This research paper undertakes a historical investigation into the ways in which the fortress helped its occupants in establishing political control on Mombasa Island. The study is more specifically focused into examining the extent in which Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça helped the Wallis of Mombasa from the exit of Nassir bin Abdulla al Mazrui to the death of Muhammad bin Uthman al Mazrui in asserting their political control in the coastal island of Mombasa between the period of circa 1728A.D. to 1747A.D.

         The magnificent architecture drew many to try and control it hence making me wonder as to whether the fort aided the occupants in exerting their control in Mombasa; the number of mutinies and takeovers has particularly been of key interest to me hence the reason behind my research.

          The scope of this investigation is restricted to the events that occurred in the said period and the events in Mombasa. Moreover, the essay will fall short of abundant primary resources and would rely on more secondary data. However, where there is the use of any primary data, its reliability will be examined. More specific, I will look into the works of Major Pearce and Shakyh Al-Amin. The power of architecture will also be taken into account. The investigation will also examine the key events that occurred in and around the fortress.

          Upon the completion of my research, I came to the conclusion that the fort aided the rulers in extending their political control but that was only if the rulers showed their competence in the field of governance as the fort on its self could not assure you of rule

but the spirit and determination of the leader did.

                                                                                                                            (282 words)

Table of Contents


Table of Contents………………………………………………………………………ii

1. Introduction………………………………………………………………………..1

Background information ………………………………………………….1

Rationale of the Research …………………………………………………1

Problem Statement…………………………………………………………1

Scope of the Research………………………………………………………1

Limitations in the Research ………………………………………………1

2. Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça……………………………………………………2

Power of Architecture …………………………………………………….2

3. The Mazrui State of Oman…………………………………………………………3

Shakyh Al-Amin’s Theory ………………………………………………..4

Major F. Pearce’s Theory …………………………………………………5

4. Mutinies in the Fortress……………………………………………………………6

Exit of Nassir bin Abdullah Mazrui ………………………………………7

Bwana Tamu Mkuu and the Portuguese ……………………………………7

5. Liwali Muhammad bin Uthman al Mazrui…………………………………………8

Diplomacy at play …………………………………………………………9

Trouble in Oman ………………………………………………………….9

Assassination ……………………………………………………………..9

6. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………….10

7. Bibliography……………………………………………………………………..12

8. Appendices………………………………………………………………………14


         The Turkish raids of 1585A.D. and 1588A.D. prompted the Portuguese under the order of King Phillip II of Spain to build a defensive outpost that would be strategic in garrisoning soldiers to defend the coastal island. On the 11th day of April 1593A.D, the fortress was named “Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça” by Mateus de Mendes de Vasconcelos and completed in 1596A.D; the plan was a quadrilateral with four bastions: S.Felipe, S.Alberto, S.Mathias and S.Mateus. It was designed by Giovanni Battista Cairati. The magnificent architecture drew many to try and control it making me wonder as to whether the fort aided the occupants in exerting their control in Mombasa; the number of mutinies and takeovers has particularly been of key interest to me hence the reason behind my research.

             It happened that for any ruler to assert authority in Mombasa he had to have a command from the Fort, a claim evident from the fact that all the rulers had the great urge of trying to maintain their grip on the fort. It is therefore my thesis that the fort did indeed


  1. He was also referred to as King Phillip I of Portugal who was by then the joint ruler of Portuguese and Spanish Kingdoms.

2 Ramerini, M. (2006, December 15th). FORT JESUS, MOMBASA- PORTUGUESE FORTRESS IN KENYA. Retrieved August 16th, 2008, from DUTCH PORTUGUESE COLONIAL HISTORY: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/mombasa.html

3 He was by then the captain of the East African Coast; he resided in Malindi.

4 See appendix 1 and 2 for an outline of the architecture of the fortress.

5 Ramerini, M. (2006, December 15th). FORT JESUS, MOMBASA- PORTUGUESE FORTRESS IN KENYA. Retrieved August 16th, 2008, from DUTCH PORTUGUESE COLONIAL HISTORY: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/mombasa.html

