Posted in travel

Malindi-Watamu Vacation: Vasco da Gama Pillar


In Malindi town on the Silversand road lies the historic pillar that was gazetted in the the National Museums of Kenya. The entrance to the magical site is Ksh 100 whereby after entry a visitor is served with the blue beauty of the Indian Ocean. The key features enroute is the Malindi Law Courts, a boat makeshift where boats are repaired, Baby Marrow restaurant and Scorpio Villas. The path to the entry gate has many vendors who rush to welcome tourists by selling their African merchandise. Got a shell keyholder at Ksh 100. You can also opt to cool your thirst by drinking the famous coastal coconut water/juice popularly known as ‘madafu’ sold at Ksh 50.

Having been born in 1460 in Portugal and qualified as a navigator; Da Gama was chosen by the King Manuel 1 to lead the expedition to out flank the Muslim traders in the Indian Ocean and discover the sea route to India by sailing around Africa through the Cape of Good Hope.

If history serves you right, up to 1500AD there was massive trade between the East Africa Coast and the Outside World. It is this trade that saw towns like Malindi grow as it brought about class of sea going and trading people who were wealthy. Portugal was the leading sea power and had well developed fast moving ships known as Carrack. The Portuguese came mainly as adventurers and explorers who on the other hand wanted to spread Christianity and stop the spread of Islam. More so, they wanted to control the Indian Ocean trade by finding a sea route to India since the land route was closed by Turkish. This is where our man came in.

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama was the first Portuguese to come to East Africa. He received a hostile reception at Mombasa and moved to Malindi where he was welcomed. In 1499, he returned to Portugal and disclosed about the lucrative trade along the East African Coast. In 1502, Vasco Da Gama conquered Kilwa. By 1515 Portugal had succeeded in conquering most of Coastal towns and bringing them under the Portuguese rule.

So how exactly did the pillar come about? Here is a chronological of events:

  • 8th July 1497, Vasco Da Gama with a fleet of four vessels Sao Gabriel, Sao Rafael, The Berrio and a 200 Ton supply ship sailed from Lisbon to India. He had a crew of 170 men among them three interpreters, 2 Arabs and one speaker of several Bantu languages. Also on board were Padrao (pillars) made of limestone and bearing the Portugal coat of arms for land marking.
  • 7th April the expedition reached Mombasa and on the 13th anchored at Malindi where he established relations with the Sheikh of Malindi. 20th May 1498 Da Gama reached Calcut-India.
  • August 1948 he left Calcut and reached Malindi on 14th January 1499 having lost many of his crew to scurvy in the sea forcing him to burn Sao Rafael.
  • As a mark of discovery and over-lordship, he erected a pillar near the Sheikh’s palace in Malindi town. Its Christian connotation caused discontent among Muslims and was taken down. Later under the Portuguese insurgence, it was set up at its present location in the 16th Century.

10th July 1499 Vasco Da Gama arrived back to Portugal with 55 crew left where he received a hero’s welcome. In 1512, he was appointed as a Portuguese Viceroy in India by King John III. The structure of the Portuguese rule was as:

King (Portugal)—-Viceroy (Goa, India)—- Captain (Mozambique)—- Governor (Mombasa)—-Soldiers (Forts).He died of an illness in December 1524 in Cochin, India.

PS: Over the last 50 years the headland on which Pillar stands has been undermined by the action of the sea and has been reinforced with concrete abutments, but it is again in perilous condition.

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Living my life, exploring it, yearning more of it and learning from it.

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