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The city of Mombasa is notably one of the best cities worldwide. Full of the most joyous, and welcoming people to ever grace the planet earth, Mombasa is a worthy bucket list addition for anyone.

However, behind all this joy and laughter lies a dark past that the modern world seems to have forgotten. History tells of a sad tale when the Kenyan coast was home to one of the most horrendous acts ever recorded. When children and women’s cries were what filled the air of this now renowned city.

History of Slave Trade in the Kenyan Coast

In 1498, Vasco de Gama, accidently discovered East African in his quest to find China. The then sultan of Mombasa took a stern stand and refused to welcome de Gama onto his lands. Unfortunately, his longtime fierce rival, the sultan of Malindi, welcomed the explorer with open arms, unaware of the grave he just dug for himself and his people.

The Portuguese explorer and his partners showed their true colors shortly after settling in the land. They looted the locals, and in a wink of an eye had made the Swahili lands their new trading grounds. Vasco de Gama and his team began innocently through trading gold from the Swahili lands to North America. However, greed for more led them to begin slave trade.

Slaves from the Kenyan coast were exported to North America to work on their vast plantations. The Portuguese traders were harsh and heartless, selling off any local they got their hands on.

In the 17th century, the former Arab traders in the Kenyan coast began reestablishment of their previous trading posts on the land. This brought a struggle for dominance, and by 1720, the Portuguese had been kicked to the curb.

Nonetheless, the locals had moved from the frying pan into the fire by this act. This is because the Arabs turned out to be wolves in sheep’s’ clothing. They improved the cities, only to set them up as new slave trading joints. Moving inland, the Arab traders exploited the rivalry between local tribes, having the stronger ones conquering the lesser, and trading them off as slaves.

Historical Sites Depicting Slave Trade

The wounds of the slave trade in the Kenyan coast may have healed but the scars still remain. Below are some historic sites that remind us of that dark time in the Swahili lands.

1. The Shimoni Slave Caves

Located in Kwale County, these caves tell of the dark, sad, and painful history of slavery. They are located 70km southwards from Mombasa City, and are five kilometres long.
These testimonial grounds were used as waiting pens by the Arabian slave traders before the slaves were sent to Zanzibar for shipping. Once inside, one can see ancient iron shackles, chains, crates, and mental studs that will leave anyone in tears just imagining what the slaves had to go through.

It is important to note that these caves were used as praying grounds by the Kaya elders before the Arabs took them over. Ironically, the elders used to pray against slave trade from the Portuguese in these caves.

2. Fort Jesus

Within the famous Old Town in Mombasa, the Portuguese built Fort Jesus in the 16th century. Its sole purpose was to serve as a fortress for observing oncoming ships, and practice slave trade.
In 1895, the British used it as a prison where slaves were held and tortured. Slaves were hidden here, and smuggled out at night for trading purposes when slave trade was deemed illegal. It was later on turned into a historical monument.

Worthy Mention

We can’t mention slave trade in the Kenyan coast without looking into Frere Town in Mombasa. When the British Royal Navy rescued the Arab slaves, they settled them in this town as they had become free slaves.
The Kenyan Coast is now no longer in chains.

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