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Our First Full Day In Mombasa — Old Town and Fort Jesus

Map of Old Town in Mombasa, Kenya

Map of Old Town, Mombasa, Kenya

Our first stop was Old Town. We didn’t go deep into Old Town, though, our primary reason for going there being Fort Jesus. But just outside the entrance to Fort Jesus, there’s a huge coffee pot in the middle of a traffic circle. The coffee pot was a gift to Mombasa, built by Mr. Burhan Ali Taher in 1988.

Coffee Pot in Mombasa, Kenya

The Coffee Pot in the traffic circle

Coffee Pot in Mombasa, Kenya

The Coffee Pot in Mombasa, Kenya

Najwa at the coffee pot in Mombasa, Kenya

Najwa at the Coffee Pot, getting sleepy

Coffee pot in Mombasa, Kenya

About the Coffee Pot in Mombasa, Kenya

Coffee Pot in Mombasa, Kenya

Plaque about the funding of the Coffee Pot

Obelisk in Mombasa, Kenya

An obelisk just outside Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya

Obelisk in Mombasa, Kenya

The obelisk in is memory of Arthur John Byng Wavell

Arthur Wavell spent three years at Winchester College before going to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the Welsh regiment in 1900, and saw service in the South African War before he was nineteen, being awarded the queen’s medal, with three clasps. Afterwards he was specially employed by the War Office to travel and make maps and report on practically the whole of Swaziland, Tongaland, and northern Zululand. In 1905 he was again employed by the War Office to cross the Kalahari Desert and report on the protectorate of Bechuanaland.

In 1906 Wavell resigned his commission and went to British East Africa to indulge in biggame shooting. Later, with others, he acquired a vast tract of land in Nyali; in due course this was registered as Nyali Sisal Estate Ltd and, in 1911, as the Nyali Plantation Ltd.

In Mombasa he learned Arabic and Swahili, and interested himself in Islam. From this study grew a desire to explore Arabia, and in 1908 he proceeded to realize his ambition by setting out from London disguised as a Zanzibari with a Turkish passport, using the name Ali bin Muhammad, in the company of a Swahili from Mombasa called Masaudi; at Marseilles Wavell invited ‘Abd al-Wahid, an Arab from Aleppo who had been long resident in Berlin, to join them. The trio reached Damascus and ultimately Medina and Mecca without serious difficulty.

Wavell then returned to his sisal estate at Nyali, and was still there at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Although he had already joined the special reserve of his old regiment, the Welsh, he was retained in British East Africa because he was regarded as necessary to its defense. At this time there were no coastal forces in Mombasa, but two so-called reserve companies were soon formed, one from former askaris of the King’s African rifles, and one from Hadhramis and other Arabic speakers. This latter unit, created and inspired by Wavell’s unique personality, was widely known as ‘Wavell’s own.’

Promoted major and put in charge of the South Coast, near the border with German East Africa, he proved conspicuously successful in handling the men under his command. He built a fortified observation post at Mwele in the Shimba Hills.

On 8 January 1916, he marched out against a German column but was caught in a well prepared German ambush. In spite of wounds he kept on firing, dying on 9 January; he was buried with Lieutenant John Lachlan Mackintosh at Mkongani before being reburied at Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England after the war.


The Malombe sisters with their little ones

Nduku and her sister Mutethya with their little ones

Along a wall near the entrance to Fort Jesus, there’s some graffiti [actually just quotes] that I found interesting and amusing. Especially the one in memory of the King of Pop.

Graffiti in Mombasa, Kenya

Graffiti in Mombasa, Kenya

Graffiti in Mombasa, Kenya

Graffiti in Mombasa, Kenya

One of the unique features of the Swahili people are the elaborately-decorated doors. They are common in Mombasa and other coastal sites, mainly in Kenya and Tanzania, such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Lamu and so on. Each door has its own uniqueness, they’re very intricate with carvings of scriptures from the Koran and lots of symbolism.

Swahili Door Carvings in Mombasa, Kenya

With its muted architecture, the ornately carved door became the most important feature of the external appearance of a house. Its quality and size was a sign of the houseowners status and wealth. As Richard Burton in 1857 commented, “the higher the tenement, the bigger the gateway, the heavier the padlock and the huger the iron studs that nail the door of the heavy timber, the greater is the owner’s dignity.” (Sheriff, Jafferi, 2001)

When the ladies and I bury roots and move into a new home, I’m going to find out how much it costs to get my own door. The trick is to see if Nduku will let me install it as our front door. If not, it’ll be the entryway to the man cave.

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