Exploring the Lost Wonders of Gede

  • 02 December 2015 | By Turtle Bay Beach Club

A world of mystery at Gede

I’m back in Watamu for some serious unwinding. Chill paradise with a smile. It’s the people who make this the place, always happy for smile and a greeting. And the magic doesn’t stop there. Somehow it’s in the trees, the spaces between, the very air itself. As I’m filling up on the magic another special feeling comes to me. It’s more than just magic, it’s spiritual, not in the religious sense but in the lifting up of the spirits. A feeling of eternal peace and companionship. This is strange as the place in mind is a ruin – The Ruins of Gede.

Visiting the Ruins

My grandparents retired to Malindi and I remember coming down as a child I would get (when the pestering paid off) an occasional visit. This was long before it was organised or looked after. Now the National Museums of Kenya are responsible and it’s under the watchful eye of their curator Mohamed and his team. They have done a wonderful job with just enough being kept in order without affecting the ambiance. The buildings are remarkable in their preservation and as you walk around it’s easy to take yourself back in time, walking through the buildings and doorways. From the history that’s been gleaned by archaeologists (there’s no written reference to work from) it was a wealthy and progressive Swahili town of over 2,500 people at its peak. It’s been lived in from as early as the 12th century to as late as the 17th century, but the 15th century is when it came into its own. This was clearly the upper end of the market with innovations such as an early style flush toilet included, and bathrooms with drains. Even a Ming vase from China has been found, along with scissors from Spain, an Indian lamp, Beads from Venice. It all adds up to a vibrant wealthy place. And then it was abandoned. Probably not overnight but with a series of external pressures that slowly led to a departure of the people and a reoccupation by the forest. A punitive expedition from Mombasa, a Wazimba raid, the falling water table drying up the wells, and the threat of the Galla from Somalia. But all this is technical. It’s good to know, the excellent guides can take you around to put things in perspective, and if you push, a few stories as well. But there’s another side to Gede, the side that was so exciting as a child, and why, when you’ve understood the basic plan you should take time by yourself to explore.

Doorways to the Past

The place is truly extraordinary. By yourself, but somehow you are never alone. You are walking, sitting, just being with the ancestors. Local lore calls these the Old Ones, the spirits of the priests of Gede. And unlike some ruins that can be menacing and oppressive, these guardians seem to be welcoming and protective. But be respectful. One story I was given was of an archaeologist, enticed into the forest by the force of attraction of a particular place only to become disorientated and lost just a few meters in. And this is just one of the many tales of spirits and happenings. You are here by invitation and proper deference should be shown to its real inhabitants, the Old Ones. It is a place of power, of presence, of mystery and magic. And anyone who goes there can feel the uplifting spirit of the place, the peace and the harmony. One possible origin of the name of Gede is the Oromo word – precious – and the place certainly is that.

See more information about visiting Gede and staying at Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu.

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