Black & White Sunday

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Today Paula’s guest blogger over at Lost in Translation is Debbie Smyth who many will know from her own blog Travel with Intent. Today she is setting us the challenge to ‘let the shapes shine through’. This is what she says:

 

For me the most important point about monochrome is that by removing the distraction of colour, the photographer is able to direct the viewer to the key elements of the image.  Going monochrome is one of several tools we have as a photographer that allows us to provide focus.

The composition of my own photo is perhaps a little ‘busy’ in this B & W version (it could have done without the pole), but I like the play of light on the dhow sails, the clouds, and Lali’s straw hat. It was taken in Manda Strait, in Kenya’s Lamu archipelago.

For the story behind the photo, please go HERE. But now here are more versions. The second one down is a ‘red filter’ edit, followed by sepia. Let me know what you think.

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Dhow Dreaming ~ Lamu Angles

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One Christmas, long ago, we went to Lamu, one of Kenya’s Indian Ocean islands. Our trip there was as peaceful as this image suggests, although the nearby mainland has long been preyed on by gangs of Somali Shifta. This then is an idyll with hidden angles, some of them tragic. But for now, please enjoy these Lamu dhows with their triangular lateen sails in this gentle display of synchronised sailing along the Manda Strait.

You could say that Swahili culture was born of the monsoon winds, from the human drive to trade and of prevailing weather. For two thousand years Arab merchants plied East Africa’s Indian Ocean shores, from Mogadishu (Somalia) to the mouth of the Limpopo River (Mozambique), arriving with the north easterly Kaskazi, departing on the south easterly Kusi. They came in great wooden cargo dhows, bringing dates, frankincense, wheat, dried fish, Persian chests, rugs, silks and jewels which they traded with Bantu farmers in exchange for the treasures of Africa: ivory, leopard skins, rhinoceros horn, ambergris, tortoise shell, mangrove poles and gold.

 copyright 2014 Tish Farrell Culture: The Swahili

See also: Christmas on Lamu: Views of a Swahili Community

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Angular

Transported on Lamu

 

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There came a time when Sendibada signed on with a strange sea captain. The next day, as dawn was breaking, the ship cast off, a strong breeze filling the lateen sails, and bearing them swiftly out to sea. But towards noon the wind died, and the boat drifted, becalmed, on still waters.

At this the captain strode out on the bridge, and began to utter words that Sendibada could not fathom. He stared and stared for, to his astonishment, the ship began to rise, graceful as an egret taking flight. Sendibada grinned. He liked a good adventure, and now it seemed this strange captain of his was none other than the most powerful magician.

Up into the clouds they soared, flying, flying until at last they saw a faraway red spot. But little by little the spot grew, until at last Sendibada saw it was a city in the sky, and that every house there was made of copper. Soon they set down in the harbour and, as the crew made to go ashore, from every quarter, lovely girls came out to greet them, bearing on their heads copper trays laden with the most delicious fruits and sweetmeats and tender roasted morsels.

And so it was that much time passed, the ship’s crew enjoying month after month of this most gracious hospitality. Sendibada, though, was growing homesick, and said as much. Now the magician gave him a round mat and told him how to use it.

Sendibada followed the instructions, placing the mat on the ground and seating himself upon it so that he faced the direction of his home town. Then he spoke the foreign words that meant: Behold! We shall all return to it . And at once the mat rose into the clouds, and faster than a diving hawk, set Sendibada back on the beach just outside his home town.

 copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

The Copper City  retold from a translated text in Jan Knappert’s Myths and Legends of the Swahili

 

P.S. In case you hadn’t guessed, Sendibada is the Swahili version of Sinbad.

 

A Word A Week challenge: transport

Zanzibar: time’s twists and turns

 

…a gateway to Africa. Through its portals passed not only slaves, spices and ivory, but also missionaries, explorers and conquerors.  

Abdul Sheriff, Professor of History, Dar es Salaam University

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Zanzibar  – it’s all in the name – the Indian Ocean shores where Arab merchants met with African farmers and created a new people: the Swahili. In the Arabic Kilwa chronicles of the Middle Ages, the word Zanj denotes non-Muslim black people, and the word bar means coast, and the term back then referred to much of the East African seaboard – to wherever the dhow traders seasonally put in to haggle with Bantu farmers for ivory, leopard skins, rhino horn, iron, ambergris and mangrove poles.  These, then,  are the shores of the Sindbad (Sendebada) tales, but today the term ‘coast of the blacks’ survives only in the name of the Zanzibar archipelago (Unguja and Pemba Islands), now part of Tanzania.