6 He was born in Milan where he was working as an architect in military buildings under the overloadship of King Phillip II of Spain. He is said to have worked in Malacca, Ormuz, Muscat, Damao, Bassein and Mombasa. He passed away in 1596A.D. before seeing the completion of the Fort.

   play a pivotal role in helping rulers maintain their presence in Mombasa. With respect to that I shall focus on the period from the time of the exit of Nassir bin Abdullah Mazrui to the death of Muhammad bin Uthman al Mazrui a period transcending from circa 1728A.D. to c.1747A.D. I decided to particularly choose this period because in this interlude we see the fort falling to at least four different hands and most notably it also falls in the period in which the Government of Oman changed hands an episode that shifted politics in the Persian Gulf. This research would however only cover the happenings in Mombasa with a light mention of Oman. I would only focus on the political impact of the fortress due to my affinity of politics and due to the fact that documentation on the economic and social role of the fortress is not as abundant as those of politics. By carrying out the research I hope to establish the extent in which Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça helped the Wallis of Mombasa from the exit of Nassir bin Abdulla al Mazrui to the death of Muhammad bin Uthman al Mazrui in asserting their political control in the coastal island of Mombasa between the period of circa 1728A.D. to 1747A.D. It is my ultimate hope that by answering this question I would be able to really understand the power of forts in helping governments establish political control in their states. Due to the nature of the episodes in the fortress, I do not expect to have abundant data that would give me day to day accounts of the events and any data that may be of use to me would either be primarily be written in Arabic or have been translated something that would make it loose its aesthetic value that may perhaps distort


7 Fort Jesus of Mombasa

8 I will hence refer to him as Nassir.

9 I will hence refer to him as Muhammad.

my interpretation. Nevertheless, from the translations and account of some of the Mazrui, Al-Busaidi families and other European accounts, it is my hope that I will be able to get an adequate picture of how the various rulers treated their subjects.

Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça

           By the mere fact that the fort was built on a ridge already made it quite defensible for the occupants of the fort. Moreover, since it lay overlooking the sea, it made it easy for the occupants to see any incoming attackers both from the inland and the ocean upon which they could unleash cannon balls. Such a structure made it quite attractive for any party that wanted to rule the island and its environs.

          The nature of the architecture and the size of the building relative to the other houses in the surrounding environment made it to stand out quite prominently, making it appear to be a status symbol that became the envy of many who did not occupy it. The size of the fortress added an eerie of “godliness” on the occupants from the natives and enemies as one would ponder over the manner in which one could successfully drive out its inhabitants.

            Having this in mind would perhaps make it more clearly as to why the Omani Arabs, including the Mazaria, were in such a dire need of acquiring the fort at all cost no matter how long it took. Bear in mind again the fact that as was a trend with the Moslem conquerors of the time since the time of the crusades, they would have taken pleasure in demolishing any symbol of Christianity once conquered but because of the nature such a possession, it made it hard for the Moslems to destroy it. The military value was too


10 See appendix 3 for a photo of the fortress.

11 Here I refer to the Second and Third Crusades of 1147A.D. to 11479A.D. and 1187A.D. to 1192A.D.


       Having clearly established the structure of the fort, I will now move on to the degree of talking about the arrival of the Mazrui, and their entire purpose and struggle.

       The Mazaria were not according to Shayk Al-Amin from the coastal region of East Africa but from the lands boarding the Persian Gulf. As I shall later come to elaborate, authors such as Major F. Pearce tend to disagree with this theory. It would be in order to mention that whichever theory I would opt to support, then its proposition would have a major impact on my research as will be shown later in the treatise.

