This work arose from my own impecuniousness. When I began to study the history of the East African coast, I found that the sources were spread amongst a great number of works, most of them out of print. If they were offered for sale, they were mostly beyond my pocket. So I copied all the material I could find, and gradually assembled the present collection.
The documents assembled are a selection of the principal writings on the East African coast from the first century to the early nineteenth century. The earliest, the Greek and Arab writers, illustrate the ignorance of the ancients and of the Middle Ages. The anonymous Arabic History of Kilwa (No. 14) comes like a breath of fresh air. In regard to Portuguese times, 15,000 documents have been collected by the Central African Archives, Salisbury, Rhodesia. They await publication. Few of them, Dr Eric Axelson has been kind enough to tell me, bear upon the East African coast, and even these add but little to what has already been told. The documents selected here tell the main story. If at first sight there may seem a concentration of sixteenth-century documents, it is because many of these illumine the centuries which preceded.
We know little at present of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and thus I have included some of the earlier European visitors and also translations of Swahili traditional histories. Some of these continue up to the time of the coming of the European powers at the end of the nineteenth century. Amongst these, although it was only written down about 1910, is the History of Pate, as recorded by Stigand, which covers the whole period from 1204 to his own time. While some of what these histories say is myth and some tedious genealogy, they include invaluable information on the life of the coast and its commerce. It should perhaps be noted how rarely the slave trade is mentioned.
A work of this kind might be expected to include an introductory essay giving a connected account of the whole period. The reader can be referred to the first three chapters of SirReginald Coupland East Africa and Its Invaders, 1938, reprinted 1956; to the Oxford History of East Africa, vol. I, Clarendon Press, 1962, in which Gervase Mathew's chapter on the early and medieval periods, and my own on the period 1498-1840, are dependent for their most important sources on those contained in this volume; and to my Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika, Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin and Oxford University Press, 1962. All these contain ample bibliographies whose repetition would only be superfluous. The purpose of this volume . . .