These days too, Zanzibar Island, more properly known as Unguja, is seen as the heartland of Swahili culture, and the place where the purest form of KiSwahili is spoken. Once, though, there were many other powerful Swahili centres – independent city states that included Manda, Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Sofala far to the south in Mozambique. Such states, with stone towns built of coral rag, began evolving from at least the early 800s CE (Manda),  by which time KiSwahili was already a fully developed language, albeit with many regional forms.

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In fact the trade along East Africa had been going on from well before the 9th century. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greek account of Indian Ocean trade written around 60 CE, indicates that the people of the kingdoms of Yemen and Arabia already had well established trade routes as far south as Mozambique. The Romans had also been here, doubtless making use – as all the seafarers did – of monsoon winds that in season carried them south down the African coast, or east to India, and then, with the change in the wind,s northwards and homewards to the Gulf.

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The earliest traces of a stone town  on Unguja date from the 12th century when merchant princes from Shiraz in Persia settled on the island.  Over successive centuries this settlement  was destroyed twice by the Portuguese (who, after Vasco Da Gama discovered  he could sail round Africa in 1498, seized control of the Indian Ocean trade) and once by the Omani  Arabs whom the Swahili sultans of the Kenya coast called in on several occasions to help rid them of the European tyrants. The Portuguese were ousted from Zanzibar and the Swahili mainland at the close of the 17th century, and thereafter, until the British declared Zanzibar a protectorate in 1890, it was the Omani Arabs who controlled the surviving Swahili states.

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The Stone Town we see today dates mostly from the nineteenth century when the place was at its most prosperous. Abdul Sheriff describes the scene:

“Zanzibar was then a cosmopolitan metropolis. Its harbour teemed with square-rigged ships from the West and oriental dhows with their lateen sails from many countries in the East, carrying all the colours of the rainbow. Here Yankee merchants from New England drove a hard bargain with Hindu traders in their large crimson turbans or  Khojas in their long coats, exchanging ivory for American cloth; the Marseillais haggled with the Somali for hides and sesame seeds from Benadir; Hamburg entrepreneurs shipped tons of cowrie shells to West Africa, where they served as currency; and Arab caravans rubbed shoulders with their African counterparts from the Mountains of the Moon.”  (The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town 1995).

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Beit al-Ajaib, The House of Wonders, was built by Sultan Barghash in 1883 to host ceremonial events. He was an extravagant man and, before his death in 1888, built 6 palaces across the island of Unguja. After the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution when the Omanis, along with many Indian residents, were killed or expelled, the building was used as government offices. When we visited in 1999 it was abandoned, but for one of the last sultan’s  cars (candy pink in colour) parked inside the atrium near the front door. A good friend who visited the House of Wonders recently tells me it is still there.

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Trade was given much impetus in 1830 when the Sultans of Oman moved their capital to Zanzibar to oversee what turned out to the short-lived boom in clove production.  They and other Indian and Arab landowners owned many clove and coconut plantations  on the archipelago, and these were worked by African slaves.

The slave trade, then, was another source of the island’s prosperity. By 1860 the archipelago had some 60,000 slaves, not only working the plantations, but also fulfilling domestic and labouring tasks, and providing new wives for the sultan’s harem. And it is worth noting here that the slaves in Zanzibar were not generally ill treated in the way they were in the Americas; it was not unknown, after long service, for them to inherit their master’s land and property. The children of the harem slaves were also acknowledged by the sultans who fathered them, and treated as royal children with appropriate titles.

During the 19th century it is reckoned that some 50,000 slaves a year were being sold in the Zanzibar slave market. It was only in 1873 that the slaving was abolished, this after much pressure from the British who had first made a treaty with the Sultan Said in 1822 in an  attempt to kerb the trade. That treaty had produced little effect. There was too much demand. The French, in particular, needed slaves for their tropic island plantations.

And to meet the demand the Swahili and Arab slaving expeditions would set off from Zanzibar for the African mainland, taking their caravans of porters along well-walked slave paths through Tabora in Tanzania, and down into Zambia, or travelling up present day Kenya to the Great Lakes regions. The notorious Swahili slaver, and plantation owner, Tipu Tip, roved as far as the Congo , terrorizing villages across the territory.