          The Mazaria were found in various districts and villages in the territory then referred to as Oman; examples of such villages included Mazahit, Wabil, Al-Ghashab and Rustaq. Evidence for the use of the Banadiq for the purpose of defense of the villages by the Mazaria is ample. This would definitely hint to us that the Mazaria were already in the cutting edge of military technology and as such were equipped in handling attacks from enemies at the coast as with such kind of artillery, they could fight off an enemy from a far off distance even before getting to the fort which they later came to occupy. Taking this line of argument, it would logically imply that the Mazrui leaders did not rely on the power of the architecture of the fortress but also on their own defensive mechanism in asserting their control on the island. However, considering the fact that Mombasa was a trading town, it is quite obvious that any aggressor would have acquired

12 This is the plural of Mazrui to imply the collective name of the Mazrui family members.

13 Also referred to as Uman.

14 Literally means riffles or muskets.

weaponry that could match that of the Mazrui to enable them make a solid attack. Therefore, with the added advantage of the fortress, the Mazaria could use it in trying to highlight their military superiority that would have a psychological win over the subjects consequently making the fort to play a key role in asserting political control on the island.

            According to Shaykh Al-Amin, the Mazaria migration to the East African coast began in A.H.1110 after the conquest of the region by Imam Sayf bin Sultan. Their emigration began with the arrival of Nassir accompanied by Amir Mbaruk bin Gharib and his children. They were then followed by Muhammad who came at the end of the Ya’arubi dynasty; Muhammad bin Uthman al Mazrui was accompanied with his brothers Ali and Qabib. During the emigration, it came to a point in which the Government of Oman began to restrict any further migration to Mombasa hence making them, turn towards the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the East African Coast. My research did not reveal any fatal impact that could be caused by the Mazaria immigration. So why did the Government stop their immigration? I concluded that perhaps by their numbers increasing, the Mazaria would begin to command an even greater voice in the Coast, but more importantly in Mombasa. With Mombasa in the eyes of the Mazaria, the Oman sultanate comprehended clearly that the fort would fall to the hands of the Mazaria


15 The rulers of Oman reserved the title of Imam to mean an elected religious or political leader until 1802 when they referred themselves as “Sultan” or “Sayyid”.

16 In c. 1622A.D. the Persians captured the Port of Hormuz in the Iberian Peninsula from the Portuguese and later in 1650A.D. Imam Sayf bin Sultan won back Muscat after which he sacked the entire of Mombasa in 1661 A.D. On 13th day of March the year 1696, the fort was put under siege by the Omani Arabs; by then the fort was garrisoned by about sixty Portuguese soldiers and several Arab loyalist. The Portuguese were relieved in the December of 1696A.D. but only to be eliminated by a plague. By 16th of June 1697A.D. Sheikh Daud of Faza was in command of the fort. On the 15th day of September 1697A.D. a Portuguese relief arrived with reinforcements but the siege of December 1698A.D. left the Captain, 9 men and Fr. Manos de Jesus. The Oman Arabs finally got to take the fort on 13th December 1698A.D.

implying that both the Government and the Mazaria knew that the fort could be considerably used to exert political control on the coast of Mombasa. Moreover, with the prominence of the family name already in place, the Government knew that the family could lead a revolt that would result in the Oman Government losing its troops at the fort. Taking into account the distance factor, this argument is quite plausible as the Mazaria would have to then use the fort in their defense after which they would have slowly began to use the fortress as their administrative headquarters. Due to the advantage of hindsight, this argument could be easily and readily accepted as the Mazaria did indeed lead a mutiny and proclaimed autonomy!

   Major F. Pearce disagrees with Shaykh Al-Amin theory. He suggested that the Mazaria had been present in Mombasa long before Portuguese occupation hence putting their presence to have been an extra 200 years! This proposition is comfortably taken up by Said Reute in his book “Said bin Sultan”. Evidently, this would imply that with such a long period of contact with the Mombasa locals, there was great friendship established between the two parties. The Mazaria did not therefore need any force in controlling the locals. This rendered the use of the fort limited as it was not much needed in subjugating the population. This is supported by the fact that at one point the locals came in large numbers to pay tribute to the Mazaria. With such an argument in place therefore one could argue that the Mazrui Wallis relied little on the fort to help establish their political control. I find this point complex because according to the Mombasa Chronicle we are informed that places such as Rumbu were battle grounds between the Mazrui Army and


