Mapping East Africa: Dutch East India Company maps of the gateway to the Indian Ocean world

Michiel van Groesen
Leiden University

When historians write about the Dutch East India Company (VOC), they typically discuss the Company’s administration or labour force in Batavia and Ceylon, the genocide that took place in the Moluccas to secure the fine spice trade, the exclusive access to Tokugawa Japan through the carefully controlled settlement in the Bay of Nagasaki, or the finely tuned system of intra-Asian trade connecting  every market along the Indian Ocean littoral that enabled the Dutch to outperform their European rivals.

The role of the Company in East Africa is generally relegated to the fringes of maritime and colonial scholarship, despite the region being part of the VOC’s charter area for the entire period of its existence (1602-1795). This paper addresses Dutch activities on the Indian Ocean world’s western edges by focusing on cartographic representations of Mauritius, Madagascar, the Comores, and the Delagoa Bay in present-day Mozambique, and argues that for more than a century, the Company was actively looking for ways to include East Africa into its extensive trading network.