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Finding some way to end the trade was one of the motivations that drove the missionary-explorer David Livingstone ever onwards on his gruelling explorations across Africa. It was thought that if the continent was opened up to civilizing Europeans, then the ‘filthy trade’ could be stopped.  But then like the slavers, he and other European explorers (Burton, Speke, Stanley, Cameron, Thomson) started their journeys from Zanzibar. All such travellers, including  missionaries, relied on  the expertise of porters and seasoned safari guides who otherwise worked on the slave caravans.  In 1866, before his last expedition, Livingstone stayed at the house above. It had not long been built by Sultan Majid. Now it is the office of the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation.

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From John Hanning Speke’s Journal of the Discovery of the Nile 1863

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The slaving and ivory  trades worked in tandem. Newly captured slaves were not only driven on forced marches across the continent to the coast, but they were also made to carry supplies, and these included any elephant tusks that the slavers had procured – ivory destined for the production of piano keys and billiard balls for the European market.  It was only in 1897 that all slaves on Zanzibar were given their freedom. The Anglican church stands on the site of the slave market, beside the now famous sculptures commemorating the years of abuse. It is horrifying to consider what the cost of this trade has been for Africa: generation upon generation of  the strongest, brightest and  most  beautiful young people robbed from their communities.

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Naturally the British could congratulate themselves on finally stopping the trade on Zanzibar, although I believe it continued well  into the 2oth century at Lamu. Today, too, slave mongering thrives, and under our very noses in Europe, only now the abused are not necessarily black, so perhaps we don’t think it’s the same thing – the brutal deprivation of liberty and dignity, along with forced labour?

But back to 1890, the end of the Sultans’ control and Britain’s laying claim to Zanzibar. Because now we come to a whole new angle. For this was also the year of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, an agreement between the Germans and the British, whereby (in return for Heligoland, the strategic North Sea island), the Germans waived rights to Zanzibar, Witu on the mainland coast, and to the territory now known as Kenya across which the British were planning to build the Uganda Railway. (Bismarck apparently called this deal swapping the trousers for a button). 

Suddenly, then, Zanzibar has a very particular purpose for the British Empire. It will become the spring board for the claiming of extensive East African territory, and it will start with that mad, mad railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. Of course, with slavery being outlawed, some new mechanism of harnessing native power will need to be thought up. Something civilized and civilizing. I know – we’ll call it colonialism, and enclose indigenous people in their own territory, make reserves of their own homes, which they can’t leave unless they have a pass. Then we’ll introduce hut and poll taxes so forcing them to work for Europeans…

For more of the colonial story go to an earlier post Vulcanicity HERE. In the meantime below are some more soothing views in and around Stone Town, now a World Heritage site. Life is not so grand as it was in the days of the finely robed Omanis. Fishing, ferrying, farming (growing spices, coconuts and vegetables), curio trading, boat building, mangrove pole harvesting and tourism are the main sources of income. As in all African countries, people work hard to educate their children, and this is their number one priority.

Stone Town is also a devoutly Muslim community, and sometimes this does not sit well with tourist inclinations to behave in ways not considered either respectful or respectable by Zanzibaris. There are over 50 mosques of several different Muslim persuasions, but most are unobtrusive buildings without minarets, and are scarcely noticeable among the domestic dwellings. There is also a Catholic cathedral as well as the Anglican church. The streets are maze-like and shadowy, but we met with nothing but gracious hospitality when we wandered along them.  The place may seem run down (although here and there restoration is in progress), but in the sudden whiffs of jasmine the Sinbad romance lingers on…

(For more about the Swahili see an earlier post HERE.)

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AILSA’S TRAVEL CHALLENGE: TWIST

FLICKR COMMENTS TAGGED ‘Z’

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

 

Christmas on Lamu: views of a Swahili Community

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Main street, Stone Town, Lamu. No cars only donkey transport.

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I learned a great deal about community when I was living in Kenya where it meant not only an affirmation of cultural identity, but also an expression of hospitality; the call to an absolute stranger of  “karibu,” “come on in!”

And so it proved to be one Christmas, when we spent a few days on the Indian Ocean island of Lamu. I suppose, in amongst the excitement of organising our flight there from Nairobi, I had wondered what it might be like to spend a Christian festival within a strongly Muslim community. Or perhaps I had gone there expecting simply to forget it. I know I had thought about clothing, packing only things that would not cause offence by too much inappropriate exposure.

