Historically, the South Coast was a route for shipping and dhow trade both from Swahili settlements in the North and southwards to Zanzibar.
The south coast was the most densely populated area of Swahili territory. Just South of Mombasa at Kongo is the 15th Century Mwana Mosque. The large vaulted roof of this Mosque is still standing and local worshippers still use the ruins for prayer. For information on the history of the Swahili, see the Related Links .
Recently made a locally administered National Monument, the deep and mysterious Shimoni (from the Swahili- literally "in the hole") caves remain and enigma to historians and archaeologists alike. There is evidence of long-standing human use of the caves, though it is as yet unclear what purpose they served. Possible explanations include a Slave trading store, or a refuge from Slavers, although a recently discovered 'shrine' suggests that the caves may have held some ritualistic significance.
Inland, the South coast is the home of Mijikenda group of tribes, including the Giriama, Duruma and Digo. These tribes all share a fascinating cultural heritage. These cultures are centred around sacred areas called Kayas. These are elevated forest glades, once used as store grounds for sacred objects known as fingos. These undisturbed areas of land are still regarded as sacred and are still on occasion visited by tribal elders, particularly those of the Giriama.
One of the larger Mijikenda tribes, the Giriama are staunchly proud of their traditional customs. The Giriama history is one of strong tribal identity, and resistance to foreign cultures. The Giriama resisted colonial influences during the early 20th Century, particularly conversion to Christianity. A female warrior called Mekatilili wa Menza became a Giriama folk hero by actively fighting to protect her people from Christian Missionaries.
The small villages of this district, known as Kwale, are a world away from the fast paced life of the South Coast resorts. Here, life is lived at a much more relaxed rhythm. The fertile land and tropical climate make this ideal country for the growth of coconuts, sugar cane, cashew nuts and fresh fruits. This area is well known for the production of Palm Wine, a popular local drink.
This area is well worth exploring, and makes a fascinating contrast to life on the contrast. Many coast hotels and tour companies can organize for special trips and tours in this region with locally knowledgeable and culturally sensitive guides.