Ajuran-Portuguese conflict

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Ajuran-Portuguese war
Modern-day Barawa
DateDecember 1507 - 1542
Casualties and losses
Unknown unknown


The European Age of discovery brought Europe's then superpower the Portuguese empire to the coast of East Africa, which at the time enjoyed a flourishing trade with foreign nations. The wealthy southeastern city-states of Kilwa, Mombasa, Malindi, Pate and Lamu were all systematically sacked and plundered by the Portuguese. Tristão da Cunha then set his eyes on Ajuran Empire territory, where the Battle of Barawa was fought. After a long period of engagement, the Portuguese soldiers burned the city and looted it. However, fierce resistance by the local population and soldiers resulted in the failure of the Portuguese to permanently occupy the city and eventually the Portuguese would be decisively defeated by the powerful Somalis from Ajuran Empire, and the inhabitants who had fled to the interior would eventually return and rebuild the city. Tristão da Cunha was later severely wounded and sought refuge in Socotra islands after losing his men and ships. After losing the war with the Ajuran Empire over the fail attempt to capture Barawa. He decided to re-group his men in Socotra islands and Tristão would set sail for Mogadishu, which was the richest city in Africa. But word had spread of what had happened in Barawa, and a large troop mobilization had taken place. Many horsemen, soldiers and battleships in defense positions were now guarding the city. Nevertheless, Tristão still opted to storm and attempt to conquer the city, although every officer and soldier in his army opposed this, fearing certain defeat if they were to engage their opponents in battle. He decided to leave the Somalis in peace after he realized that they were extremely difficult to conquer and it was Portuguese best interest not to mess with them leaving Ajuran Empire independent.[1] After the battle the city of Barawa quickly recovered from the attack.[2]

Ajuran counter attack[edit]

In 1660, the Portuguese in Mombasa surrendered to a joint Somali-Ottoman force.[3]

Over the next several decades Somali-Portuguese tensions would remain high and the increased contact between Somali sailors and Ottoman corsairs worried the Portuguese who sent a punitive expedition against Mogadishu under João de Sepúvelda but was soundly defeated by the Ajuran naval forces before they even had a chance to reach the Ajuran capital city and João de Sepúvelda was eventually killed in the Battle of Benadir and all his ships were blown up into smithereens.[4] Ottoman-Somali cooperation against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean reached a high point in the 1580s when Ajuran clients of the Somali coastal cities began to sympathize with the Arabs and Swahilis under Portuguese rule and sent an envoy to the Turkish corsair Mir Ali Beg for a joint expedition against the Portuguese. He agreed and was joined by a large Somali fleet, which began attacking Portuguese colonies in Southeast Africa.[5]

The Somali-Ottoman offensive managed to drive out the Portuguese from several important cities such as Pate, Mombasa and Kilwa. However, the Portuguese governor sent envoys to Portuguese India requesting a large Portuguese fleet. This request was answered and it reversed the previous offensive of the Muslims into one of defense. The Portuguese armada managed to re-take most of the lost cities and began punishing their leaders, but they refrained from attacking Mogadishu and other coastal provinces that belong to the Ajuran Empire.[6] Ajuran's Somali forces would eventually militarily defeat the Portuguese. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries successive Ajuran Empire defied the Portuguese economic monopoly in the Indian Ocean by employing a new coinage which followed the Ottoman pattern, thus proclaiming an attitude of economic independence in regard to the Portuguese.[7]

Battle of Barawa (1507)[edit]

The Battle[edit]

During the Battle of Barawa, Tristão da Cunha was wounded and knighted by Albuquerque.[8]

In February 1507, an armada of 16 ships commanded by Tristão da Cunha and assisted by Afonso de Albuquerque docked at Malindi, en route to India via the island of Socotra. The King of Malindi had been a faithful vassal of the Portuguese since the maiden voyage of Vasco da Gama to India in 1497, and at that instance, the King requested assistance from the Portuguese against the hostile cities of Oja, Lamu and Barawa. Oja was sacked and Lamu was subjugated without a fight.[9]

Upon reaching Barawa, the Portuguese first asked the city to submit without a fight, which was refused.[10] The Portuguese made ready to assault the city, and reported that its defences included a wall and 4,000 men ready to fight.[11]

The following morning, Tristão da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque led two assault groups ashore. 2,000 men sallied forth to fight the Portuguese on the beach, but were driven back to the city. Coming under attack from fire arrows, the Portuguese scaled the wall at a weak point and the defences were breached. Many inhabitants fled, but those who remained perished in the fight. The city was then sacked and put to the torch, while the survivors watched from afar.[12] Afterwards the Portuguese proceeded to Socotra Island.[13]

After the attack, the city of Barawa was quickly rebuilt.[14]

Battle of Benadir (1542)[edit]


  1. The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel pg.287
  2. The book of Duarte Barbosa - Page 30
  3. Tanzania notes and records: the journal of the Tanzania Society pg 76
  4. The Portuguese period in East Africa – Page 112
  5. Welch (1950), p. 25.
  6. Four centuries of Swahili verse: a literary history and anthology – Page 11
  7. COINS FROM MOGADISHU, c. 1300 to c. 1700 by G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville pg 36
  8. Maritime Discovery: A History of Nautical Exploration from the Earliest Times pg 198
  9. "The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel" page 285
  10. "The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel" page 286
  11. "The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel" page 286
  12. "The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel" page 286
  13. "The History of the Portuguese, During the Reign of Emmanuel" page 286
  14. The book of Duarte Barbosa - Page 30


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  1. Maritime Discovery: A History of Nautical Exploration from the Earliest Times pg 198