HISTORY: Short History Of Pate Island In Kenya - Discover Africa
A Short History Of Pate Island
Arguably one of Kenya’s best-kept lore is from Pate on the Kenyan coast.
In 1890, a British force led by one Admiral Fremantle attacked the island of Witu and adjoining coastal areas, bringing them under British control. In the wake of the attacks, the original manuscript that had recordings of the history of Pate was tragically lost.
This recording was simply known as The Book Of The Kings of Pate. Many historical events going back centuries back had been recorded in this manuscript. Some scholars, making reference to the written Arabic-Swahili manuscript, termed it the Pate Chronicle.
The Pate Chronicle found its way to modern records in 1903 when the Liwali of Lamu, one Abed bin Hamad, ordered for its reconstitution.
A significant part of the Pate Chronicle’s reconstitution was attributed to the efforts of Bwana Kitini, aka Muhammad bin Fumo Umar Nabahani. Bwana Kitini, or Fumo Bakari (we shared a post on him before) was a descendant of Pate island’s ruling family. The Nabahani family ruled Pate for many years.
Through the Pate Chronicles, we learn about events and incidences that took place at the Kenyan coast dating back centuries. For example, the Pate Chronicle had the following entry from the 16th century:
“[Portuguese] influence grew great in the town of Pate, and they taught people how to excavate wells…by gunpowder. The Portuguese built houses on the rock and made an underground passage to Pongwa rock. For a long time they lived together in friendship and traded with every kind of thing….”
When in the 1560s the Portuguese started levying all manner of taxes on coastal towns and trade boats, the people of Pate rebelled and refused to pay.
The Portuguese decided to teach Pateans a lesson. So they blockaded the island town with gunned ships. Two “sharifs” visiting the island exhorted Pateans to pray to Allah for protection against the Portuguese big guns.
Allah did respond favorably to the pleas and prayers of the people of Pate according to the Pate Chronicle. The cannon bombs fired by the Portuguese Navy offshore only managed to whistle harmlessly over the island.
In 1569, there was also a visit to the East African coast by Montclaro, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. Montclaro described the destruction of Malindi (by tidal floods) as well as the dereliction of Pate. He attributed the latter development to the departure of Portuguese ships.
“The principal kings here used to be those of Kilwa and Malindi, but all are now petty rulers, poor and without power, more worthy to be called sheikhs than kings”.
He wrote on:
“The people are generally poor and wretched in nearly all these parts, and the Portuguese are already becoming so through the loss of commerce and navigation taken from them by their enemies.”
According to the Priest, so unpopular were the Portuguese that upon departure of their armada from Pate, Portuguese remnants on the island, mostly merchants, were rounded up by locals and killed.
But not everyone was against the Portuguese.
We learn from the Pate Chronicle that in 1568 Turkish sailors attacked a town called Cambo, which was situated off the Lamu archipelago on the mainland.
The Queen of Cambo had been friendly to the Portuguese. She refused to hand in Portuguese merchants over to the Turks. So the Turks decided to take her away instead. However, she managed to dive overboard from her captors’ ship and swam herself to freedom.
We also learn, again from Montclaro, that Pate had a successful silk industry which, arguably, had been learnt from the Chinese.
According to available historical records, a fleet of Chinese ships commanded by a Chinese Admiral, Zheng He, had earlier visited the coast of East Africa. One or several ships in the fleet ran aground off the eastern coast of Pate. Its sailors managed to salvage some of the ship’s cargo of porcelain and other wares and swam ashore.
The Chinese later married local women and converted to Islam. Indeed, to this day some people of Pate claim to have mixed Patean and Chinese ancestry. Pateans also say that it was the Chinese who introduced silk and porcelain craft to the East African coast.
Some of you may have heard of Mwamaka Shariff Ali, a Pate girl who a few years ago won a scholarship from the Chinese government to study Chinese traditional medicine. She is believed to be a descendant of mixed Pate and Chinese parents.
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