The legend of Pate Island
Pate Island is a remote island on the east coast of Kenya. The island is around 8 kilometers away from the nearest Kenyan port, and residents often travel by small boats to the mainland for supplies and work. What makes this island so special is a village, where locals claim to be of Chinese descent.
Pate Island [File Photo: quanjing.com]
Although the villagers are very obviously Africans at first sight, legend has it that a ship led by the famous Chinese adventurer and diplomat Zheng He sank along its shores over 600 years ago. Sailors from the ship are said to have found refuge on the island, and eventually settled there, as they had no means of ever going back to their homeland. They eventually married local women and became immersed in to the society.
Life on Pate Island was prosperous between the 14th and 16th century. However, it was invaded by Portuguese colonists and gradually went into decline due to tribal warfare between the different villages on the island.
There is no hard evidence to prove that the people on the island are, in fact, descendants of Zheng He's sailors, as many historical artifacts have been destroyed by the turmoil through the centuries. But there are signs suggesting a possible connection between these villagers and China.
The locals have specific method of producing pottery and simple ceramic that differs from any other Kenyan tribes, but has a close affiliation with how traditional Chinese pottery is produced. In the late 20th century, archaeologists and locals fished up pottery pieces with obvious Chinese influences immersed with African symbolism.
Furthermore, there are ancient grave sites on the island that seem strange compared to others. As a predominantly Muslim society, the majority of these old tombs face the Holy City of Mecca, located to the north of the island. However, a number of tombs face east, in the direction of China. These same tombs also have small pieces of ceramics embedded on the headstones. Sadly, the full ceramic pieces have been stolen by tomb raiders.
A combined belief in a shared ancestry isn't easily instilled into a group of people, but is also difficult to verify. Stories and legends can sometime be passed down for hundreds of years, becoming muddled and confused. However, the people of Pate Island have a deep belief that they are most definitely the descendants of Zheng He's famed expedition, which documents show did include ports-of-call along east Africa. A number of people on Pate Island are also looking for ways to try to find their roots in China.