Siyu Kenya: 600-Years Of Little-Known Chinese Village in Lamu [VIDEO]

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    File image of Chinese nationals
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  • Kenya has shared ties with China long before Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama toured the coast of the East African country in 1498, as indicated by the rich culture of little known Siyu Village.

    Siyu is located on the North Coast at Pate Island within the Lamu Archipelago. The age of the village is not defined, however, scholars date its existence from the 13th century. 

    The village came to limelight in 2005 when then, 19-year-old Mwamaka Sharifu, earned a scholarship to study medicine in China, after a DNA test conducted by the Asian country proved that she was of Chinese origin. 

    Speaking with Kenyans.co.ke on Thursday, August 27, Mombasa-based scholar and historian Stambuli Abdillahi Nassir shared more on the village, its origin, culture and intermarriage between the Chinese and Kenyans. 

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    File image of Mwamaka Sharifu (centre) with Chinese officials in 2005
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    Nassir stated that the history of Coastal Kenya has not yet been fully exploited. The Chinese, he says, arrived in Kenya approximately 80 years before Vasco da Gama and were attracted to the region.  

    The Chinese who were led by one Chang Ho or Ma Ho and Zheng He converted to Islam and intermarried with Coastal Kenyans. Ma in Chinese stands for Mohammed, an Islamic name. 

    "Evidence that they converted to Islam can be seen from their cemeteries. Muslims bury the dead in the direction of Macca and so are the Chinese cemeteries," Nassir disclosed. 

    Stories have it that the Chinese Sailors escaped from a wrecked ship before settling in Siyu in 1415 as written by the Chinese Embassy. 

    In 2005, the Embassy retraced Chinese roots to Siyu village. Archaeologists and scientists studied the region and its people and also tested DNA samples. 

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    Mwamaka Sharifu (centre) during her graduation in China in 2012
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    Mwamaka Sharifu, now a doctor having graduated in 2012, had then completed her secondary education at Lamu Girls Secondary School and was widely known as the "China girl" from her resemblance and news shared countrywide. 

    She was offered a scholarship to pursue further studies after her ancestry was traced to the Chinese Ming Dynasty in East China’s Jiangsu Province.

    "I want to see the place where my ancestors live. I look forward to visiting China and studying in the Chinese university," Sharifu stated in 2005 as China marked the 600th anniversary of the navigation from China to Kenya by Zheng He, the great Chinese navigator. 

    She got a chance to meet the real family of the great sailor, Admiral Zheng. Sharifu aspires to return to Kenya and assist her community and also try her hand in politics. She aspires to be a Senator.  

    Watch video of Sharifu’s mother speaking on her daughter and the Chinese lineage