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African Chinese on Kenya’s Pate Island

Africans of Chinese descent on Kenya’s Pate Island have Chinese roots with ancient links to Chinese sea explorers and shipwrecks. Mwamaka Sharifu, from Lamu Island off of Kenya's coast is a descendant of Chinese sailors traveling with Chinese explorer Zheng He in the Ming Dynasty.

Kenya’s Pate Island and Chinese sailors

Chinese Ming dynasty Admiral Zheng He, on his fourth voyage left China in 1413 arriving off the coast of Kenya’s Pate Island in 1418.
Pate Island Family

The Kenyan coast was a major crossroad in the spice and slave trading routes of the 15th century. Chinese Ming dynasty Admiral Zheng He, on his fourth voyage, left China in 1413 arriving off the coast of Kenya’s Pate Island in 1418. 

Admiral Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty court eunuch whose fleet of 300 ships and 28,000 sailors were the biggest the world had ever known. His ships were said to have been four times bigger than those of Columbus and his seafaring travels were greater than any explorer before him.

Pate Island is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya and is the largest island in the Lamu Archipelago. According to Kenyan folklore, Chinese sailors who survived the shipwreck swam ashore and were allowed to stay on the Island after killing a python that had been troubling a village.


Kenya’s Pate Villages' dressmaker's shop
Pate Villages' dressmaker's shop

The Chinese Ming sailors married and had children with the native African women, converted them to Islam and created a community of African-Chinese whose descendants still live on the Island of Pate.

Kenya’s Pate Island Chinese tradition has ancient links to Africa. On Pate there is an ancient graveyard made out of coral, they are the graves of the Chinese sailors, which died in the shipwreck.  

The graves are the same as Chinese Ming dynasty tombs, complete with half-moon domes and terraced entries. In 2010 Chinese government sent archeologists to the Kenyan coast on a $3-million, three-year mission to dig for artifacts.

China Girl Mwamaka Sharifu

Pate Island China Girl named Mwamaka Sharifu is hailed as the most famous descendent of the shipwrecked Chinese sailors.
African China Girl

Pate Island China Girl named Mwamaka Sharifu is hailed as the most famous descendent of the shipwrecked Chinese sailors. Mwamaka was rewarded with a scholarship in 2005 to a Chinese university, where she is studying traditional Chinese medicine. 

Sharifu said she admires Zheng's courage and adventurous spirit. "I was born as brave as my ancestors," she said. "It is rare for girls in my Muslim village to go so far to study, to such a big and different country." 

Sharifu went on to say "Beijing is a big city," Sharifu added. "But Taicang city will always be a special place for me as it is said it is where my ancestors came from. Located in East China's Jiangsu Province, Taicang is where Zheng set sail for Africa.

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