January 20, 2013

Gedi Ruins, south of Malindi, Kenya Coast

The ruins of Gedi, an 13th or 14th century Swahili town, lie just south of Malindi, east of the Malindi-Mombasa road junction with the modern town of Gedi. The town was originally called Kilimani, but when bands of migrant Oromo from the north settled in the town in the 16th century, they renamed the town "Gedi" which means "precious" in Oromo. Or so said our able local guide. All the guidebook phrases about this being "Kenya's most important archaeological site" may be overblown, but the atmosphere here is thick with a presence, neither ominous nor helpful, just...watchful. The ruins lie in the midst of what was once a vast forest, and wildlife are frequent visitors to the site.

This was Swahili material culture and civilization at its apex, an elegant trading city along what was once likely the coast (the coastline has shifted over the centuries), with a population of perhaps 3000, a magnificent palace with barazas for men and women and an elegant bathing area, several large mosques once lit by oil lamps, chinese ceramics embedded in rich homes as symbols of wealth and status, and an absolutely unique style of fluted pillar tomb architecture. Above the doorway of the Great mosque, engraved in stone, is a spearhead--perhaps indicative of how indigenous Islam had become for the Swahili communities of the coast well before the coming of the first major Omanis migrations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Another must-see for travelers to the Kenya Coast.


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