11.05.2010

Chinese-descended Kenyans

In a previous post, I mentioned the possibilities of a clan in East Africa with some Chinese ancestry. The Shange clan on the Pate island claim to have been descended from Chinese men who were shipwrecked there in the 15th century and settled, married local women and had children. While I am a bit fuzy on the details such as the name of this clan, I've come across Shanga and Famao though Shanga may be the name of the place where the Famao reside (???), it is certain that the clan's location which is the Pate Island is in modern-day Kenya.

Apparently the people of Pate are light-skinned and still look like Chinese despite it being 600 or so years since Zheng He's journeys. American journalist and New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof visited Pate in 1999 and there one village elder told him, "Many, many years ago, there was a ship from China that wrecked on the rocks off the coast near here...The Chinese were visitors, so we helped those Chinese men and gave them food and shelter.” The elder also told Kristof to visit the village of Shanga on another part of the island and it was there that Kristof met a man who looked Chinese. This man told him that he was of the Famao clan and that according to a legend, they were descended from Chinese after a Chinese ship wrecked on their shores. He explained that after the sailors of the damaged ship swan to the shore, they married local woman hence the Chinese-looking Famao. Another person told Kristof the Africans gave the Chinese some giraffes. I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds this telling, while someone may brush away these people's claim to Chinese ancestry, it is a fact that Africans were exporting giraffes (and other exotic animals such as zebras) to China.

Furthermore, the people in Shanga not only bury their dead in Chinese-style "turtle shell graves,” but also beat their drums to Chinese rhythms, speak a dialect with some Chinese words, they tell stories that are Chinese folklore and practice a form of basket weaving found in southern China. Interesting. Apparently there was also a thriving silk-making industry based uniquely in Pate until about half a century ago.

I came across this thread posted in a forum while searching for more information on the Shanga and Famao of Pate Islands. If you click on the link to the forum you really only need to read the first post.The original article being discussed has since been deleted but from the little information I got from reading that thread it was about the Famao people as well.

This legend speak of two Chinese ships from Zheng He's fleet hit rocks off the coast of Kenya. 20 or 100 Chinese men, the number varies, swam ashore and sought refuge with the people on Pate island. The people of the island gave the Chinese men two conditions, they could stay only if they were able to kill a big python that was terrorizing the people of the island and they would have to become Muslims. Luckily for the stranded sailors, one of them happened to be a master swordsman, he was able to lure the python out of the cave in which it resided and killed it. With this, the Chinese sailors settled, converted to Islam and married local woman. It seems that even today, one can find tombstones with Chinese inscription on the island.

A few young people from the island who claim to have Chinese ancestry have been given full scholarships by the Chinese government to study in Beijing. One of these young people is Mwamaka Sharifu from the Lamu Island.

Sharifu grew up hearing the legend of the stranded Chinese sailors from her grandmother. Sharifu said that in 2002 some Chinese experts came to her home and cut some of her mother's hair for DNA tests in China. When they returned, they told her mother that she was a Chinese descendant. On the Lamu island, it appears only Sharifu's family (of six individuals) remain with Chinese ancestry but on the Pate island, there are about 30 people believed to have descended from those sailors. Most of the articles on Sharifu are from 2005, if she's still in China that would mean she's spent 5 years over there. I wish there was a follow-up interview on her experiences there, Sharifu seemed to have a positive impression of China back in 2005 when she said (emphasis mine); "When I was in Kenya, I used to wear the scarf on my head. But now I keep it lower, because I think people here like to see me."

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There's a podcast on BBC's African Perspective that runs for about 25 minutes and discuss this topic. Listen to the podcast, it even has interviewed with people from the clans mentioned above. I must say, it great that more attention is being paid to historical Sino-African relations. While most people were open to and receptive of my posts on this topic, I did get accused of making up things and fabricating history so it's nice to see that the facts are coming to light. While on the topic of "inventing history", people who actually believe that African history is no "valid" because it comes from oral traditions are idiots plain and simple.

Really haters gon hate, a few articles I've come across doubt Sharifu's claim of Chinese ancestry despite the fact that DNA tests are involved and both historical evidence and oral traditions point to high possibilities of  this Chinese shipwreck. Oh well, Sharifu got to study abroad on a scholarship and will most likely end up using the skills she's gained to help her people so, in the end she wins.

8 comments:

  1. I did get accused of making up things and fabricating history so it's nice to see that the facts are coming to light.

    Who accused you? Off with their head!!!

    This was a wonderful post - brava! I never doubted those folks were telling the truth about their ancestry. The story about the python needs to be made into a film.

    I'm off to post this on our facebook.

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  2. How can someone accuse you of "making up history" when people in Kenya and people in China are telling stories that match? Not to mention the DNA and cultural evidence.

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  3. How can someone accuse you of "making up history" when people in Kenya and people in China are telling stories that match? Not to mention the DNA and cultural evidence.

    As always...Privilege Gone Wild. They're always doing this mess. A perfect example is Not-a-Senator Sharron Angle. That entire casserole of nonsense was privilege on steroids. (Thank all that is holy that the people of Nevada did the right thing on Tuesday.)

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  4. Meh, to hell with the haters. You still have people who believe that the Earth is flat, despite all the evidence to the contrary. If they want to wallow in their ignorance, let them. The rest of us with sense will move on.

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  5. @Ankh

    A few trolls have been visiting my Wordpress blog lately...

    Thanks! The python story will make a good wuxia movie methinks ^^

    @modest-godddess

    Like I said, some people are idiots. I guess because Africans weren't sitting around fires waiting for Europeans to come 'civilise' us is hard for some people to believe.

    @cinnamon

    Privilege. Exactly!

    @leoprincess

    People still believe the Earth is flat? I guess I shouldn't be surprised as I've encountered people who believe men have one less rib because, you know God created Eve from Adam's rib. We're moving on though!

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  6. I guess because Africans weren't sitting around fires waiting for Europeans to come 'civilise' us is hard for some people to believe.

    Some folks watch entirely too much National Geographic.

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised as I've encountered people who believe men have one less rib because, you know God created Eve from Adam's rib.

    And don't forget, some people also think dinosaurs walked the Earth only 6,ooo years ago and that they lived side by side with man. You know...like the Flintstones.

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  7. @ eccentricyuruba - Oh, you better believe it! I thought someone was pulling my leg at first, until I did a Google search. They even have diagrams showing what the Earth really looks like (picture a Map of the World plate with a clear glass domed cover).

    They're dead serious about it. O_O

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  8. I would prefer Chinese lifestyles, values, and peace, over Western European death, disease, slavery, and hatred ANY day.

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