17 Zanzibar, Island Metropolis of East Africa, p.109.

18  Located in the Nyika Plateau.

Nyika tribes. The Mazrui Army lost the battle. I will not however consider the fatahu of the Nyika Tribes as a direct limitation of the fort simply because the battle was not entirely fought at the fortress. Moreover this point tends to disregard the notion that I had stated earlier that the Mazrui would have been very close with the locals implying therefore that the fort did in reality serve as a useful base to the Mazrui and the lose of the battle in Rumbu should only be considered as a mere military loss presumably due to the distance between the fort and Rumbu. Moreover, I could further argue that the Nyika tribes might have known the terrain much better hence making them victorious in the battle. If I am to greatly consider the last point greatly, then it would actually mean that Pearce’s theory is a mere fallacy simply because the Mazaria would have an equal knowledge of the terrain as the tribes in the Nyika. But more importantly is the fact that Pearce was in Zanzibar at the time he was making his documentation hence he was defiantly inclined to support the Imam in Oman as Zanzibar at the time was under the aegis of Oman.

           If one could argue that Shaykh Al-Amin was biased in writing his book, that might not be entirely plausible as other European documentation support his theory; an example of these authors include Captain Stigand and Sir Arthur Hardinge. In their respective articles, they both clearly indicate that the Mazaria were emigrants from Oman. I happened to place confidence on these two as they were not in any way compromised by the Mazaria during their reporting period and moreover, they were making a parliamentary report.

19 This implies a victory in battle.

20  The Nyika Tribes include the WaGalla, WaGiriyama, WaKauma, WaJibana, WaChonyi, WaRibe, WaRabai, WaDuruma, WaDigo, WaBondei, WaSamba and WaZingua.


    For a period of not less than 168 years, which was notably marked with an attack and takeover of the fort by the Portuguese in the period between 16th March 1728A.D. and 26th November 1730A.D. until the time when Rashid bin Salim bin Ahmed al Mazrui lost the fort in 1837A.D. to Sheikh Isa bin Tarif al Bin Ali, the Mazaria had assumed the Liwaliship of Mombasa. At the time of the re-entry of the Portuguese, the Wali at the fort was Nassir. It was during such a time in March 1728A.D. when the African troops within the fort decided to mutiny against the Wali heading the fort, Nassir. It is worthy to mention here that Nassir (during his entire period of Liwaliship) was under the aegis of the Sultanate in Oman. Since the mutiny happened within the fort, can one then “blame” the fort for Nassir being overthrown by his soldiers? The reason behind the mutiny was recorded as incompetence in his leadership. When Nassir was given the command of the fort by Sayf bin Sultan he did not pursue the Portuguese such that from time to time the Portuguese came on making intermittent attacks on the fort though they were not successful. If I were to then take this point into consideration, I could comfortably say that the fort did protect the Wali. But my research is not on the question of defense but that of exerting political control. In that case therefore by the mere fact that the Portuguese kept on attacking Nassir means that he had not achieved political control in Mombasa. This can then be strengthened by the fact that the people in Mombasa ganged up with the African soldiers to overthrow Nassir; the Sultan of Pate one Bwana Tamu Mkuu, got to lead the revolt of the citizens and eventually overthrew Nassir. These two


21 Sayyid Saed bin Sultan Imam of Muscat had requested his assistance that saw him conquer the fort in 1837A.D giving it the name  Jesus.

points on the constant Portuguese attacks and the people revolt definitely means that the fort did not aid Nassir in establishing his political control. But could the fort really assist a ruler who was out rightly incompetent, one that had no strive whatsoever in trying to establish the necessary administrative structures to assert power? It is because of this key question that I choose on not blaming the fortress for Nassir’s ousting but more on Nassir’s incompetence.

           Bwana Tamu Mkuu then handed the fort to the Portuguese who then re-establish the very same unjust rule of the people of Mombasa that had made them be ousted from the fort. On their part it can be argued that they did use the fort to their advantage as they would huddle up the prisoners in their dudgeons where they would virtually put the fear of hell in them. This can also be strengthened by the fact that the people of Mombasa opted to revolt against the Portuguese as they felt that their rule was not in the best interest of their survival. This therefore means that the fort did give the Portuguese political control over the people in Mombasa and their revolt should be considered as a rebuttal to the tight extent of this political control. The ultimate exit of the Portuguese was seen and recorded as the Waqi’a of Sese Rumbi.