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Christmas Day on Shela Beach, Lamu

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But I had not expected to feel so  ‘gathered in’. From the moment we were picked up from the tiny Manda Island air field, and taken by dhow taxi to the Island Hotel in Shela Village we were quietly embraced by the locals.

Sensation was anyway heightened: it had just stopped raining as we stepped ashore and followed our guide up damp sandy paths. The sense of unobtrusive acceptance somehow fused with the scent of jasmine, the touch of steaming coral walls of deserted gardens and tumbled village houses, the warm salt breezes. 

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At five a.m. on Christmas Day we woke to the call to prayer at the local mosque.  Allahu akbar  filled our room, and unavoidably so when the roof was only a thin layer of palm thatch and three of the walls were open to the elements. It seemed a transforming moment somehow. I lay in the little Lamu bed, and listened to the village stirring to life around us, hee-hawing donkeys, the clatter of kitchen pots and pans, radios quietly playing. It seemed a community well set in its ways, and for many generations. Yet later, when we set out to walk along the long strand to Stone Town, we were greeted from every side by smiling locals. “Happy Christmas!” they cried. “Happy Christmas!”

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View from ‘the pent-house suite’, the Island Hotel, Shela

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Stone Town, Lamu, now a World Heritage site

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Christmas Day afternoon: a time for strolling, snoozing, chatting.

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We went sailing with Uncle Lali: I see three ships…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Daily Prompt: Memories of holidays past

Related:

Sleep (Lamu Dreaming)

Culture: the Swahili

© 2013 Tish Farrell

 

Lamu Dreaming

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…to sleep, to dream…

Anyone who has seen my post on The Swahili will know that I’ve had Lamu on my mind. The island lies off Kenya’s northern coast, and its Stone Town is one of the best preserved Swahili settlements, lived in for the last 700 years.  We went there one Christmas, flying out of Nairobi in a small plane that let you watch the ground all the way there. This was comforting in some ways, but in others not: the bush country east of the capital is arid and little inhabited except by wildlife, and the coast hinterland, then as now, too often the haunt of Shifta (Somali bandits). Yet there was one especially striking moment that at once distracted me from other anxieties. It was the sight as we flew over the Tana River Delta and saw the red earth of the Kenya Highlands flowing out into the sea like blood: the country’s life force pumping away. It looked like a shark attack of epic proportions. I was glad when we touched down on Manda Island and our only concern was to catch the same ferry to Lamu as our luggage.

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Map: www.theafricanaviationtribune.com

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A storm blew up as we chugged across the strait in a Lamu fishing dhow. We tourists huddled under the awning to keep dry as the world turned steely grey. Our captain though, out in the rain, simply secured his hat and looked resolutely to shore. The rain did not last, and by the time we had put into Shela  harbour, the coral rag walls of the houses were steaming; scents of jasmine and frangipani filling the air. As we followed our guide up a sandy path from the shore, I remembered it was Christmas Eve. It seemed we had stepped into a dream.

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The hotel was also a dream for someone as nosy as Nosy-Writer. It occupied an old merchant’s house in the centre of the village, and best of all our room was up in the palm thatch with the whole top floor at our disposal. Not only that, most of the walls were open to the elements and overlooked the village. Sadly it seems, the place no longer exists, so perhaps I really did dream it.

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Shela village square from our room with many views. In the foreground is a  stack of the coral rag building blocks from which  most of the houses are built. The spreading thorn tree was the place where the donkeys were parked until needed for transport.

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On Christmas Day we bumped into Azrael who sold us the most delicious, freshly cooked, fish samosas – a local speciality.

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The only problem with our room’s open-plan arrangement was that not only could I see into people’s kitchens, gardens and bedrooms,  but we could hear everything too. It made for nights of fractured sleep – radios playing, pots clattering, cats yowling, but mostly hee-hawing donkeys, Lamu’s equivalent of night-sounding car alarms. Then just as you were drifting back to sleep, the dawn call to morning prayer would begin, the sacred strains of Allahu akbar (God is greatest) winding through my faithless semi-consciousness. It was a disorientating start to Christmas Day. Yet later on, when we set off on the two-mile beach hike between Shela and Lamu town, from every quarter the locals greeted us – Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas. There was no stinting on hospitality, and that extended to the plentiful provision of nice things to lie down on, and what with the steamy tropical heat by day, and the wakeful nights, these were more than welcome.

