Mogadishu: Images from the Past

Mogadishu, circa 1889

Posted in 1800 - 1900, Maps by rickjdavies on 9 May, 2008

Map of Mogadishu circa 1889

Map of Mogadishu circa 1889. “Tour” is the minaret near the Abdul Aziz mosque. In the middle of “Hamarouin” (Xamar Weyne) another tower is visible but unnamed (the circle sorrounded by “Hamarouin”. That tower still existed in the 1980’s. Bimal is a Somali clan name, and Arcal may be.

The map comes from ” The Earth and its Inhabitants: Africa (South and East Africa)”, authored by Elisee Reclus and published by the D. Appleton and Company. 1889. Text on the opposite aide and above and below the map reads as follows:

“…which the natives had succeeded in recovering from the rapids, was till recently used by them as a ferry-boat between the two banks of the Juba.

East of the lower course of the Webi, where it runs for some miles parallel with the sea, the coastline describes a slightly concave curve, to which the Arabs have given the name of El-Banader, that is, the ports.” Yet the villages along this section of the seaboard offer nothing but exposed and often dangerous road­steads. From this designation of the coast the Bimal,’Tuni, Abgal,Wadann, and other neighbouring populations, are often collectively called Banaders, or Benadirs. Brava, or Barewa, the first of the roadsteads, where the little drab dhows find some shelter behind a chain of reefs, has at least the advantage of an abundant supply of good water. Vessels skirting the coast in the direction of Cape Guardafui, here take in their last provision of fresh water. Brava may be regarded as the outport of the Lower Webi, for this river, before running out in the surrounding swamps and sands, passes within 7 or 8 miles of this place. In the intervening space is developed a chain of hills 400 to 500 feet high, which assume the outlines of the towers and ramparts of a fortified city. Some Arab and Swaheli families are settled at Brava in the midst of the surrounding Somali populations. Although Mohammedans, these population, which are mixed with Galls elements, are extremely tolerant. Their women, who are allowed to go unveiled, arrange their hair in the form of a crest reaching from the brow to the nape of the neck.
Merka, which stands on a rocky headland, has the best claim of all these villages to the title of bandar, or ” port.” Here a creek well sheltered from the north-east trade winds affords some accomodation to the Arab dhows which obtain cargoes of hides, ivory and gum-copal from the surrounding districts. A slightly leaning ruined tower still recalls the Portuguese occupation of Merka in the sixteenth century.

Farther north follow a few towns now in ruins, beyond which is seen rising above the beach the massive square tower which commands the terraced houses of Magdoshu,’ a place which, like Kismayu, Brava, and Merka, is governed in the name of the sultan of Zanzibar. Within the jurisdiction of the governors of all these towns is included a little enclave or separate territory 10 or 12 miles in circumference.

Mogadoshu comprises two distrinct quarters, Hamarwhin and Shingani, the former of which has almost been abandoned and is now becoming a heap of ruins. In Shingani are at present concentrated most of the inhabitants, numbering about five thousand altogether, and between the two stands the governor’s palace. Amongst the inhabitants of Mogadoshu are a few Arab families, including some Shurfas, or “descendants of the prophet”, besides several Hindu traders and one or two thousand Somali. But fully two thirds of the population consist of the so-called Abesh, that is to say, the descendants of emancipated slaves, on whom still falls nearly all the hard work.

The principal local industry is the manufacture of cotton fabrics. Before the invasion of the African markets by the products o the European and American looms, the textiles of Mogadoshu were forwarded far and wide throughout the interior of the continent, as well as to Arabia and even as far as the Persian coast. Now, however,    the   number    of  buyers    of  these    goods   is  greatly    reduced;     nor  is much business   any  longer    done   in slippers  and  matting,   the  other   staple  industries   of this  district.     The  future   of  Magdoshu   will  depend   not  so  much  on  its  local products  as on the movement  of exchanges  between  foreign markets  and the Webi basin as far as the  Galla  territories  in Harrar  and  Ethiopia.

Magdoshu  is separated  by a distance  of scarcely 24 miles  from  its  fluvial port, Gelidi, a town composed of latticed  cone-shaped  huts,  where  the  explorer,  Kinzel­bach,  was  poisoned in the  year  1869.    The  medieval  Arab  writers   speak  of  the watercourse   flowing  to  the  west  of  Magdoshu   as of  another  Nile,  comparable  to that  of Egypt  itself,     Yet  this  river   at  present   is  scarcely  more than  a  hundred feet broad at Gelidi,  where  the  natives  cross  it  in  little  ferry-boats   held  together by cordage  made of creeping  plants.                                 .

The last point  on the  Somali coast going  northwards,  the possession of which is still  claimed  by  the  Sultan   of  Zanzibar,  is  the  village  of   Warshek  (Warrishir), whose harbour  is inaccessible  during   the prevalence  of high  winds.    Beyond  this place   stretches   the   domain   of  the   Somali  coast  tribes,  who  were  till  recently independent,   but. over  whom  Germany   now  claims  dominion   in virtue   of  some treaty  concluded  with  the  Sultan  of Opia, an obscure princelet   now put  forward  as the  “chief   of all the  Somali people.”     His very  existence  is unknown   to the  vast majority  of the nation,  as is theirs  to him.    This village,  or rather  camping-ground of  Opia,  which  has  been  thus   suddenly  promoted   to  the  dignity  of  a  capital,  is situated   on  a  headland   between  the  territory    of  the  Hawiyas   and  that   of  the Mijertin   tribe.    But  even diplomatists  will never  be able to make  it  the  centre  of any large  population,  for  the  surrounding   country  is a waterless  steppe, while  the neighbouring   seaboard  is absolutely  destitute  of harbours .

..”

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