Although there is considerable doubt that Malindi mentioned in Arab and Chinese geographies always referred to the Malindi we know, there can be no reservations in accepting today’s Malindi as the one that Vasco da Gama visited.
Da Gama departed from Portugal on July 8, 1497. After having rounded the Cape of Good Hope on November 19th, and then stopping for food and repairs at several places on the coasts of south and East Africa, he anchored off Mombasa on April 7, 1498.
Here he met treachery at the hands of the Arabs who attempted to destroy his ships by cutting the cables and run them aground. Not surprisingly, Vasco da Gama left Mombasa in haste and without a pilot. On his way north he passed the villages of Mtwapa, Takaungu, and Kilifi, all of which are still inhabited today. On Easter Sunday, April 15th, the fleet lay off the attractive city of Malindi that so impressed the crew with its beauty that it reminded them of their own Alcochet on the estuary of the Tagus river.
This idyllic setting, as described by the historian Osorio, was the home of a people who seemed to be mixed Arab and African:
The natives are black, with short hair, and not unelegant in their dress. Their religion is paganism, and they worship their images with great superstition; they also adorn their heads with turbans; the rest of their body they leave named to the waist, and from thence to the middle of their leg are covered with silk. They are a people extremely fond of military glory; the arms they use are sabres, little bucklers spears, with bows and arrows.
Correa’s long description of the reception given by the rulers of Malindi and his subjects to Da Gama and his crew emphasizes the friendliness of the Arabs towards the Portuguese during their nine-day sojourn before setting off for Calicut in southern India.
Historians differ on the reasons why da Gama was given such a royal welcome in Malindi while in Mombasa the Arabs tried to sink his ships. Prestage believes that the King wanted to ally himself with the Portuguese to defeat the powerful king of Kilwa. According to Axelson, the reason may be that da Gama perpetrated fewer diplomatic blunders in Malindi than elsewhere.
On the other hand, Strandes thinks perhaps the king realized his own weakness in front of a stronger European military force, or that the King was just more highminded and generally desired peace. The most credible explanation is that Mombasa was a bitter competitor and enemy of the people of Malindi; the King had heard what da Gama had had a difficult time in Mombasa, so as any enemy of Mombasa would certainly be welcomed as a friend in Malindi. These affable relations between the people of Malindi and the Portuguese were to continue throughout the sixteenth century, and the result of this alliance was that Malindi became the center of all Portuguese activity North of Mozambique.
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