           It so happened then that we see Shaykh bin Ahmad Al-Malindi,  Mwinyi Nguti bin Mwenzangu and Mwishahali bin Ndao Al-Tangani heading to Oman in a delegation comprising of a person from every Mombasa Tribe and a representative from Zanji Tribe to make a formal report to Imam Sayf bin Sultan on the conduct of the Portuguese.


22 Waqi’a here literally means “Happenings”

23 See appendix 5.

24 These tribes included the WaGalla, WaGiriyama, WaKauma, WaJibana, WaChonyi, WaRibe, WaRabai, WaDuruma, WaDigo, WaKambe, WaMtwapa, WaShimba and WaLungu.

         This point strengthens my earlier argument as it is quite clear that the Portuguese did indeed use the fort to their advantage in trying to subdue the people of Mombasa with the final hopeful out come is in establishing a coastal empire. Muhammad bin Said Al-Maamiri was then chosen by the Imam as the Liwali of Mombasa; he allowed the people to take the booty in the fortress with the exception of the ornaments and gun powder. Can it be argued that the prominence of the fort created an eerie of subjugation that made the people obliged to see the Imam despite the fact that they had overthrown their rulers?

           It was not long before Salih bin Muhammad Al-Hadrami replaced Muhammad bin Said Al-Maamiri who only turned to revert back to oppressing the people. The Mombasa people reported the matter to the Imam who then had him arrested. Out of the mercy of the people, Salih was left to go by the people. But then what we see is that Salih was still interested in ruling the people of Mombasa as he wanted to use the fort as his base of control just the same as Muhammad bin Al-Maamiri. Is it that the fortress had such an eerie feeling that anyone commanding it felt the urge to oppress the masses? This I ask because what happened is that Salih went ahead and raised an army to fight Shaykh bin Ahmad and the WaKilindini; he used the very same Mombasa people that had overthrown him in constituting his army. A battle ensued in Mji wa Kale, just outside the fort. Shaykh bin Ahmad was forced to run to the Nyika. Perhaps one would wonder why the people of Mombasa chose to unite with Salih yet he had oppressed them. Well, Salih merely played with their minds as there already existed enmity between the people of Mombasa and the WaKilindini. However the major point to note here is that Salih wanted to gain control of the fort in order to be able to exert political domination on the people of Mombasa and its immediate environs.


         The Imam sent Ali Kombo to the fort not knowing about the killings, orchestrated by Salih, and as such was executed alongside his father Shaykh bin Ahmad who had tried to rescue him. When the Imam in Oman got to know of the news, he had Muhammad forcefully replace Salih; initially the Imam wanted to send Nassir  but then Nassir responded by saying,

” Miye mnakuwa mzee. Sifai neno tena” translated to read, ” I have become an old man: I am no good any more.”

       schools of thought have arisen on the question of Muhammad’s Liwaliship. Shaykh Al-Amin says that he ruled for a period of not less than 14years from A.H. 1148 (1735A.D.) while according to Pearce he puts it as A.H. 1152(1739A.D). Once again I opt not to go by Pearce account as I feel that he was compromised by the Imam as he domiciled in Zanzibar, which at the time was under the aegis of the Imam, and was for sure not willing to record anything that would jeopardize his comfort as the Imam would have him expelled from Zanzibar if not killed.

        Muhammad then set out on a mission of reconciliation where he sent for the Wakilindini who were still in hiding in the Nyika arguing that Salih is no longer around and that he is the Liwali. The great division between the WaKilindi and people of Mombasa had prompted him to act in such a manner. The reason as to why he had opted for such a method is two fold. Firstly, he being a Kharijite had preserved the Old Arab


26 An early religious-politico movement that believed that the Moslem Caliph ought to be elected by the community.

tradition of Hakam more strongly than any other Moslem sect. Moreover, it could also be that his current position of Liwali at that moment could not allow him to take a more autocratic stance insinuating that he could not use the fort as a means in which he could exert his authority on the people of Mombasa.

