Tucked away in Kwale, the pristine, rugged and ancient Shimoni caves does not make it to the top of the Mombasa travel itineraries list.
Yet in the small town 75 kilometres south of Mombasa, lies British colonial ruins and slave caves worth visiting.
The drive to Shimoni will give you a beautiful view of the expansive Shimoni forest, with scanty settlements.
Shimoni is remote and goats are often the only traffic you will see. There are no banks and fishing is the main source of livelihood for locals.
Perched on the shores of the Indian Ocean, you can also see dolphins within the Wasini channel.
Arriving at the village at 11a.m, most of the villagers are at the shores waiting for fishermen to bring the early morning catch.
“Shimoni is one of the first places to be settled by the British in Kenya, and their main aim was to stop the slave trade that was going on— with the caves being used as a slave holdout,” said Said Dhadho, the public relations secretary at Shimoni slave cave.
The caves are community owned.
“The slave traders are believed to have been ruthless masters who set up public torture chambers, where they executed those who attempted to flee,” he said.
The caves cover over five kilometres inland and have tunnels, but due to siltation the floor has risen, blocking off access to other caves further down. The caves were initially used as hiding places to avoid attacks from rival ethnic groups.
However, later they were used as slave pens, where slaves were held, pending arrival of ships to ferry them to Zanzibar and other markets.
There is a staircase made out of the growing rock. At the bottom of the staircase, there is a decorated shrine. Said said the shrine is still being used as a worship place by locals.
The locals believe that the cave is a living thing since some of the rock structure have grown out from the top and bottom forming jaw-like structures. Pieces of old iron chains and shackles were found in the cave. Walking deeper into the cave three chambers are very distinctive with rusty iron shackles dangling from its wall.
“There are underground chambers or routes that the slave were forced to use that leads to the shore of the ocean.
However, they could only be used when the tide is low for they fill with sea water when the tide is high,” said Said.
The underground routes have with time been filled up due to siltation.
The tour and history of the cave will sure leave you with an eerie feeling. Lighting in the cave is placed strategically to give a low luminous glow, because it houses hundreds of bats.
If you go to Shimoni, you can also visit scuba diving centres such as Pilli Pippa and Paradise Divers, located in Mkwiro which organises trips to Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park with the proceeds going back to the community.
“We sell history at Shimoni, In the 1880s, British colonialism began in Shimoni with the arrival of the British Imperial East Africa Company’s headquarters. The British Imperial East Africa Company chose Shimoni because it was virtually uninhabited at the time. Many other buildings in Shimoni were built by the very first British colonists of Kenya, including Kenya’s first colonial prison (now in ruins),” he said.
Thirty minutes later after finishing the tour, you stand outside the cave. It makes you feel glad to not have existed in that slavery era.