1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zaila

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ZAILA, or Zeila; a town on the African coast of the Gulf of Aden, 124 m. S W. of Aden and 200 m. N N E. of Harrar. Zaila is the most western of the ports of the British Somaliland protectorate, being 170 m. N W of Berbera by the coast caravan track. The town is surrounded on three sides by the sea; landward the country is unbroken desert for some fifty miles. The principal buildings, which date from the days of Egyptian occupation (1875–1884) are of white (coral) stone; the Somali dwellings are made of grass.

Zaila has a good sheltered anchorage much frequented by Arab sailing craft, but heavy draught steamers are obliged to anchor a mile and a half from the shore. Small coasting boats lie off the pier and there is no difficulty in loading or discharging cargo. The water supply of the town is drawn from the wells of Takosha, about three miles distant; every morning camels, in charge of old Somali women and bearing goatskins filled with water, come into the town in picturesque procession. The population varies from 3000 to 7000, the natives, who come in the cool season to barter their goods, retiring to the highlands in hot weather. The chief traders are Indians, the smaller dealers Arabs, Greeks and Jews. The imports, which reach Zaila chiefly via Aden, are mainly cotton goods, rice, jowaree, dates and silk; the exports — of which 90 per cent are from Abyssinia — are principally coffee, skins, ivory, cattle, ghee and mother-of-pearl.

Zaila owed its importance to its proximity to Harrar, the great entrepôt for the trade of southern Abyssinia. The trade of the port received, however, a severe check on the opening (1901–2) of the railway to Harrar from the French port of Jibuti, which is 35 m. N W of Zaila. A steamer from Aden to Zaila takes fifteen hours to accomplish the journey; caravans proceeding from Zaila to Harrar occupy from ten days to three weeks on the road.

For history and trade statistics, see Somaliland, British.