Published On: Mon, Dec 22nd, 2014
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Touring the Ruins of Gedi

Though we were staying in a paradise, we had to get out and explore the surrounding area. And just around the corner was what was left of a Swahili town called the Ruins of Gedi.

Osama and David

Osama and David

When you first get there, there are guenon monkeys running around all over the place. Generally they’re not so pleasant, but our guide assured us that the ones at the entrance are tame, friendly monkeys just looking for something to eat. One of the monkeys, the bully of the tamed monkeys, they call Osama. He scares away the other monkeys, selfishly hogging up all the bananas. He was quite friendly.

Our guide did mention that the monkeys liked to “play” with the kids. The adults they’re scared of, but kids are smaller so the monkeys tend to approach them more often. Only, he didn’t mention that “playing” involved taking a swipe at the legs and scratching these little people.

Scratches

Najwa showing where Osama scratched her leg.

It took a moment, but we convinced Najwa not to want to leave. To her, of course, these monkeys were evil and scary monsters. Eventually she calmed down, and like kids her age, she forgot about it. Nduku, though, stayed on high alert.

From the 13th or 14th to 17th centuries, Gedi was a thriving community along the jungle coast of East Africa. Although no written record exists of this town, excavations between 1948 and 1958 revealed that the Muslim inhabitants traded with people from all over the world. Some of the findings included beads from Venice, coins and a Ming vase from China, an iron lamp from India, and scissors from Spain. The population was estimated to exceed at least 2,500 people. These items can be found in the museum in the complex which was opened in 2000.

Once you reach the ruins, there’s this huge weird looking tree. These trees wrap themselves around other trees and whatever else it can to grow. They’re actually just as cool as the ruins themselves.

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The ruins are just that. Ruins. The inhabitants lived in these small stone-built spaces, somehow supporting a couple thousands people. With a little imagination, and an explanation from the guide, you’ll see how they build their showers, the storage area where they kept their jewels and other prized possessions, the throne, the mosque, bath room [as in where they bathed] and so forth.

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The Dated Tomb of Gedi Ruins

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The Dated Tomb consists of a large oval tombstone with an epitaph incised in plaster, partially erased but sufficiently legible for the date A.H. 802/A.D. 1399 to be read. The importance of the tomb is that it provides a fixed point in time to which the other buildings at Gedi can be related.

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Nduku at the Tomb of the Fulted Pillar
Next to the Dated Tomb is the Tomb Of The Fluted Pillar. This is one of the forms taken by the pillar tombs, which are found all along the coast of East Africa. They are said to be phallic, although Arabs or Africans do not often recognize this significance. It is possible that they are related to the naturalistic phallic pillars found on graves of the Hamitic people of Ethiopia and Somalia, or to the monolithic pillars of Madagascar. In either case they are evidence of African elements in the Arab culture of the coast.

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The Great Mosque

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Queen Malombe on the royal throne of Gedi Ruins
The Great Mosque, built in the middle of the fifteenth century and rebuilt a hundred years later, is a typical East African congregational mosque or Jumaa. The plan is rectangular with three doors in each of the long walls. It is approached through a courtyard with a well, conduit and cistern at the north end and an octagonal pillar tomb at the southeast corner. Beyond the courtyard is a covered veranda, with a small store and a flight of steps going up to the roof from which the call to prayer was given. In the north wall of the mosque, the Mihrab, once decorated with porcelain bowls, shows the direction of Mecca. To the right of the Mihrab stands a Minbar, or pulpit, of three steps. The roof was supported oil three rows of six rectangular pillars, the middle row running down the center of the building and obscuring the view of the Mihrab. This is a curious arrangement, only found in East Africa. The square niches in the pilasters along the walls arc for lamps. Below the rectangular pillars can be seen the square pillars of the original mosque. The partition wall cutting off the rear three bays was probably a final modification when the roof had partially collapsed and only part of the mosque was being used. Outside the mosque on the west is another veranda, which is an addition.

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House of the Paneled Wall
Leading off the street, going north, is the House Of The Paneled Walls, with two large courts in front of it, a door between the two middle rooms and two lavatories.

The guide did an amazing job explaining all the rooms, the areas, exactly what we were looking at. I just did a bad job remembering what was what as I was taking pictures. But some of the other highlights he mentioned included the House Of The Porcelain Bowl, Gedi House Of The Cowries, House Of The Cistern, Gedi’s Annexe, Mosque Of The Long Conduit and others:

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The North Gate to enter the village

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Going through the House of the Ivory Box there are the entrances of two houses on the left. The House Of The Iron Lamp is one of the older houses of Gedi and was originally approached from a courtyard, which was subsequently appropriated by the House of the Scissors. The iron lamp was found in the front room under the debris of the roof. Beyond, is the House Of The Venetian Bead, a later add on. On the floor were found a Small celadon dish with volute edges and a necklace of shell beads with a single glass bead of a type, known as a Rosetta bead, made in Venice. The bowl was probably set in the roof and the necklace was dropped on the day of the panic.

Turning left at the comer of this house, the street between it, and the destroyed House of the Chinese Cash runs on between the House of the Paneled Walls and the House of the Cistern.

At the end of the back wall of the House of the Venetian Bead is a door leading down a passage into the House Of The Sunken Court. This house is part of the same block as the House of the Iron Lamp and is one of the most elaborate at Gedi. The passage opens into a small lobby with seats round the sides, from which access to the reception court is provided. An intercommunicating room provides access to the reception court from the kitchen, without the necessity of going through the house. In the outer room is a stand for a jar of drinking water, with a shelf for cups below it. These occur in many of the houses and are an embellishment of the primitive stand with a cavity for a jar, which can be seen in the Palace Annexe.

The return to the entrance can now be made by taking the street which runs between the House of the Cistern and the House of the Paneled Walls. Before reaching the gap in the wall, the House of the Long Court and the House on the Wall can be seen on the right. The House Of The Long Court had been burnt. The House On The Wall is an old building that had been partially incorporated in the wall.

There is this alcove, this little area where a peaker faces into the space and speaks. The way it’s shaped, it amplifies the voice, making it easier to make announcements and give sermons to large groups of people. Najwa gave it shot as well.

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There was also this huge tree house in the middle of ruins. It was built recently for tourists to get a bird’s eye view of the ruins while paying a fee that goes towards the community [so we’re told]. The view is pretty impressive, helping put in perspective how all the little areas were put together like a puzzle. The climb up it, though, was a little nerve-racking, especially with Najwa who really isn’t a fan of heights when the stairs look and feel so rickety. Carrying her down was the worst, but worth it.

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Katana Kahindi, the bartender at Temple Point, helped us get to Gedi and joined us for the tour. Many thanks to him.

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Overall, if you’re into history, a beautiful place to visit. We kind of rushed through, something all parents of a hungry child would understand, especially after said child was attacked by a “playful” monkey.

Back in Timboni, the town where Gedi Ruins are, Nduku got some coconut milk. Still in the coconut.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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