History

About 5000 years, developments in southern Arabian navigation and trade put Socotra on local maps. Abundant supplies of Frankincense, myrrh, dragon’s blood, and aloe were valuable commodities that were traded widely and made Socotra a destination for fleets from many parts of the known world. By the first century B.C., Socotra was the world’s foremost supplier of these rare and expensive resins.

Within a century Arabs, Indians, Greeks, and Africans had settled on Socotra, drawn by the riches that could be made there. By the 4th century A.D. the global demand for frankincense had declined to the point in time, Christianity remained dominant on Socotra for almost a millennium after which it gave to Islam. Between the 10th and the 14th centuries Socotra was mainly noted as a haven for pirates, the demand for its incenses having dwindled to almost nothing. Socotra eventually came under the scrutiny of the Portuguese who occupied it from 1507 until 1511 before being ousted by Mahri warriors. The next colonial power to conquer the island was the British who stationed a garrison here in 1834 to protect the island as a potential coaling station for India-bound traders. Unfortunately for the British, the annual monsoon and the lack of a good harbor made Socotra unsuitable for this purpose so they left in 1839 when they decided that Aden would be a more useful conquest. The British, while based in Aden, signed a treaty with the Sultan of Socotra in 1876 and maintained diplomatic relations and protectorate status over the island for most of the next 100 years. In 1939 they built an RAF airfield at Mori, site of the present airport, which they occupied throughout World War II. British involvement on Socotra formally ended on November 30th, 1967 when Southern Yemen gained full independence following 128 years of colonial rule.For the next three decades Socotra remained a forgotten backwater although it received considerable attention from the Soviet Union, which maintained a strong presence in the Marxist people’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Rumors of a Soviet Naval base on the island during this era are probably unfounded although evidence of a Soviet presence on Socotra can be found to the present day.