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Enchanting ruins of Gedi

MARCELLA AKINYI

love going on an adventure at the Coast, but I’ve always been fascinated by the small and quiet Coastal towns that seem to be by-passed when it comes to matters holidaying. For instance, one of the small towns where you can have a quiet adventure is Watamu.

Situated north of Mombasa, Watamu is known for its white sandy beaches, coral gardens (which are it’s defining features), the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve — which is home to rare birdlife.

However, one of the attractions that fascinated me as a lover of history was the Gedi Ruins, a National Museum site that offers insight into the mysterious history of this stretch of Kenya’s coastline.

The ruins are situated near the junction of the main Mombasa-Malindi road. After getting a ticket for Sh100, one gets to pick a guide at the main entrance, also at a small fee. In addition, I also had to buy bananas for the Sykes’ monkeys, which are friendly by the way. Watching them devour and scramble to have a piece is a fascinating site to behold.

“These towns were built by the Swahili people during the 15th and 16th century,” explains my guide for the day, Harry Mjambili, as he pointed towards a coral brick wall.

The ruins are the relics of the Swahili people who are said to have already established trade contacts with countries in the Middle East, China and India. Various records indicate that at the peak of its prosperity, Gedi’s population was around 2,500 people.

Snakes slither within their enclosure at the snake park.

The presence of numerous ruins, which consists a magnificent palace, conglomeration of mosques and Swahili houses, is the evidence of this prosperity.

The presence of the Venetian beads and Chinese money also proved that trade was a major activity back then.

The eight mosques had wells and washing amenities that were employed for cleansing before worship, which is typical of the Muslim religion. Mjambili further explains men and women also worshipped in separate places for concentration purposes.

The Kibla, which is the most holy place in the mosque, faces Mecca (the holy city) and it is believed that the echo makes prayer reach the heavens much faster. The existing residential houses at Gedi Ruins are all located within the inner walls and illustrate the living conditions of the elite members of the ancient society.

Various theories have been quoted to explain why the town was deserted. For instance, one theory proposes that the about 2,500 people were forced out of town by lack of water that had made the town inhabitable.

Another purports that the Portuguese explorers brought to Gedi a deadly incurable disease called Black Plague that wiped out the entire population.

Sir John Kirk, a Scottish physician, naturalist and companion to explorer David Livingstone, first discovered the ruins in 1884. They were later rediscovered in the early 1920s.

It is said that the initial excavations commenced in the late 1940s and were conducted by the British East African government under the supervision of James Kirkman. This continued up to the year 1958, with intermittent excavations occurring between 1960 and 1980.

After a visit to the fascinating site, one can tour the Kipepeo Butterfly Project, a community-based enterprise in Malindi that supports the livelihoods of people living around Arabuko-Sokoke forest.

The project currently markets butterfly and moth pupae and other live insects as well as honey and silk cloth produced by the community. You could also visit the snake park within Gedi.

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