A journey down the Swahili coast of Kenya (from Lamu island to Zanzibar island – in Tanzania; separate posts will follow on these two destinations). Meantime: here’s some of the in-between places that form the Islamic, Swahili coast of East Africa.

takaungu- kenya

Locals fishing and collecting seafood during low tide at the small town river estuary beach of Takaunga. I later hung-out with young fishermen, under the shade of the baobab tree.

The ancient Swahili culture is African Islamic, with a touch of India, and east Asia, too. For centuries traders from Shiraz in Iran and Oman had traded and later settled along the East African coast. Along with Islam, they brought with them a written language and connections to vast ocean trade routes that reached India, Indonesia, and China.


Fort Jesus – an Unesco site – was built in 1593 by the Portugese on Mombasa island. But changed hands 9 times between 1631 + 1875, due to attacks by Swahili rebels, Omani troops and later, the British.

Swahili culture developed in about 60 cities long the eastern coast (from present-day Mogadishu in Somalia to Sofala in Mozambique). Most famously however, were the centers of power established at the archipelago sultanates of Lamu and Zanzibar.


Swahili ruins at Gede. The city reached its peak in the 15th century … and was abandoned in the 17th or 18th century. Mosque overgrown by a tree – reminding me of Ta Phrom temple at Angkor, in Cambodia

The Islamic world controlled these trade routes to India and Asia.  Until the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498, who first sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, looking for a sea-route to India; within 3 decades of Da Gama landing, Portugal had subdued and controlled the region, in its desire to muscle in on the lucative spice trade that had been dominated by Muslims for many centuries.


Gorgeous river estuary at Kilifi. RIGHT: houses of expats amid colors of dusk and rainstorm; Swahili ruins of Mnarani on a bluff above the river at Kilifi. NOTE: intact Arabic inscriptions and pillar tomb.

After Da Gama’s voyages, Portugese forts and firepower began sprouting up along strategic ports / resupply locations around the coasts of west and east Africa, and across the Persian Gulf to India (Goa + Diu), and later to Indonesia’s Spice Islands (Ambon and East Timor) and up into China at Macau.


Swahili ruins of small mosque at  Kilifi, overshadowed by Kenya’s 4th largest baobab tree. It is 900 years old, and is still a sacred ceremonial place – that pre-dates the arrival of Islam in the region.

But the Portuagese invaders didn’t get it all their way on the coast, with fort seizures by other European powers and devastatingly defeated by the armies of Oman. And by the early 18th century, Portugal had lost its control of the Swahili coast to the Omani Arab sultanate, based in Zanzibar.


The reason to visit mega-resort Diani beach was not the l;ovely beach, but solely to stay in a tree-house backpackers, surrounded by bush and monkeys and birds, etc. LEFT: Cobus monkey + baby. RIGHT: Enjoying beer in the heat on my jungle balcony; Sykes monkeys – bastards. They managed somehow – even the management can’t fathom how they can get in – but they squeezed into my locked hut, as I was showering around dusk, and ripped open my cardboard cask of red wine and spilt it all on the floor… suppose that’s what happens when I poke out my tongue and film them – without their permission … !


LEFT: Cross monument where Vasco da Gama set foot in 1492 on the Swahili coast at Malindi and befriended the local Sultan, who inturn helped the Portuguese navigator sail onto India, via a guide with trade-winds knowledge and hence began the era of Portuguese domination of the Indian Ocean trade routes. LEFT BELOW: Swahili ruins at Gede. RIGHT: Postcard-cliche Diani beach – Kenya’s mega resort-land.


People of Swahili coast: Getting a local fry-up – spiced potatoes – to have with my beer; Boarding the ferry from Mombassa island to the mainland; Islamic woman in old town of Mombassa, passing the Hindu-Indian influences from this ancient trade route.


Having taken a motorbilke taxi, then crossed the estuary at low-tide by small boat, I arrived at Takaungu village, to gaze out at the rivermouth view to the sea.

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