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Somalia - early flags

Historical flags

Last modified: 2008-07-05 by bruce berry
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I have a small reproduction of an old map made by Fernão Vaz Dourado in 1576. This map reproduces the south-eastern coastal areas of Africa, from southern Namibia to the easternmost tip of Somalia. It contains nine reproductions of flags over those “city drawings” so common in the maps of that time. I have drawn the flags to the best of my eye resolution (the reproduction is small and some details are not obvious). These are: Are these flags really the flags used by those places at the time? Or, rephrasing the question: are these maps reliable in what concerns flag-info (they are not in what concerns geo-info, that’s for sure!...)
Jorge Candeias, 04 Apr 1998

1576 map image


[flag on a 1576 map]
                      image by Jorge Candeias, 01 Sep 1999

The above image is from a map made by Fernão vaz Dourado in 1576. The flag is placed in southern Somalia, near the place where Mogadishu is today. A triangular flag, dark red over dark yellow, with a white crescent at the hoist, vertically centered.
Jorge Candeias, 01 Sep 1999

I don't have any definite information as to the identity of the cities whose flags were shown on the chart, but The New Atlas of African History by G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville provides some possibilities. It shows the leading ports on the Indian Ocean shore of Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries, the above could be Mogadishu
Edward Smith, 01 Sep 1999

By the time the Portuguese arrived for the first time on the East African coast there was trade going on between Arabs (or Moors, as the Portuguese called them) and Indians, mainly from Gujarat. It is quite possible, that several flags belong to Arabs or Gujaratis.

There are several Portuguese accounts of the East African coast; G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville selected some in 'The East African Coast', selected documents from the first to the earlier nineteenth century, 1962. A lot of places are named in that book. Of special interest is Duarte Barbosa's account of the East Coast, c. 1517-18. It has no info on flags, just on places/regions. From South to North (well, about):

  • Çofala - Sofala
  • The great kingdom of Benametapa (Monomotapa)
  • Zimbaoche (Great Zimbabwe) - on the road from Çofala to the Cape of Good Hope
  • Cuama river
  • Angoya, a very great town of Moors
  • Moçambique, a Moorish town
  • Quiloa, an island with a Moorish town
  • Mombaça, a town on an isle, whose king is a Moor
  • Melinde, pertaining to the Moors with a Moorish king
  • The Island of Sam Lourenço (Madagascar), an island with many kings
  • Pemba, Mamfia and Zanzibar, three islands
  • Patee and Lemon (Lamu)
Fernão Vaz Dourado, born at Diu in 1520, worked in Goa until 1580; he was doubtless the 'expert master of navigation in Goa' by whom Linschoten's Amsterdam publisher, Cornelis Claesz, secured a 'map of Asia' about 1592. (Skelton, 'Explorers' Maps', 1958, p. 159)
Jarig Bakker, 01 Sep 1999