Inside rich water well that cooled slaves’ throats
1 months ago, 18 Nov 00:07
The towering man tested the edge of the cliff with the tip of his gigantic boot. With a look of trepidation, he gingerly extended his leg, changed his mind midway and planted it decisively on the solid ground and announced.
“I am not a good swimmer. You just go. I will hang around here until you come.”
With a resigned shrug of his hulking shoulders, he proffered his camera to his mates, unwittingly surrendering his only chance of reconnecting with 200 years of history.
And as the overcautious photographer turned his back to the decayed steps 20-feet beneath him, his colleagues crawled down the treacherous cliff.
Each step down the ancient footpath is a nightmare. A misstep could send one tumbling down the unforgiving coral cliff and end in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean.
Although some daredevil tourists occasionally tread the decayed steps in search of adventure and a peek into the famous well with fresh water, local boys routinely dash down the path for their daily morning swim.
After their swim the boys emerge from the saline watersglistering and walk into an arched, cave-like opening, carved out of the walls of the cliff. Here they take turns to splash themselves with cool water which they claim is fresh.
Mohamed Anwar, a Form One student in a nearby school, draws water from the well whose walls are made of stones delicately joined together with limestone. His two brothers wait for their turns.
After splashing the water on his body, Mohamed offers some from his plastic container, explaining that it is suitable for drinking as it is not as saline as the ocean water.
The water is softer and tastes less salty but as Coast Region Deputy Director for the National Museums of Kenya Athman Hussein explains, it has lost most of its freshness.
“In the olden days, ships would come and fetch water for drinking. Although it is just a short distance from Fort Jesus and the Indian Ocean, the water was fresh. For centuries wellsin Mombasa had clean water,” says Hussein.
The well, situated under the Bohra Mosque, has a rich and complex history connecting it with the abolition of slave trade in 1820s, which depopulated Mombasa and other parts of the hinterland as Arabs attacked villages and captured people.
We have traced its history to February 1824 when a ship, christened Leven, docked in Mombasa, captained by WFW Owen. It was in pursuit of notorious traders who were enslaving people in East Africa and selling them off in Middle East and Europe.
At the time, Mombasa was a base for the British soldiers and their natural choice was a house they later named Leven, after Owen’s ship.
When one of the naval soldiers, Lieutenant JB Emery, was appointed to head the base, he decided to improve the facilities at the Port of Mombasa.
According to Brian Hoyle in his book, Port City Renewal in Developing Countries: A Study of East African Waterfronts, Mombasa town at the time was orientated towards itself, turning its back to the harbour and sea.
The port was inaccessible and sat on uneven plateau of a vertical cliff between seven and 10 metres high. At the ...
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