through that site.

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Posted : 09/09/2019 11:19 pm

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