From Academic Kids

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Map of the Socotra archipelago

Socotra or Soqotra (Arabic سقطرة Suquṭrah) is a small archipelago of four islands and islets in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa some 350 km south of the Republic of Yemen, which administers Socotra for the Banu Afrar Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra.


Geography and climate

The archipelago consists of the mountainous main island of Socotra (3625 km² ) and three smaller islands known collectively as "the Brothers", Abd Al Kuri, Samha, Darsa, plus other uninhabitable rock outcrops. Abd Al Kuri and Samha have a population of a few hundred people between them; Darsa is uninhabited. The principal city is Hadiboh (estimated population in 1984, 51,000) The inhabitants of Socotra raise cattle and goats.

The climate is generally tropical desert, with rainfall being light, seasonal (winter) and more abundant at the higher ground in the interior than along the coastal lowlands.

Socotra has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves, and the Haghier mountains.

Socotra is one of the most isolated bits of land on earth of continental landmass origin (i.e., not of volcanic origin). The island probably detached from Africa as a fault block during the Middle Pliocene (ca 6 mya), in the same set of rifting events that have opened the Gulf of Aden to its northwest. The long geological isolation of the archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora that would be highly vulnerable to change; surveys have revealed that more than a third of the 800 or so plant species of Socotra are found nowhere else. Botanists rank the flora of Socotra among the ten most endangered island flora in the world. The archipelago is a site of global importance for biodiversity conservation and a possible center for ecotourism. Even the Semitic language, Soqotri, is spoken only there.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a very strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye.

As with many isolated island systems, bats are the only mammals native to Socotra. In contrast, the marine biodiversity around Socotra is rich, characterized by a unique mixture of species that have originated in farflung biogeographic regions: the western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Arabia, East Africa and the wider Indo-Pacific.

The monsoonal climate is strong: from June to September the island has traditionally been inaccessible, because of exceedingly strong monsoon winds and high seas and strong winds. In July 1999 a new airport opened Socotra to the outside year round. Most Socotris still live without electricity, running water or a paved road. At the end of the 1990s a United Nations Development Program was launched with the aim of providing a close survey of the island of Socotra.


Socotra is called Dioskouridou ("of the Dioscurides") in the 1st century CE in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a navigation aid. In the notes to his translation of the Periplus, G.W.B. Huntingford remarks that the name Socotra is not Greek in origin, but from the Sanskrit dvipa sukhadhara ("island of bliss"). A tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas in AD 52, and in the 10th century the Arab geographer Abu Zaid Hassan states that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians.

The explorer Tristão da Cunha put ashore in the early 16th century and considered Socotra conquered for Portugal, at which time Christianity had disappeared from the island except for stone crosses at which Alvares said people worshipped. However, during a visit of the island in 1542, Francis Xavier found a group of people claiming to be descended from the converts made by St. Thomas.

The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511, but eventually became a British protectorate in 1886, for whom it was an important strategic stop-over. With the independence of Yemen, the islands arrived at their current arrangement.


  • Casson, Lionel. 1989. The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton University Press. ISBN: 0-691-04060-5 .
  • Doe, D. Brian. 1970. Socotra: An Archaeological Reconnaisance in 1967. Edited by Henry Field and Edith M. Laird. Field Research Projects, Miami.
  • Schoff, Wilfred H. 1912. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, Second Edition. Reprint: New Delhi, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 1974. (A new hardback edition is available from Coronet Books Inc. Also reprinted by South Asia Books, 1995, ISBN 8-121506-99-9 )

External links

et:Sokotra fr:Socotra no:Socotra pl:Sokotra


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