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.
15th April 1498
Vasco da Gama reached Malindi.
Malindi was at this
time a kingdom and a wealthy town.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
The Galla were
defeated in the middle of the nineteenth century by the
combination of Masai and Somali raids.
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