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End of an era: Floods uproot 800-year-old Mekatilili baobab

Residents of Sabaki, Malindi sub-county in Kilifi county, are counting their losses after an iconic 800-year-old baobab tree named after pre-independence heroine Mekatilili wa Menza was swept away by the Floods in the Sabaki River.

The gigantic 800-year-old tree has been a source of livelihood for more than 50 local youths who took tourists on a tree climbing experience and showed them where the iconic Mekatilili wa Menza was hiding during the arrival of the colonialists.

The Iron Lady, as Wa Menza is often known in Mijikenda folklore, is believed to have prophesied the arrival of the Europeans by telling the people of the time that the whites would come with an iron serpent, i.e. the way of the railway.

The tree also acted as a sacred place for the Mijikenda community, which locals say dates back to the time of the Mijikenda heroine Mekatilili Menza, who used to rest under the tree while carrying out her missions.

tourists cry

Not even tourists were spared when they woke up to the news of the ancient tree’s tragic loss.

A group of local youth used the area around the tree for economic livelihood.

Mr Moses Kaingu, leader of the group, said they had lost their livelihoods, adding that they feared tourists would move to other areas, thereby denying them income.

“Tourists come here to learn the story of Mekatilili wa Menza, who used this place as a hideout to evade the colonialists since he was a rebel.

“The tree was uprooted by the fast-moving waters and, to our surprise, it did not fall but simply floated on the raging waters until it reached the Sabaki Bridge, where it became entangled in power cables which forced it to fall,” he said. .

He added that the remaining smaller baobab was also at risk of being swept away as the volume of water continued to increase.

Amani Karisa, a resident, said they lost property when a section of the restaurant was razed and appealed to the government to help them restart their lives.

Pamela Shaw, a tourist from South Africa, said she and her husband, Bever Shaw, have been visiting the sites for the past 12 years.

He said it was sad that the floods had erased history.

“I have been a frequent visitor to this site and when I found out it had been razed, I was devastated. It is also very sad for the community, it is a great loss. I used to visit here very often and I have always brought all my friends to visit me,” she said.

Shaw said he learned that the tree was very important to the spiritual well-being of the people who lived around it and that it is the only reason he has been visiting the site.

“Every time I visited I could find people worshiping here and the tree has a very significant spiritual notion for the Girama community,” he said.

Mr Edward Kazungu Hawerisa, an elder from Giriama Kaya, said that as a community they had lost a rich historical and spiritual site that used to act as their meeting place with God.

“As a Mijikenda community, we have been greatly affected by the loss of this sacred tree. “This was a place where we used to worship and seek God’s guidance during good and bad times,” he said.

He added that he also lost his livelihood as he used to teach university students the historical background of the Mijikenda community under the baobab tree.

Environmental conservationists Dominic Kene, who runs Gedeng Camp, said the tree was washed 700 meters into the sea and called on the government to consider removing it from the river so it could be planted.

“Many young people around 50 were doing tourist activities here and now they have all lost their jobs,” he said, adding that they will protect the tree where it is until they get help to replant it.

He asked CS Alfred Mutua to intervene and allocate funds to replant the tree and help the community.