Historic Sites at the Coast

Historic Sites in Lamu County

Friday Mosque in Shela Village near Lamu.  Photo Courtesy of Rupi Mangat
Friday Mosque in Shela Village near Lamu. Photo Courtesy of Rupi Mangat

Lamu Town is mentioned by the Portuguese in 1506 when Tristao da Cunha blockaded it and imposed a tribute which was paid without resistance. In 1585 the Turkish captain Mir Ali Bay visited the town and took an ex-Portuguese captain prisoner. The town was later punished twice for this, once in 1589 and again in 1678; in each case the town’s ruler was executed by the Portuguese in Pate. After 1813, when Lamu became a protectorate of Oman, the town was administered by local liwali (viceroys), answerable to the Omani sultans ruling first from Muscat and, after 1840, from Zanzibar. After 1895 the liwalis of Lamu were linked to the British colonial administration through the liwali of the coast sitting in Mombasa. Between 1813 and 1963 Lamu had 24 liwalis; the last, Aziz bin Rashid, took over office in 1948 and continued until independence in 1963.


36. Matondoni Ruins

At Matondoni are three mosques, all of which are still in use. At the north end of the Riyadha (or Friday) Mosque is a tomb which had a 1 ms wide octagonal pillar, a section of which can still be seen on the ground northeast of the tomb. In front of this tomb is another, interesting for the roof of makuti that covers the tomb, resting on the top of the five-riser step ends. About 80 metres south of the mosque is a small tomb with four-riser step ends; on the east wall was a small tombstone, with an inscription too eroded to read. West of the mosque is a recent stone tomb with four piers on each of the side walls and a high central pier on the east and west walls, the purpose of which is to support a makuti roof over the structure. There is a wooden door in the east wall. It was built by the grandson of the deceased, on the mother’s side, and is the object of visitation for prayers. West of the lisikiti va Kuru is a group of five old tombs and a more recent grave. Near the sea is a ruined house with two central and two chambers.

37. Kipungani Ruins

At Kipungani, on the southwest side of Lamu Island, are a ruined mosque, some tombs, and scatters of pottery. The mosque stands to its full height, though in bush; it was probably a three-aisle “southern” type. The mihrab was wide and deep, and appears to have been removed from the mosque. At the south end of the mosque was the cistern for ablutions, fed from a five-sided well southeast of the mosque. There are two tombs at the edge of the sea at Kipungani, of which one is a large square tomb with probably seven-riser step ends. The seaward side of this tomb has collapsed, and only the northeastern corner of a tomb that once abutted it to the south still remains. Kipungani is also home to Kipungani Explorer, a secluded ocean-facing which contains 13 spacious bandas that sit at one end of Kipungani Bay. “The bandas are built entirely from local materials, with mkeka palm floors and makuti thatch roofs woven by the natives of nearby village”, from where guests can enjoy its palm lined shaded 600-ms beachfront.

38. Takwa Ruins

View of a Section of the Takwa Ruins on Manda Island. Image Courtesy

At the southeastern edge of Manda Island, 2 kms east of the Maljis Hotel, on a low hill, sit the famous Takwa Ruins, which, according to J. Kirkman who first excavated the site, belong to the 16th and 17th Centuries. As with many adage towns along the Swahili Coast Takwa was deserted mysteriously in the 17th Century, presumably for the lack of fresh water. The Pate chronicles claim that the towns at Manda Island succumbed to the power of Pate and a section of the inhabitants escaped across the creek to Lamu Island. The story is continued in the Lamu chronicle which says that although the people of Lamu were prepared to give them shelter they did not, however, permit them to build their houses of stone. Takwa Ruins have the remains of a large mosque; above its mihrab is a pillar. The feature appears once more in the 15 Century domed mosque of Kilwa where the stone pillar is fluted. There are remains of a second town just east of Takwa. The center of interest at Takwa is the stone column about 2.5 ms high at its northern end. There are didactic panels at the site providing plenty of useful information for trippers to the ruins, courtesy of National Museums of Kenya. Takwa Ruins are approached from the mainland (Shela or Lamu) via a narrow mangrove fringed channel into Manda Island. Allow yourself at least two hours to get to the ruins, although many a travel writer insist the boat tour and walk takes an hour. Once at the jetty, there is raised a boardwalk leading to the ruins.

Spatial Location of Takwa Ruins on Manda Island

39. Nabahani Ruins

Part of the astounding ruins found around Pate Town, some thought to date back to as early as the 9th Century, are the crumbling Nabahani Ruins; which later merged with its early town buildings. Nabahani were a group of ousted prominent Arabs who settled into the existing settlement at Pate Island some time in the 9th Century. Also prominent on Pate Island are its ruins of the old Swahili towns of Shanga and Faza and the great Siyu Fort. At her prime, Pate was a prominent trade post which dominated most trade in Lamu. During the 17th Century Portugal succeeded in asserting its ascendency over the larger stretch of the coast. Portuguese garrisons occupied several points at the Coast, and kept a customs house in Pate. Later that century, Portugal’s position in the Indian Ocean was deteriorating in the face of intense competition from Dutch and English. Swahili dissent was led by Pate, aided by the Omani, rose against the Portuguese five times during the 17th Century. Portugal’s end came with the capture of Fort Jesus by the Omani Arabs in 1669, after a siege of thirty months.