Jumba la Mtwana
By Maina Kiarie
Jumba la Mtwana was opened to the public in 1973 and was gazetted as a national monument in 1982. Jumba la Mtwana, also known as “Jumba Ruins” is located approximately 20km (15km north of Mombasa, 3km off the Mombasa-Malindi road, 2.8km on the road leading to the sea at the junction next to Picana factory) north of Mombasa in Mtwapa.
The site represents the remains of a 14th century Swahili settlement which was occupied for about one century before abandonment. While the name literally means “large house of the slave”, there is neither historical nor archaeological evidence that suggests that this may have been the case. There are no historical records on the settlement, as a result what is known has been deduced from the ruins which were excavated by James Kirkman in 1972. The settlement was likely built around 1350, inhabited and then abandoned a century later. It is not certain whether ‘Jumba la Mtwana’ was the settlement’s name at the time of occupation. However, one thing that is certain is that the inhabitants were Muslim evidenced by the ruins of 4 mosques, washing platform and water cisterns.
There are ruins (old coral stone walls) of 4 mosques, 4 domestic houses and a tomb which have survived in recognizable condition situated among huge baobab trees on grassy slopes that descend to the sea. This ancient ruins provide a sense of what life must have been like over six hundred years ago, when it was home to the Swahili fishermen, craftsmen and merchants who traded precious products from the African interior with their maritime trading partners in India and Arabia. Excavations of the site have revealed numerous artefacts including decorated local pottery and shell beads, imported Chinese and Islamic ceramics, and glass beads.