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The Lost World of Socotra

Updated on October 22, 2009
Click for larger image.
Click for larger image.

Socotra is an island in the Indian Ocean, 150 miles (241 km) northeast of Africa's Cape Guardafui. It has been part of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) since 1967, and before that it belonged to the Federation of South Arabia. Socotra (also translated Saqatra) is about 85 miles (137 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide, with an area of 1,383 square miles (3,576 sq km). Hadibu is the capital and chief town.

The partly wooded mountains in the interior rise to heights above 4,500 feet (1,372 meters). Plateaus, almost destitute of vegetation, alternate with fertile valleys and palm-lined beaches and lagoons. The climate is warm and very dry. Some of the finest aloes as well as choice dates are grown. Livestock raising is important. Chief exports include aloes, ghee (semiliquid butter), pearls, dried fish, tropical fruit, and dragon's blood, a red resin for varnishes.

The people are a mixed race, descended from Negro, Arab, and Indian settlers and also from earlier Greek and Portuguese colonists. The language is of Himyaritic origin.

Called in antiquity the Isle of Dioscorides, it was known to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. There are references to it in the Bible and in the travels of Marco Polo. The heterogeneous inhabitants, who were for many years Nestorian Christians, embraced Islam in the 16th century. The island was briefly taken by the Portuguese under Tristao da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque in 1507. In 1886 it came under British protection as a division of the Mahri sultanate of Qishn and Socotra.

English and German expeditions have investigated its natural features, its geology, plants, and insects, which are of great interest. The island is considered by some a fragmental area of an early continent between India and Africa. Later geologic intrusions are due to volcanic action.

Have you ever been to Socotra?

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