Posted in culture, travel

Malindi-Watamu Vacay: Malindi Cultural Complex

Just behind Jamhuri Street within Malindi town lies The National Museum of Kenya that was gazetted as a National Monument in 1991 and opened to the public on 24th December 2013. The entrance here is Ksh 100.

Long time ago in the colonial days (story time), the building was known as “Old D.O’s Office, The Boma or Kwa Balozi” as it used to house offices on the ground floor and the living accommodations in the upper floor for the District Collector later the District Commissioner. The house was beautifully situated facing the sea with front steps leading to the beach. Constructed in the early 1890’s for the Imperial British East African Company which by British Royal Charter took over for 50years the Sultan of Zanzibar’s mainland concession from Kipini to Vanga.

Local sources relate the building was an Indian trader’s house purchased and enlarged by IBEACo. Mr J.BellSmith, an employee of IBEACo, oversaw the construction of the building, known then as the District Collector’s Office to serve as the Company’s first office.

The Complex included the garage (present Chief’s office), the District Officer’s cottage (presently My Way Bar and Restaurant) and the Prince Henry the Navigator Monument, four cannons (3 iron and 1 bronze) and a bronze bell. The bronze cannon was fired to start the Malindi Festival each year and the bell was rung to mark office hours. November 1996, the building became the office of the first Malindi District Commissioner, Ms Claire Omollo; when Malindi which was a Sub-District of the larger Kilifi District was elevated to full District Status.

Prince Henry the Navigator monument

The large airy rooms on the upper floor now contain exhibitions on the Mijikenda and Taita/Dawida people while the ground floor has Swahili and the History of Malindi exhibitions. Navigate your way through the pictures:

Swahili sandals
Swahili spray vessels and jewelry
Swords used by Swahili groom
Swahili serving plate
Tools used by swahili women

Ground floor

1. Mercury and copper ingots- Mercury was used in maritime ships as part of medicine. It was used to treat sailors for syphilis. Copper on the other hand was shipped in large quantities as the Portuguese were interested in spices. To enable its shipping it was moulded into Plano-convex or half moon shapes. The Fueger family from Augusburg, Germany and the Wesler Family were the most ancient and porominent copper merchants. Scholars have attributed the seals on the copper as a trademark to stop people from selling fakes giving the supplier a unique identity. These here have the Fueger seal.

Mercury and copper

2. Underwater cultural heritage- the unexploited rich culture is yet to be maximized. By this I mean going underwater to see ship wrecks that are found in Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi. Yes, we got these here in Kenya, forget the TV series. Am amazed and this should be added to my to-do-list. Other interesting finds include ivory from the Mombasa shipwrecks still buried in the sea, iron and stone anchors recovered from these ships are at display in Fort Jesus museum. On this floor you get Ship Wreck Database; land, maritime and nautical archaeology is also explained in depth; how to excavate a shipwreck and the importance of underwater cultural heritage. Shipwrecks found at Mombasa include: santa Antonio de tanna, globe star, kota menang, Sussex and Ahmadi. Ngomeni shipwreck is found in Malindi while in Lamu they are found around Pate, Manda and Shella.


3. Swahili exhibits- Here you find attire and vessels used in wedding ceremonies and utensils used in serving of food.

Traditional pulleys
Swahili farming and building tools

Upper Floor

Most of the magic also spreads to this floor as one gets a glimpse of the Taita culture. On this vacation I went with my Taita best friend and you should have seen her face when she got to learn about her culture. Excitement was all over. From traditional huts, bed, building tools, utensils, cooking pots, attires, ornaments, music instruments to tools used in healing and spirit excorcism; this is Taita’s one stop destination.

Taita ornaments
Taita traditional hut
Serving and cooking spoons

Cooking pots

Who are the Taitas/ Dawhida origin? 🤷🏽

Traditionally they claim origins from the slopes of Mt.Kilimanjaro at Rombo where God created them. God them a leader –Muisanga (the owner of a nation) at a divine installation ceremony called “Mwari ghwa Kirombo” meaning the “Initiation at Rombo.”

God continued to tutor the Dawhida head called MDawhida, for forty days on leadership and everything concerning the intestines and showed him how to interpret the life of people, seasons and omens using the intestines. Therefore Taita Diviners use goat intestines to identify the source of problems. 😂🤣(This here sounds funny).

God enthroned MDawhida and gave him a covenant box that contained a bell (Mmanga) through which the community would pray to him. And finally a covenant bag that contained seven medicine gourds for cleansing all sinners. During the period the Dawhida celebrated for 30 days without doing heavy work. Then God gave MDawhida dominion over the whole world and thereafter he disappeared forever! 😲(Don’t ask to where, even me am trying to connect this story am telling you). To date “Mwari ghwa Kirombo” is the most significant of all initiation ceremonies of the Dawhida people.

They lived in clans called ‘Vichuku.’ Women had their own clans (Wakenda-people of the nine) to which their daughters only belonged. Lineages were present that conducted rituals for members, their village and land and these lineages were of most importance. Kinyumba were extended units more like a family/home which maintained close relationships among kinspeople, unity and economic empowerement.

Kinyumba units
Modern Taita house
Blacksmith practice
Farming tools and honey harvesting
Traditional bed
Healing and exorcism tools
Balcony views