Lala salama, as they say in KiSwahili – sleep peacefully.

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© 2013 Tish Farrell

The Swahili

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Lamu  fishing dhows off the Kenya Coast

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You could say that Swahili culture was born of the monsoon winds, from the human drive to trade and of prevailing weather. For two thousand years Arab merchants plied East Africa’s Indian Ocean shores, from Mogadishu (Somalia) to the mouth of the Limpopo River (Mozambique), arriving with the north easterly Kaskazi, departing on the south easterly Kusi. They came in great wooden cargo dhows, bringing dates, frankincense, wheat, dried fish, Persian chests, rugs, silks and jewels which they traded with Bantu farmers in exchange for the treasures of Africa: ivory, leopard skins, rhinoceros horn, ambergris, tortoise shell, mangrove poles and gold.

By 700 AD many Arab merchants  were beginning to settle permanently on the East African seaboard, and the earliest mosques so far discovered date from around this time. These new colonists would have married the daughters of their Bantu trading hosts and doubtless used these new local connections to expand their trading opportunities. Soon the African farming settlements were expanding into cosmopolitan port towns. Itinerant merchants and their crews would also have had plenty of chances to get to know the local girls. The weather served this purpose too. Between August and November the trade winds fail. Voyaging captains would thus put in to a known safe haven to wait for good winds. And while this was not a time to be idle, since boats had to be beached and the crew put to cleaning and sealing the underwater timbers with a paste of beef fat and lime, three months was a long time to be ashore and far from home.

And so from this trade for trade, evolved a new culture, a loose confederation of self-governing city states stretching 3,000 km along the East African coast. Islam melded with Bantu customs and beliefs, and transactions’ fusion of Arabic with Bantu vernaculars gave rise to a new language, KiSwahili, which is still the lingua franca of East Africa today. Into this mix also came settler-traders from the Indian Subcontinent, shipwrecked Chinese sailors and refugee (Shirazi) Persians. Welcome, then, to the world of Sinbad, or Sendibada as the Swahili people call him, the ancient Empire of Zanj.

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Lamu Town, off the Kenya coast, is one of the best preserved Swahili towns and  has been lived in for over 700 years. It is now a World Heritage Site. The building of the Swahili stone towns was apparently underway by 700 AD, the stone in question being coral rag, quarried from uplifted reef beds. Lamu town is not one of the earliest or the finest, but it was once a city state ruled over by its own sultan. The remains of far older settlements have been discovered on the nearby islands of Manda and Pate. Today, of course, the dhow trade in East Africa has dwindled, and towns like Lamu are barely a shadow of their former selves. Its residents’ main source of income comes from tourism, fishing , boat building and farming.

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Shela Village, Lamu. It seems like a scene for one of Scheherezade’s night-time tales.

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The annual dhow  season used to start from home Arabian ports in August with ripening of the date harvest in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.* Merchants from the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman would set sail for Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf where the dates were crated and taken on board. The size of a dhow was gauged not in tonnage but by the number of Basra date boxes it could take. Thereafter, the dhow  captains (nakhodas)  might make for Aden to pick up salt or ply the Red Sea before heading south for Africa, trading as they went. Alternatively they might set off from the Gulf of Oman for Bombay, keeping the shore always in sight as they sailed east. Then, after trading down the Indian coast to Cochin, the winds would take them back across the Indian Ocean to the Comoros Islands where they would wait for the Kusi to take them homeward up the African coast.

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The trade routes, of course, stretched far beyond the Indian Ocean and, during the 11th to 16th centuries when many of the Swahili city states were having their golden age, dhow merchants found ready buyers for exotic goods from China, Cambodia, Thailand and India. Today if you walk along the beach at Lamu you can pick up pieces of ancient Chinese porcelain. These wares were very popular from the 14th century, and Swahili town houses were fitted out with ornately plastered display niches (zidaka) to display their prized possessions.

It is also true that exotic goods went out from Africa. In the early 1400s, the Swahili Sultan of Malindi (north of Mombasa) despatched to the Chinese Emperor via the King of Bengal, a live giraffe along with a ‘celestial stag’ or oryx. This was taken as an ‘open for business’ calling card and thereafter the Chinese merchant ships sailed directly into East African ports.

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A Lamu ‘china cabinet’ (zidaka)

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Although the days of the big dhows are over on the Kenyan coast, we saw this one being newly built on Maruhubi Beach near Zanzibar’s Stone Town in 1999. It had been commissioned by a Somali merchant.

