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A Little Mombasa History

The Famous Mombasa Tusks

In 1498, Vasco de Gama landed in the area now known as Mombasa. He wanted to convert the indigenous people to the Christian faith and expand Portugal’s holdings and trade routes.  Mombasa’s natives were uncooperative with the invaders and put down all of Portugal’s attempts at establishing trade there until the late 16th century when the Portuguese government befriended Mombasa’s king.

The king directed his people to do as the Portuguese wished and a rich trading relationship was born between the two countries. The city became the most important African port for Portugal and they ruled Kenya for two hundred years, before it was taken by the British.  It was not until 1963 that Kenya was able to declare its independence and become a sovereign nation.

The people and culture of Mombasa has been growing and evolving for almost one thousand years. Being one of the main gateways of the East Coast of Africa, it has had people coming through it from all walks of life, each leaving some part of their heritage and culture behind.

The Arab influence is prevalent in the architecture, narrow streets, and markets. The Indian culture is also very prevalent and can be seen in the beautiful mosques and temples all over the island, some dating back two hundred years when the first of the Indian communities migrated to the east coast of Africa.

You will also notice a very distinct European influence as you travel inward toward the interior of Kenya. This occurred during colonialism from European countries. Mombasa today is a hotpot of cultures with people from all over the world calling it home.

You will find most Kenyan tribes living on the coast. The Swahili people (a mixture of the African origins and the Arab sailors who traveled down with the monsoon and then back to Yemen or to their home country after the monsoon wind changed its direction), pure Arabs, Indian (Hindus and Gujaratis) as well as Muslims (Pakistani or India ancestry) or Christian, European and many more live in these tribal villages.

Mombasa, and Kenya in general, is a cultural wonderland where you will discover influences from all over the world. The mixture of people, beliefs, and lifestyles will make your trip one you won’t soon forget.