Friday, May 15, 2015

Karibu Mombasa!

Pictorial by Barry Greville-Eyres


Iconic Moi Avenue - Mombasa. The port city boasts the largest and best deep water port in East Africa. The Swahili description of Mombasa, attributed to partly by an old line of poetry and an equally old local proverb, reads as follows: Mombasa is famous, but its waters are dangerously deep. Figuratively speaking .... the Wild East! (Africa) 

Rooftop views across the CBD - Mombasa Old Town depicting its waning crescent. Its matched by an equally inglorious past and present including rapid urbanization and overcrowding with horrendous traffic congestion; ethnic tension; sporadic Al Shebaab terror attacks; general crime and violence; high unemployment with desperate people, understandably, driven to extreme measures. Nevertheless, the city pulsates with an energy and charm that is both alluring and intoxicating. 

Mombasa's beaches and coastal resorts are exquisitely beautiful and with its warm tropical waters and climate it's an all year round, holiday destination of note.
Mombasa was already a thriving port city by the 12th century and only recently lost it's status of the chief port in East Africa when essentially superceded by Dar es Salaam in Tanzania
An important, largely unknown and controversial blemish on the distant history of Mombasa and the greater region is the slave trade of the Swahili Coast or East Africa. Between the 7th and 19th centuries its estimated that Arab and Swahili traders kidnapped 4 million slaves from East African territories and sold them for labour in households and plantations across the Middle East and Arab controlled African coastal states.
The fading fascades of slave trading infrastructure or markets are depicted in this and the picture above. Research has revealed that the East African Slave Trade both predated and exceeded (in the actual numbers of humans trafficked) the Atlantic Triangle Slave Trade although actual figures are unknown and remain highly disputed.  
A lasting legacy of the East African Slave Trade in Mombasa's Old Town are chain motifs carved into the wooden doors belonging to the homes of former slave traders.  

Another 'revealing' and exquisite set of antique doors, possibly teak, found in Old Town Mombasa. 

Intricate wood carvings of a bygone era. Slave caravans, on forced marches, from inland to coastal areas saw less than 1 in 5 survive, many either dying of disease or mercifully put out of their misery (executed) for showing weakness along the way.

A decidely different scene centuries ago........ Thousands of African boys underwent crude and unsanitary surgical procedures (castration) transforming them into eunuchs to provide servants to Arabic households and an estimated 2.5 million young African women were sold as concubines.

Yet another set of doors ..... yet this time, closing them firmly on this chapter in Mombasa's lengthy and troubled history

Fort Jesus is Mombasa's most visted location; a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site; anchor tenant of the Old Town and principal structure of the city's harbour. It was intended to represent Portuguese domination and colonization, as a fortified headquarters, in this part of the Indian Ocean. The target of several Swahili rebellions and a procession of foreign occupiers, it changed hands 9 times between 1631 and 1875.


A splendid arch with an equally splendid view constructed out of coral by invading Portuguese sailors in 1593. Vasco da Gama was the first Portuguese visitor to the Port of Mombasa and East Africa in 1498. Follow up visits and conquests took place in 1505 and 1528 where the town was repeatedly plundered and razed to the ground.

Would the yarn this olde battle-scarred boabab, cemented into coral crevices in close proximity to Fort Jesus, have to tell differ markedly from 'official' accounts and folklore?

Up close and personal with the giant coral castle - Fort Jesus. The Portuguese were eventually dethroned in 1698 by invading Omani Arabs. The British joined the procession in 1870 when they replaced the Omani Arabs. There is little wonder that the Swahili nickname for Mombasa is 'The Island of War.'  

All roads and narrow alleyways in Old Town Mombasa lead to Fort Jesus
Landward view, from the Indian Ocean, of the deep water Mombasa port and Fort Jesus 



Panoramic Pause # 1.

Panoramic Pause # 2.

Old Town Mombasa - heritage buildings with wooden filigreed porches
Further yet more elabotate wooden filigreed porches in the Old Town precint


Trade in the off tourist and rainy season is exceedingly slow - time for a breather and a friendly smile


You are very welcome!  Expressively written all over the face of Ibrahim Ahmed Mohamed T/A Swahili Styles Furnitures - Old Town Mombasa ( The sheer beauty of the Old Town is that its a 'working one' with people living and working there, as was the case for centuries, like any other town. 


Colour, character, charm and culture - Old Town-style!


In 1920 Kenya became a fully fledged British colony and the Mombasa Club was one of the very first exclusive colonial 'institutions' - ironically a stone's throw from another former seat of foreign/colonial occupation in Fort Jesus.

Moi Avenue - obviously renamed after gaining independence from Britain in 1963 with many eye-catching architectural landmarks
Another landmark in the traditional CBD and well within walking distance of Old Town Mombasa
Flying Kenyan indepedence high!


More eye-catching landmarks in the CBD

The eclectic blend of architectural styles is easy on the eye and soul, making the Mombasa CBD an extremely interesting destination 


Street scene CBD - Mombasa

Mombasa's heritage retained and protected irrespective of the era - past and present


Mombasa's public beaches are vibrant, exotic and a huge drawcard for adventure-junkies - note the camel on the right foreground.
Colorful backdrop on the sugary sands of Mombasa public beach


Weekend - beach and party time!


The off-peak tourist season .... pristine beaches



Vacant upmarket beach resorts - sadly experiencing mass tourist stayaways as a consequence of numerous travel advisories put out by western governments in the wake of an upswing in Al Shebaab terror attacks. 


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post & beautiful images thank you for sharing. It's desperately sad seeing such wonderful places so quiet.