Shipwreck, Papal Dais and granary now national monuments

Thursday July 08 2021

Ngomeni shipwreck. PHOTO | COURTESY


Over 500 years a Portuguese merchant vessel set sail for the Kenya but did not arrive intact. Just miles off the shores of Ras Ngomeni in Kilifi County, the ship sank with all of its cargo and has remained underwater ever since.

The 16th century Ngomeni shipwreck is one of several sites and structures recently listed as national monuments of Kenya. The edifices were recently granted this status because they are considered of “historical interest”, according to an official Gazette notice by the ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage.

In 2015, the National Museums of Kenya declared Ngomeni the oldest shipwreck in Kenya. Much of the vessel is buried in the ocean sand but the protruding sections remain surprising well preserved underwater. Explorations have revealed the presence of cannon balls, pottery, iron nails, copper ingots, animal horns and other artefacts. Authorities envision an in-situ preservation of the wreck and creating an underwater visitor museum.

During the visit of Pope Francis in 2015, a public mass was held on the grounds of the University of Nairobi where a special outdoor dais erected for the occasion. Built by local architecture firm Tectura International, the University of Nairobi Papal Dais has now become a national monument.

A traditional food storehouse in Nyeri County dating to the 1940s has also attracted state protection. Though increasingly rare, traditional storage huts can still be found in central Kenya. The ‘Granary of Kikuyu Ethnic Group’ monument is situated on a family compound and is thought to be the oldest such structure.

Granaries of the Kikuyu community were circular in shape, woven from flexible branches and raised off the ground to deter rodents. Airflow through the structure kept garden produce and cooked food fresh for days or weeks.


Another new monument is the 1891 Malindi Museum. Also known as the House of Columns, because of five round pillars on its east facade, it originally functioned as a hospital before becoming part of Kenya’s national museums in 1990. House of Columns houses a repository of historic and cultural Swahili artefacts.

The Maulid festival is one of Lamu Island’s biggest religious celebrations and was introduced in the late 19th century by the religious scholar, Habib Swaleh. Now his private residence, the House of Habib Swaleh, has been included in the new list of national monuments.