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The rise and fall of Pate Island

Filed under: global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:56 am

Pate Island gained prominence in the 14th Century under Arab rule.

In 1597 the Portuguese destroyed Faza town in Pate when the Sheikh supported their enemy, Mirale Bey.

A notorious privateer, Bey had played a key role in ousting the Portuguese from Muscat in Oman.

The Portuguese raided Faza from Goa with 650 men and killed everybody — including the Sheikh, whose head they preserved in a barrel of salt for display in India.

After the four-day massacre, the Portuguese invited Faza’s archrivals in Pate town to loot.

Town excelled in fine arts

Neglected cannons at the historic Siu Fort on Pate Island. The cannons were used during wars between locals, Portuguese and Omani Arab invaders.Although it rose from the ruins in the 18th century, Faza had been overtaken by Pate town. To date Pate town is more developed than Faza and has guesthouses and shops.

Despite being a tourist attraction, Faza has no lodging or hotel.

Pate town, which was founded by refugees from Oman in the 8th century, is situated on the Southwest of Pate Island. According to Wikipedia, members of the Nabahani family from Oman founded the town in 1204.

Pate town became so powerful that it overshadowed most of the towns along the East African coast. Recent archaeological findings by Mr Neville Chittick, an archaeologist, suggest that the town could be younger.

Pate’s “Golden Age” was in the 18th century when the town underwent a renaissance. The town excelled in fine arts. Builders constructed some of the finest houses on the East African coast. They had extensive and elaborate plaster works.

Pate fell due to continuous wars with its neighbours

Weavers made fine silk cloths, goldsmiths created intricate jewellery and carpenters carved fine wooden furniture.

The town produced the famous Siwa drum, two of which are on display at Lamu Museum.

Poets excelled in writing poetry in Kiamu, a Kiswahili dialect.

The 19th century renowned poet, Mwana Kupona, lived in Pate town — where one of the earliest known Kiswahili document: Utendi wa Tambuka, was written in the royal Yunga Palace.

Pate fell due to continuous wars with its neighbours. The famous Battle of Shela, which was between Pate and Lamu, ended in a costly defeat.

Many people were killed and only a handful soldiers returned to Pate. By 1892 the town’s population had dwindled to only 300 people from 7,000.

Village is known for its leather craft

Despite its rich history, Pate has no jetty or footbridge. After alighting at Mtangawanda, village visitors walk for about 45 minutes.

Siyu village on the north coast of Pate Island dates back to the 13th century. A visitor to the town in 1606, Gaspar de Santo Bernadino, described it as the largest town on the island.

The village is known for its leather craft, including sandals, belts and stools.

Siyu defied the Sultan of Zanzibar through several battles. They led to the building of Fort Siu under the direction of their leader, Bwana Mataka.

The fort played a critical role in 1843 when Bwana Mataka and the Sheikh of Pate repudiated the sovereignty of the Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar, Seyyid Said.

Said assembled an army of 2,000 people from Muscat, Baluchistan and Lamu to attack Siyu and Pate.

Fort walls have gaping cracks

A relative of the Sultan — General Seyyid Hamad bin Ahmed Al-Busaidy — led the army that landed in Faza in January 1844.

On its way to Siyu the army was ambushed and forced back to Faza. The general was killed near Siyu in 1844 and the army sailed away after six weeks of losses.

The general’s inscribed tombstone near the shores of Faza — which was built by his great, great granddaughter, the Sultana of Zanzibar, in 1959 — stands as a reminder of the battle. The cracked tomb is neglected.

The Fort, which is owned by the National Museums of Kenya, is dilapidated. The walls have gaping cracks. The cannons that were used during the wars are rusting away in front of the fort.

Officials at the National Museums of Kenya say they are not aware that the fort is crumbling. When first contacted, they seemed unaware that it existed.

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