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Lamu’s main  street in recent times; only donkey transport will do for deliveries.

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Much of the wealth of the Swahili states came from African gold. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Shona rulers of Great Zimbabwe, far inland, were trading with the coastal Swahili city of Sofala (Mozambique). The Shona traders exchanged massive supplies of gold and ivory for Arab cloth. This gold drove the East African trade and it was not long before it was attracting European traders.

And so into the midst of this prosperity sailed Vasco da Gama (1498). He was pioneering a maritime route to India, but after his glowing accounts of the wealth he had observed while putting in at Mombasa and Malindi, (the sultan robed in damask trimmed with green satin and sitting beneath a crimson satin sunshade) Portuguese eyes turned to the East African coast. They built a number of forts there, including ones at Sofala and Mombasa, using them as strongholds in their bid to seize the Indian Ocean trade from Arab merchants.

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The Portuguese built Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1591. The building of such forts along the Swahili coast was part of their strategy to seize control of the Indian Ocean trade from the Arabs. A century later they were driven back to their Mozambique strongholds by Omani forces.

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There followed many bloody battles over the next two hundred years, and it was during this time that most of the Swahili city states fell into decline. Their only hope was to call for outside help, and it came in the shape of the Omani of Muscat who made numerous attempts to oust the Portuguese, finally pushing them back to Mozambique in the 18th century. By the 19th century much of Swahili coast was ruled by the Sultans of Oman, and in 1832 they moved their capital to Zanzibar.

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The Sultan’s Palace ‘The House of Wonders’, Zanzibar. The British navy bombarded it in 1896 in the 45-minute war.

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So now comes the real sting in this Arabian Nights’ tale. I have not mentioned the ‘S’ word. And for hundreds of years SLAVES were indeed a major ‘commodity’ shipping out from Swahili ports for destinations in Arabia and Persia. But it was not until the 19th century that the worst excesses of this terrible trade were widely documented. Under Omani rule slaving expanded. The Sultans had clove plantations to be worked. So, instead of relying on supplies of human cargo delivered by African traders from the African hinterland, Swahili slavers began to lead their own expeditions into the interior. Here they rounded up both slaves and ivory, forcing their hapless captives to carry the tusks hundreds of miles to ports like Mombasa. 

One of the most notorious slavers was Tippu Tib. His mother was a Muscat Arab aristocrat, but his father was a Swahili trader. His reign of terror extended across East Africa into what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. By 1895 he had seven plantations and 10,000 slaves. It was only in 1873 that the Zanzibar slave market was shut down.

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Tippu Tip the Zanzibari slaver (1837-1905), and the memorial to his human cargo on the site of Zanzibar’s slave market. At its height, some 50,000 souls were trafficked through this market each year, and this was only ONE market on the Swahili coast. The Sultans further exploited the slave  market by playing the Portuguese off against the French. Although the Atlantic slave trade had ceased by 1834, the buying of slaves by European and Arab merchants continued into the twentieth century. The Zanzibar slave market closed only in 1873.

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The subject of slavery now brings me back to Lamu where I started this tale. By 1652 the Lamu had had more than enough of the Portguese and called on Oman to help see them off. Thereafter Lamu became an Omani protectorate which led to a revival of the town’s fortunes. Slaves were also the chief export, and in fact the trade was not outlawed here until 1907, by which time Kenya (British East Africa) had been a British Protectorate for twelve years.

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The Swahili House Museum, Lamu, shows what life was like in an 18th-19th century merchant’s home.

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So what of the future? Will places like Lamu slumber away, selling themselves as romantic retreats for lotus-eating tourists. What kind of lives will their young people have ? Will they not simply have to leave? Or are there new ventures afoot in this Land of Zanj? Word has it that the Chinese have come calling once more, and not in response to gifts of giraffes, or to deliver more crates of blue and white porcelain. Now they have plans to turn Lamu into the biggest port in East Africa, opening up trading access for land-locked South Sudan and Ethiopia. So begins a new chapter in gyre of Indian Ocean trade. Today, it is not the Kaskazi or the Kusi that will dictate its destination and progress of this multi-ethnic enterprise, but diesel and commercial imperative. In some ways, then, not much has changed. 

Ref: John H A Jewell 1976 Dhows at Mombasa East African Publishing House

© 2013 Tish Farrell