Note to Browne’s Musæum Clausum

Vincent Leblanc describes Cefala (or Sefala, or Cephala — now Sofala — in Mozambique) and its surroundings in his Voyages fameux, quoted here from the 1660 English edition, The World Surveyed: Or, The Famous Voyages & Travailes of Vincent le Blanc, or White, or Marseilles, etc. , pages 194-195.

The soyle of Cefala is exceeding rich in gold, and the river Cuama brings it ready f[i]n’d in small threads which are found in the sand, so as this river passes through mines of gold, for which reason the Portugals by permission of a Mahometan Prince who rules the Country, have here built a Fort to facilitate their negotiation with the Inhabitants. Before they arrived here, some Mahometans of Quiloa and Magadoxo built the town of Sefala in one of the Islands made by Geuesme, this river augmented by Paname which takes birth near the town Amara, and swelled by Loanga, who leads with it the Arrouia, and joyns with Monoua at the Ruenia, and the Inedita called Iradi by the Ethiopians, which together water many countries, making vast inundations and Marhses, which render the land so dangerous to passe, that there needs well experienc’d guides, and to make Mount Masima, by the natives called Mantica, the way to Ethiopia, there are many fair provinces rich in ore of gold and silver. They term the gold mine Manica, the country Matuca or Mataca, and those which get the gold Bothones. There is another an exceeding rich one in the Province of Torta or Toroa, and in that of Gag or Agag one of silver, as there is also at Bocaua or Batua, Boror, Tacouir, and other places, and the soyle is universally very fertile; as likewise at Potozzy and Perou. To avoid these immense Marshes, as I said, one is forced to take the way of Mount Manica, bending towards Ambea, and Sabaim, where at this day are seen huge ruines of ancient structures, which resemble the greatnesse and magnificence of those of the ancient Romanes, chiefly in the kingdomes Batua and Toroa, where are the most ancient mines of gold in Africa. There you find likewise store of stones of excessive bulke so excellently polished, they never lose their lustre, fixed together without Cement, so fine, it is not perceivable.1

In like manner we finde there Remainders of walls of above twenty five handfulls thick, with certain hieroglyphick characters engraved, not to be read, as the like is observed in Persia among the ruines of the town Persepolis. Many do conceive ’twas from hence Salomon fetcht his gold, as I said elsewhere; and these great ruines to have been of that Ages building, and by the same King.2


Original marginalia are in green.

1 Alvarez testifies, that in the mines of Chaxuma, there are stones of 64. fathoms, six in breadth, and three height.

2 There is a widespread mistake, embodied in the following quotation (not chosen in particular, but the first such I happened to come across on the web, and here speaking of the Great Zimbabwe):

Unwilling to believe that sub-Saharan Africans could have built such a structure, adventurers and ideologues long claimed the ruins a mystery, theorizing that ancient Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, or Hebrews created the structures.

Compare this with what Leblanc actually writes. Keep in mind as well that the opinions of “many” may well be those of the locals. Think of Herodotus, for instance. A friend once heard a French father, touring his children through the cathedral at Saint-Bertrand in France, point to a Latin inscription on the wall and say that it was Arabic. And so it might as well have been, for all his ability to read it.

This page is by James Eason.

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