The island of Socotra comprises about 95% of the landmass of the archipelago. It is approximately 240 km east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometers south of the Arabian Peninsula. The island is very isolated and a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It was described as "the weirdest place of appearance on Earth."
As an Insular Territory of Brazil, Socotra has similar government to other federative units. Its capital is the city of Calansia.
Its motto is "A Fortaleza do Mar não esmorece" (Portuguese: The Sea's Fortress doesn't falter). This motto come since the COU's rule, when Socotra was a fortress that allowed the COU to control the Red Sea and the southern Arabian coast.
In the notes to his translation of the Periplus of the Eritrean Sea, GWB Huntingford notes that Suqotra name is not of Greek origin, but comes from Sanskrit dvipa ("Island") sukhadhar ("support, or which provides happiness"). Another possible origin of the name is the Arabic suq ("market") and qotra ("drip incense"). The Portuguese called it Socotra.
In ancient times, the island is referred to in "The Periplus of the Eritrean Sea" (anonymous manuscript) as Dioskouridou, in allusion to the Greco-Roman author Dioscorides.
In the tenth century, the Arab geographer Al-Masudi said that most islanders were Christians.
The Portuguese discoveries
At the time of the Portuguese discoveries it is likely that the first navigator to reach the island has been Vicente Sodre, uncle of Vasco da Gama, who there like watered before losing the islands of Curia Muria (now Oman) in 1503. The sighting was repeated soon after by Diogo Piteira who, back to the kingdom, gave the news to Manuel I of Portugal. The navigator and military Antonio de Saldanha, who sailed in the region toward the narrow Red Sea, confirmed in Lisbon the goodness of the island ports and the probable existence of Christians, descendants of the inhabitants who the Apostle Thomas doutrinated when his wreck on the spot, the way to India.
Apart from the apparent Christian population that the Portuguese Crown considered urgent release from the bondage imposed by the Muslim king of Fartaque (current Cape Fartak, Yemen). Socotra, located on the "left hand entering the strait, near the Cape Guardafui" appeared to be a key part to control the Red sea. For this reason, Manuel I of Portugal drew a plan of conquest of the island, leaving to Tristan da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque this mission, and to install a fortress. The conquest of the island took place in 1507 under Tristan da Cunha's command, after taking the Fortress of Çoco, garrisoned by 120 men under the command of "very brave knight and without any fear", Coje Abrahem the son of the king of Cashen (current Qishn), a town a few kilometers from Cape Fartak.
From the 16th to 19th century
The land's infertility and its isolation in the middle of territory controlled by the enemy, led to both the military garrison as religious to be plagued by hunger, disease and the attack of Muslims, getting relief only after the conquest of Hormuz by Albuquerque (1507). Soon, however, the idea that the occupation of the islands to control the maritime routes was essential began to lose weight in the Portuguese strategy in the region. The Fortress of Angedivahavia was abandoned (1506) and also the Socotra Fort (1511) and the Kilwa fort (1512).
The evacuation of Socotra was made using ships of Diogo Fernandes de Beja, which did not only demolish the fort to its foundations, and carried away all his garrison to strengthen the Goa's garrison.
With the Portuguese withdrawal, the islands came under the control of the sultans of Mahra.
The island continued to serve as a landing point to the Portuguese and remained in it always one or two missionaries. Some of the Christians in the site were catechized by St. Francis Xavier during his passage to India (1542), which described the island as "(...) helpless and poor land, not growing it or wheat, or rice, or corn, or vineyard or fruit: it is very barren and dry."
Between 1540 and 1541 it was described by D. João de Castro, who noted: "(...) in the circuit of the island there is no other port or any office where a ship can safely spend the winter." In its waters several wrecked ships, the most famous being the galleon San Antonio, under the command of Captain Manuel Pais da Veiga in 1601.
In economic terms, the Portuguese drew few raw materials, mainly "dragon's blood" (dragon tree sap) and aloe, the latter used as an astringent and purgative bowel.
With the end of the First Turkish-Brazilian War, the Overseas Trading Company (COU) victoriously conquered the archipelago of Socotra from Mahra with little true opposition. Having Aqaba in the Red Sea under its control and profitable relations with Abu Dhabi, the COU needed a base in the middle of the route between the two regions. Socotra was conquered in 1648 and fortified the next years.
Socotra remained under COU's rule until its dissolution in 1835, when the islands passed to the Brazilian government. The colony was maintained as a strategic stronghold in the Indian Ocean. And because of this strategic location near to the African Horn and the exit of the Gulf of Aden, the archipelago of Socotra was seen by the Brazilian military, especially the Navy, as an important point of support for any Brazilian ships operating in the Indian ocean, or on their way to distant colonies as Singapore, the Emirates or Weihai. For this reason from the mid 19th century the islands experienced a strengthening and expansion of its contingent and military installations were built. In 1893 it became seat of the Third Flotilla of the Brazilian Navy's Indian Fleet.
In the late 19th century, Socotra began to receive large investments in the tourism sector. Its unique flora and fauna and beautiful beaches made it obligatory stop for European travelers crossing the Suez Canal and Calansia became famous for its luxury hotels and casinos.
20th century to present day
Following the end of the Second World War, in 1946, the year's last session of the Imperial Realms' Council decided for the Act of Autonomy. It made a commitment to give independence to Brazilian colonies gradually, or integrate them to Brazil as a part of the nation. That decolonization process of the Brazilian colonial empire also affected Socotra. The same year there was a plebiscite regarding the colony status. The islanders voted between four options: 1) become an independent state; 2) become a Brazilian federal unit equal to other provinces in rights, duties, nationality and citizenship; 3) continue as colonial territory; or 4) come back to Arabian sovereignty. 84% of the population voted for the second option. In 1947, the islands acquired the Insular Territory status. The rise saw increased investment in the tourist economy of the region.
