Jumba Ruins in Kenya face risk of drowning in rising ocean

Friday February 11 2022
Jumba Ruins in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, Kenya.

What is still standing of the Jumba Ruins in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, Kenya. PHOTO | BRIAN WACHIRA | NMG


Jumba Ruins, also known as Jumba la Mtwana (the large house of slaves), Kilifi County — the 14th-century Swahili settlement and one of the tourist attractions of Kenya’s North Coast circuit — is in danger of being submerged as the beach line rises with every seasonal tidal wave, and the old trees fall on the already crumbling remaining coral walls of the ancient houses.

While other historic sites on the coast have been reinforced or shielded against the vagaries of the rising ocean waters, Jumba Ruins is crying out for attention.

The National Museums of Kenya under whose protection the site is contemplating building a seawall like that protecting Fort Jesus in Mombasa and the Vasco da Gama Pillar in Malindi, but scientists are warning that it could interfere with the ecosystem.

The government of Kenya has set aside $1.3 million for restoration works that are yet to start.

The ruins are located 15 km north of Mombasa, and are a reminder of early Swahili history, including how they lived and the types of economic activities they engaged in at the time.

The ruins are located on the beachfront and many buildings seen today were excavated by James Kirkman in 1972. The site is home to the ruins of several houses, three mosques, and a tomb, believed to be that of the sultan who ruled the place.


The site was abandoned in the 15th century and it is believed it is because the community ran out of freshwater, and were hit by disease and inter-community conflict. The settlement was built using locally available coral rock and sand.

Jumba La Mtwana, a "Gede" facing the ocean in Kilifi County, Kenya.

Jumba La Mtwana, a "Gede" facing the ocean in Kilifi County, Kenya. PHOTO | COURTESY

The Jumba Ruins is today a popular picnic site, wedding parties, and serves as a study site for history students.

There are no written historical records of the town, but ceramic evidence indicates it was built in the 14th century.

What is unique about the site is that while a section of the foundation of the Grand Mosque is slowly eroding into the sea from rising water levels, the Mihran — the raised alcove from where the Imam leads the prayers remains intact in all the three mosques.

Houses and baobabs

Hashim Mzombe, the curator of Jumba la Mtwana, said that the Mihran is normally built with more enforcement than the rest of the mosque and that is why they have survived for 600 years.

Overgrown grass and shrubs coexist with centuries-old baobab trees and the neem trees. The baobabs are estimated to be over 1,000 years old. In the House of Kitchen, a traditional African pot still exists, as does a dry 30-feet deep well.

The structures have been marked as; the House of the Cylinder, The House of the Kitchen, The House of the Many Pools, which had three phases, and the Great Mosque. The location was most likely chosen because of the presence of fresh water, exposure to the northerly and southeasterly breezes, which would keep the people and home cool.