             However, before quickly dismissing the effectiveness of the fort on Muhammad’s Liwaliship, it is worth noting that he was still a new Liwali and that he did not want what had befallen Salih to happen to him and thus he opted for a more diplomatic stance as opposed to an oppressive one. Moreover, it can be argued that he had no interest in seeing any more blood shed in the island as enough had already been spilt. This in turn made the fort to even play a more pivotal role in making the Mazrui assert their control; all along the fort had been seen as a place where ruthless leaders were sitting but now all of a sudden their was change in the trend of happenings in the fort creating a certain awe and this together with the enormous size of the fort made the Mazrui Liwali to be more welcomed by the people. It is possible that Muhammad had come to appreciate the fact that if a leader wanted to retain the fort, he had to be in harmony with the local population. Going by this line of argument, I could say that the fort was not the only factor that the Mazaria used to establish their political control in the island but the fort did indeed play a vivid militaristic role in helping the Mazaria.

          The Imam had allowed the Mazrui to be the Liwalis so long as they get to pay the Kharaj Tax every year to the Imam. Muhammad had been paying this tax promptly every year without fail. From around 1740A.D, the Ya’arubi Dynasty began to crumble

27 Arbitrator.

28 Land tax

mainly due to fighting for the leadership of Oman with the end result being the red carpet entry of the Al-Busaidi Dynasty. Imam Sayf bin Sultan was killed by his Persian allies and Ahmad bin Said al Busaidi seized the throne. Liwali Muhammad refused to recognize the new Imam and as such declared independence for the Mombasa Island, free from the rule of Oman. It could be that Muhammad knew that with the fort, he could fight off any possible attack from the new Imam bearing in mind that he was assured of the support of the local people whose trust he had gained due to his diplomatic stance in handling matters. To add on to this the Government of Oman at the time was a little bit shaky. The Busaidi Imam seemed convinced by this as he did not send ships to go and fight off Muhammad and instead opted to send assassins who completed their mission. Again it can be argued that the Imam knew that he stood a possible defeat should he decide to send ships implying that the fort had indeed helped Muhammad in asserting his political control in Mombasa.


        1596A.D. ought to be recognized as a notable year in the history of Mombasa; the completion of the fort marked the final purge of Mombasa to international politics that saw many loose their lives either in the fort or its environs. The purpose of this treatise was to determine as to whether Fort Jesus of Mombasa did really aid its occupants in asserting a political control on the people of Mombasa. Having noted how the different occupants lived in the fort, it all comes down to drawing a final conclusion to my research question. The architecture used by Giovanni seemed to captivate any potential


29 The assassins were: Sayf bin Khalaf Al –Maamiri, Sayf bin Nassir, Sayf bin Said, Sayf bin Said, Sayf bin Al-Bitashi and Maan bin Kulayb.

ruler on the island. And as it happened many came and were immediately poisoned to the extent that they felt that they could oppress the people in Mombasa with the hope that the fort could provide adequate defenses to its inhabitants. As I came to find out, sieges seemed to have drawn out the occupants. It was also my finding that diplomacy seemed to helped rulers who used it wisely on their subjects; Muhammad did use diplomacy and seemed to have gained political mandate on the people to a point that made the new Imam in Oman to think carefully on the methods that he would use in ousting Muhammad from the fort. A key question that kept ringing in my mind was as to whether the question of a ruler having political control on their subjects laid in their method of administration or whether it was because of the fort! Is political control one and the same thing as defense? This research focused on the question of political control and not that of defense. In conclusion, I feel that the fort aided the rulers in extending their political control but that was only if the rulers showed their competence in the field of governance as the fort on its self could not assure you of rule but the spirit and determination of the leader did.

                                                                                                                            (3993 words)



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Ramerini, M. (2006, December 15th). FORT JESUS, MOMBASA- PORTUGUESE FORTRESS IN KENYA. Retrieved August 16th, 2008, from DUTCH PORTUGUESE COLONIAL HISTORY: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/mombasa.html


Appendix 1: Basic architectural outline of Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça