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MALINDI

The Arabs founded Malindi as a town in the early thirteenth century. Before the arrival in East Africa of Arab from Arabia and the Persian Gulf the town of Malindi most likely did not exist. In this time the economy depended on fishing, hunting, agriculture, collecting of salt and an extensive trade in the Indian Ocean. Until the end of the fifteenth century Malindi had probably reached its zenith.

On the 15th April 1498 Vasco da Gama reached Malindi.

Malindi was at this time a kingdom and a wealthy town.

The inhabitants were mixed. The ruling class was the Arabs, the majority the Africans and because of the trade there were also some Indians. In Malindi were living around 1000 Arabs, 2500 Africans in or by Malindi and additional 2000 Africans in the surrounding plantations.

Malindis extension was app. 600 m along the seafront and inland up to 250 meters. Walls surrounded the town. The Arabs were living inside the walls in stone houses, the African mainly outside in mud-and-wattle huts with palm thatch roofs. The houses of the Arabs were rectangular, multi-storied houses made out of coral stones with flat roof and mangrove rafters used to support the ceiling. The rooms were designed around a central courtyard.

The economy consisted of agriculture and trade with various ports in the Indian Ocean. Around Malindi were large plantations with fruits (lemons, oranges), coconut palm trees, vegetables (millet, rice, sugar cane), cattle and meats. Slaves and ivory were exported. Malindi was an important port in East Africa. Because of the monsoon places all over the Indian Ocean could be reached. Malindi had an increasing importance throughout the fifteenth century.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century the Portuguese selected Malindi as a supply station for Portuguese ships. They built up their own administration, supply station and customhouses.

But even in the first half of the sixteenth century the wealth of Malindi was declining. There was a constant harassing of Arab and Indian Vessels from the Portuguese that want to have control over trade in East Africa.

1518 Mozambique took over Malindis role as supply station for Portuguese ships. The Portuguese had problems to defend Malindi and Malindi had no proper harbour.

With the construction of the Portuguese Fort Jesus in the neighboring town of Mombasa (1593) Malindi declined. Mombasa has the finest natural harbour in East Africa. The Portuguese administration and the customs houses were transferred to Mombasa. The workers, the troops and even the ruling Sheikh Muhammad of Malindi moved to Mombasa. As a result there was no administration left in Malindi.

Next Mombasa was directed by the Portuguese to be the first harbour to come in for traders of the north coast. As a result there was a reduction of trade in general and heavy looses for all other coastal towns.

 1634 the town shrunk to one-third of its original size, the Arabs were living in utter poverty. After 1666 the Portuguese lost completely control of Malindi.

 In the end of seventeenth century Galla people moving south from Somalia controlled most parts of the coast of Kenya. Malindi was abandoned. Most of the Arabs moved to Mombasa. From the end of the seventeenth century until the middle of the nineteenth century Malindi was only thinly populated.

 The Galla were defeated in the middle of the nineteenth century by the combination of Masai and Somali raids.

Malindi City


The old part of Malindi is a half-hour diversion: interesting enough, even though there's nothing specific to see and few of the buildings date from before the second half of the nineteenth century. But the juxtaposition of the earnest and ordinary business of the old town with the near-hysterical mzungu -mania only a couple of minutes' walk away on Lamu Road produces a bizarre, schizophrenic atmosphere that epitomizes Malindi.

The town has an amazingly salacious reputation which is not entirely home-grown. Some European tour operators have in the past been quite inventive in their every-comfort-provided marketing strategies.

Archeologically, Malindi's offerings are scant. The two pillar tombs in front of the Juma (Friday) Mosque on the waterfront are fine upstanding examples of the genre, though the shorter one is only nineteenth century. This being Malindi, its appearance is usually described as "circumcised", though Islamic scholars on the coast tend to dispute the automatic phallic label applied by foreigners.

Malindi's other monuments are Portuguese. Vasco da Gama Pillar (1499), down on the point of the same name, makes a good target for a stroll. The Portuguese Chapel is a tiny whitewashed cube of a church now covered with makuti , whose foundations were laid in the sixteenth century on the site of a Portuguese burial. The most recent Portuguese bequest is the ugly 1959 Monument to Prince Henry the Navigator on the seaward side of Uhuru Gardens. These monuments however contrast uncomfortably with the "Vasco da Gama = Killer" and "Da Gama traitor" graffiti which appeared around town in 1998, on the 500th anniversary of da Gama's arrival in Malindi and which are still visible in some places

 

 

 

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