Jumba la Mtwana

Jumba La Mtwana, Kilifi

These Swahili ruins, just north of Mtwapa Creek, have as much archaeological grandeur as the more famous Gede Ruins. Jumba la Mtwana means ‘Big House of Slaves’ and locals believe the town was an important slave port in the 14th or 15th centuries. There’s a small museum on Swahili culture and an excellent restaurant by the sea, and the custodian gives excellent tours for a small gratuity. The ruins are down a 3km access road, 2km north of Mtwapa Creek bridge.

Within this area, four mosques, a tomb, and four houses have survived in recognizable condition. These houses include the House of the Cylinder, The House of the Kitchen, The House of the many pools, which had three phases, and the Great Mosque. The inhabitants of this town were mainly Muslims as evidenced by a number of ruined mosques.

There are no written historical records of the town but ceramic evidence showed that the town had been built in the fourteenth century but abandoned early in the fifteenth century. The dating is based on the presence of a few shreds of early blue and white porcelain with lung-chuan celadon, and the absence of any later Chinese wares.

It is most likely the site’s strategic position was selected because of the presence of fresh water, exposure to the North East and South East breezes which would keep the people cool and its safe location from external attacks by sea since it had no harbor, thus larger vessels had to anchor a long way offshore, or move probably in Mtwapa creek. One can only, therefore, guess reasons for its eventual desertion, namely trade interruption, hostile invasion or failure in the water supply. Though there is a need to pursue further research on this.

Clearance and excavation of the ruins were first carried out in 1972 by James Kirkman with a view of dating the buildings, it’s period of occupation and consolidating buildings that were in danger of collapse. Ten years later in 1982, Jumba la Mtwana was gazetted as a National Monument. Thus Jumba is legally protected under Antiquities and Monuments Act Chapter 215 of the Laws of Kenya.

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