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Kirepwe Island on Mida Creek, Watamu - Exploring ancient ruins

By Rupi Mangat

The plan is to have a feast of all things oceanic at the Crab Shack at Dabaso Creek on the greater Mida Creek. I wade in the shallow water of the mangrove-lined creek to the dug-out canoe past village kids splashing around for a sunset sail on the water before the feast.

Us in a Canoe boat

Kahindi Charo – my local gondolier takes the oar and pushes the canoe into deeper waters while l enjoy the ocean-swept breeze (like a diva). The water turns deep blue in the mangrove-lined waterways splashed with a streak of gold of the setting sun. Charo is also a bird-guide and manager of Crab Shack, the community-owned restaurant which you enter along a raised platform through a mangrove forest

Traditional Tour Site

With the rising tide, the sand banks disappear and birds of many feathers – ospreys, yellow-billed storks, Goliath herons – settle on the mangroves to roost. A man on a surfboard with twenty-litre jerry cans sets off from Dabaso Creek to the island of Kirepwe. “It’s twenty minutes away,” tells Charo. We make a date for the following morning to sail there because Charo tells of ancient ruins on the island – a sort of a ‘mini’ Gede Ruins, the more popular site for guests to visit in the area.

Traditional Hut with UNIDO members visiting the area

It’s a 15-minutes tuktuk (motorised rickshaw) drive to Dabaso and then the sail to Kirepwe past white-lateen canoes and fishermen spreading their nets. A group of fishers splash the calm waters to drive the fish into the submerged net. Finally we’re on the sandy beach on the island of Kirepwe facing mainland Watamu.

Local way of carrying water in a gourd

It’s quiet on the island.

“This is where my father had his home and l was born,” points Charo by a dry water well that’s all that’s left of the homestead.

“There used to be fresh-water in the wells forty years ago. Then it started getting salty. So my father decided to leave for Dabaso where he had land. The elders say the wells dried up because people did not obey the rules – like pregnant women were not supposed to draw water and no sufurias (cooking pots) allowed.”

Wedding ceremony of the locals

Walking along the narrow path, passing the homesteads of the Giriama and Watta people, we exchange morning greetings. A mother prepares tea and porridge for the little ones by her hut; another sweeps the compound.

A forest grove hides the ruins of the ancient settlement. “This is the only natural forest remaining on the island. The rest is cultivated,” explains Charo.

Grating of coconut for cooking

In the grove, a gigantic baobab wizened with age guards the crumbling ruins. “The elders called this place mizimu meaning sacred place. Children were not allowed here. The wazee (elders) came to pray here during drought.”

It’s an amazing place as we walk by the dry water-well, over the rubble, past coral walls naked of the plaster but still standing, some with notches that held candles at night.

Doorways show grooves where lintels supported the doors. An arched window frame by the door could have been a nobleman’s house near the remains of a mihrab of the mosque. Everything is silent now.

Grounding of maize on stone to make flour

“It’s never been researched,” tells Charo. “People were taking the stones from the buildings for their houses until the community decided to conserve this place and have tourists come to the island.” The site has never been dated so no one knows how old it is.
It’s only 9 o’ clock but really hot. A Grey-headed kingfisher flits by. A beautiful tree in a burst of sun-burnished pink leaves colours the bluest of skies.

Traditional medicine man displaying his tools

A woman slices off the dry fronds of a coconut tree with her machete to make makuti  for sale. The palm-leave mats are lined by her red-earth makuti roofed hut. Seven-year Tabu and her friends pound maize with a pestle and mortar, seriously at work. When she stops for a minute she’s huffing but smiles shyly. A boy her age, climbs up the towering coconut tree in seconds and with his machete slashes the nut which hits the earth with a thud. The girls rush to it and hand it to the mother sitting by the hut with a baby at her breast. The coconut grater is brought out and she grates the white flesh of the nut. Every single bit of the coconut tree is used.

Explore Kirepwe and Mida Creek and more in Watamu – follow Watamu Marine Association
By Rupi Mangat

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