The Pemba people struggle to belong in the land they call home

Friday November 17 2017

A Pemba man stands outside his house. PHOTO|

A Pemba man stands outside his house. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA 

By TOM MWIRARIA
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The 14th century was a golden age in the East African coast. It was also the age of discovery. The coast was one belt. It stretched from Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mombasa to Malindi. During that period, the Portuguese arrived in the Kenyan Coast.

Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese explorer under instructions of then Portuguese King Manuel I in 1497 -1499, sailed with his men on expedition to find the shortest sea route to India.

According to Wikipedia, the Portuguese arrived Pemba Island in the 16 th century. After the Portuguese failed to unify Pemba and the islands on the coastal strip, the Omani Arabs deposed them took over the East African coast, including Pemba Island. UnderOman rule, trade boomed throughout the East African coast.

The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Boston University African Studies Centre (2009) says that the Pemba traded ivory, cloves and spices for pottery, daggers, hatchets, wine, and glass . Artifacts that support this data include pottery and glass from China and Europe as well as ochre linked to mainland Africa. The Omans lost control of the East African Coast and the Mazrui dynasty was established.

Pemba women outside their house. PHOTO| TOM

Pemba women outside their house. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

WORLD WAR II

Mzee Mohammed Amin Mohammed of Takaungu, Kilifi was a teenager when the guns sounded during the World War II.

The 81-year-old Pemba elder corroborates the historical texts of Pemba trade and settlement in the Kenyan Coast with the tales told by his elders:

Our Forefathers moved freely between Pemba and the Kenyan Coast on fishing exertions and trade. When Christian missionaries came to the Kenyan Coast in 1840, they preached to the communities living there. Among those inhabitants were the Pemba who already were Islamic converts. John Krapf arrived here in Takaungu but the Pemba were living here in Takaungu had already converted to Islam. Kraph then decided to build a church in Rabai.”

An elderly man clears his throat to speak. His eye lines tell of laughter and warmth. His brow tell of worries past and worries present. He’s a man who was dismissed as "stateless” even though he had seen the history of pre-independence Kenya unfold before his eyes.

NO MEMORY OF DATES
“I missed on education. I have no memory of dates but I shall relate the sequence of events as I saw them unfold with my very eyes. My parents came to the Kenyan coast long before I was born .They named me Mratitibu Shamame Shamte. My forefathers lived in Madobini, Mombasa. They came in that age in search of tyres .They extracted wires from the tyres to craft fishing equipment. In those days, the Arabs reigned in the Kenyan Coast. We have always known this Coast as home. We have married here and brought forth our children here. When the Pirates beach was opened I was there. I swam with Jomo Kenyatta on the belly of the ocean.”

Shahame Ahmisi Makame, the chairman of the Pemba community, says the Pemba are scattered across the Kenyan Coastal villages.

Constant harassment has ripped them apart.

Pemba elders outside a house. PHOTO| TOM

Pemba elders outside a house. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

“We all live in different villages namely Kichakamwkaju, Kibuyuni, Chwakwa fikirini, Mwambao,Mukuyuni,Bondo,Serasi,Funzi,Msambweni,Gazi,Kinondo,Shalishali,Marafa,Ngongoni,Likomi,Ukunda among others. We are constantly rounded up and arrested for lack of Kenyan identity.”

Wanja Lisa Munaita, an Assistant Protection Officer (Statelessness) with UNHCR says that a large of people affected by statelessness in Kenya are children.

As a result of denied citizenship, stateless people miss on education, they can’t see a doctor, get a formal job, open a bank account ,own property, or even register a phone sim card and are denied other important rights. The Pemba, a community of 4000 hope their cry will be heard.


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