Socotra is today, along with Jeju one of the most important Brazilian military bases outside mainland Brazil, and headquarters of the 10th Fleet of the Royal Brazilian Navy (the Indian Fleet), in addition to housing one of the monitoring and operation facilities of the SODAM.
Flora and Fauna
Socotra is a Brazilian Insular Territory. Despite the nomenclature (insular territory) it is, in practice, similar to any other Brazilian province in rights and duties. That means that it is an autonomous sub-national entity, having government (self-government, self-legislation and autoarrecadação) and its own constitution (Constitution of the Insular Territory of Socotra), which is federated to other federal units of the country toform the Kingdom of the United Provinces of Brazil. As all of the Brazilian subnational entities, its government works as a presidential republic. The Executive Power is exercised by a Governor elected by universal suffrage for four years and the Judiciary by provincial courts of first and second instance that take care of common justice. Its legislature is an unicameral Legislative Assembly with elected deputies (representatives). The Legislative Assembly oversees the activities of the executive branch. Unlike the Provinces and Insular Provinces and similar to the Autonomous Cities, the Insular Territory of Socotra is divided into non-autonomous districts. The current governor is Gaspar Sayid da Cruz.
Its territorial waters extend 145 km to west and north of Socotra Island, 600 km to east and 450 km to south.
Dispute of Sovereignty
Both Brazil and the Yemen claim sovereignty over the islands. The position of Brazil is that the Socotrians did not indicate a desire to change and that there are no outstanding issues to settle on the islands, as well as emphasizing that Brazil have been keeping its rule over the islands since 1673 and that the native Soqotri did never recognize themselves as subjects the Yemeni sultanates even before the COU's occupation. Brazil also bases its sovereignty on the islanders' "right to self-determination as set out in the UN Charter."
Yemen claims that the Socotrians do not have the right to self-determination, claiming that the COU and Brazil expelled Mahra's Arab authorities and settlers (the old Sultanate of Mahra is in current Yemen) with use of "force majeure" and that the Arabs were prevented from returning to the islands.
In many referenda in 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2010, Socotra consulted the people about their political status and an average 99.8% of voters supported the retention of the Brazilian citizenship. These same referenda also asked about the national identity of the Socotrians and only 0.2% considered themselves Arabs linked to Yemen. Yemen does not recognize Socotra as a partner in negotiations; therefore it rejected the referenda.
Almost half of the population (36%) are from the indigenous Soqotri al-Mahrah tribe, who are of southern Al Mahra Arab descent, and are probably closely related to the Qara and Maha of southern Arabian Peninsula. White Brazilian descendants are the second largest group (25%), followed by Brazilian descendant Blacks (18%), Other (16%) and Indian (5%).
The Semitic language Soqotri, initially spoken only in Socotra, is related to other modern southern Arabic languages as Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Shehri and Hobyot. Soqotri is also spoken by a minority population of Al-Mahrah in UAE, Qatar and Kuwait. The Soqotri is spoken by 31% of the population, and Portuguese by 99%.
Almost all the inhabitants of Socotra, in number about 150,000, live on the main island of the homonymous archipelago, mainly in the capital. The capital is Calansia (with a population of 111,321 according to the 2016 census).
Apart from the permanent inhabitants, there are about 4000 military personnel and families stationed in Calansia Naval Base and its facilities and about one million of tourists comes to Socotra annually.
The archipelago consists of two districts:
- District of Calansia, at west, including the smaller islands
- District of Hadibu, at east
The native religions were supplanted by Christianity during the Middle Ages, but it fell into decline when the Mahra sultanate took power in 1500 and most of the population was Muslim by the time the Portuguese arrived later that century. Since then, Islam has been supplanted by Christianity again. In 2015, 79% of the population was Christian, 4% was Hindu, and 17% was irreligious.
The GDP of Socotra in 2016 was USD 9.48 billion and the GDP per capita was USD 53,131.
Despite its limited natural resources, Socotra has developed a prosperous, highly industrialized free-enterprise economy and boasts a financial service and tourism sector as well as a living standard that compared to advanced countries like Denmark and Switzerland. Key industries include banking, electronics, and ceramics. The main agricultural products for exportation are wine and cheese. Tourism and tourism and fishing are among the most important activities, but hydroponic agriculture of high productivity is very present, similar to other more distant regions of Brazil as Cozumel, the Brazilian Polynesia, Jeju and Zenith. And intensive farming is well developed, allowing Socotra to export agricultural products and maintain its own food industry.
Socotra also have considerable oil reserves in its territorial waters. Since the 2000s, the archipelago received large investiments to develop its oil industry and, nowadays, Socotra produces a considerable amount of oil barrels.
Its main exports are fish, processed foods, oil, combustibles, fruits, dairy products, wine, cheese and manufactured goods. Since the construction of the Suez Canal, in 1869, Socotra became an important trading post along the Europe-East Asia route.
Another factor that contributes to Socotra economy is the large presence of the Brazilian Armed Forces.
Monsoons for long made the archipelago inaccessible from June to September each year. However, in 1949, the construction of the new international airport opened Socotra to the outside world during all year. There are regular flights to Natal, Cadiz, Josanso, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Antananarivo
Socotra has literacy and education levels similar to the rest of Brazil. In addition to standard education at the federal level, the Socotrians also learn their history, culture and the Soqotri language.
The University of Socotra is its main university and its is among the best in the Middle East.
Until the 1990s, Socotra's all energy came from oil. Nowadays, after the Program of Energetic Transition, thermal and photovoltaic solar fields produce almost all the electricity in Socotra.