Pate (Paté) Island (Swahili pron. [ˈpate]) is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya, to which it belongs. It is the largest island in the Lamu Archipelago, which lie between the towns of Lamu and Kiunga in the former Coast Province. The island is almost completely surrounded by mangroves.
From the 7th century, Paté island was an early site of Arabic colonisation. It was the centre of the Pate sultanate from the 13th–19th centuries. The Swahili port of Pate long vied with Lamu and Takwa (on Manda Island) for economic dominance of the area, and came into prominence around the 14th century. It was subjugated by Lamu, however, in the late 19th century.
Public transportation is provided by a few mini buses (known as matatus). The main administrative centre on the island, with the police station, is Faza.
Faza town, on the North coast, known by the name of Ampaza by the Portuguese dates back at least to the 14th century. In 1587, Faza was destroyed by the Portuguese as the local Sheikh had supported Mir Ali Bey, a notorious privateer who had earlier played a key role in ousting the Portuguese from Muscat. The Portuguese arrived from Goa with some 650 men on their punitive expedition, and unleashed their fury on Faza. Everybody they could find was killed, including the local Sheikh. The Portuguese preserved his head in a barrel of salt for display in India. After 4 days of looting they invited Fazas' arch-rivals from Pate town to take away anything that they liked from Faza.
Faza was later resettled. The Portuguese in Faza constructed a chapel there, however, nothing remains of it. In the 18th century Faza again fell into decline due to the rise of Pate. The English Consul Holmwood visited the place in 1873 and found it "dirty and infected with diseases".
The Pate Sultanate was a sultanate from at least the beginning of the 13th century until 1895. From 1858 on it was the domain known as Wituland. Archeological evidence suggests Pate was a prominent location in local trade networks by the 10th century.
Pate Town is situated on the South-West coast of the island. According to the Pate Chronicle, the town of Pate was founded by refugees from Oman in the 8th century and re-founded by members of the Nabahani family, also from Oman, in 1203. The Pate Chronicle also claims that in the 14th century Pate was so powerful that it had conquered most of the towns on the Swahili Coast. However, recent archaeological findings (by Neville Chittick and later, Mark Horton) suggest that the early references in the Chronicle to Pate are wrong and that the town is in fact younger.
The 18th century was known as the "Golden Age of Pate", when the town was at its height of powers and also prospered in fine arts. Builders constructed some of the finest houses on the Swahili Coast, with extensive elaborate plaster works. Goldsmiths made intricate jewellery, fine cloths (including silks) were made by Pate's weavers and carpenters produced fine wooden furniture. The use and production of the musical instrument known as Siwa were most famous. Two examples of Siwas still remains in the museum in Lamu.
Both men and women wrote poetry in the Kiamu dialect of Swahili. The Utendi wa Tambuka, one of the earliest known documents in Swahili, was written in the royal Yunga palace in Pate Town. The downfall of Pate town came as a consequence of continuous quarrelling/warring with its neighbours from the end of the 18th century.
In 1811, two British naval officers, Smee and Hardy, visited Pate, and witnessed the infighting.
In 1813 the famous "Battle of Shela" took place at Shela. This was an attempt by Pate, allied with the Mazrui clan from Mombasa/Oman, to subject Lamu. The attempt failed totally, and many were killed. Only a handful of people managed to return to Pate, and their losses were felt for years.
Thomas Boteler, who visited Pate in 1823, described the seeing the remains of a Portuguese fort, but that the place looked otherwise poor. The poet Mwana Kupona (d. 1860) also lived at Pate Town. By 1892 the number of inhabitants had fallen to only 300, down from 7000. Today, the town has recovered some. Agriculture is today the main economic activity.
Siyu town is situated on the North coast of Pate island. As no major excavations have been done in Siyu, its age is not known, but it might date from the 13th century. Gaspar de Santo Bernadino visited the town in 1606, and stated that it was the largest town on the island.
Siyu's main claim to historical fame is that it through several battles withstood the Sultans of Zanzibar. In 1843 the Sheikh of Siyu, Bwana Mataka, and the new Sheikh of Pate, repudiated the sovereignty of Seyyid Said, Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar. In response, Seyyid Said assembled an army consisting of 2000 people from Muscat, Baluchistan and Lamu. Leading them was his relative, General Seyyid Hamad bin Ahmed Al-Busaidy, known as "Amir Hamad". He had previously been Governor of Bandar Abbas (in 1824). He landed at Faza in early January 1844. On 6 January they moved towards Siyu, but were ambushed and forced back to Faza. After three weeks without a victory Amir Hamad sailed off.
In 1845 Siyu gave Seyyid Said one of his greatest military defeats. When Siyu finally succumbed to Zanzibars dominance, under Sultan Majid in 1863, it was one of the last towns on the whole of the Swahili Coast to do so.
Kizingitini is situated on the North coast (east of Faza) and is the largest fishing port on the island. Lying slightly north of Rasini, the fishing port straddles 2° 4'11.90"S and 41° 8'29.92"E, and is the southern reach of the Kizingitini-Kiunga Spiny lobster fishery.
Shanga is an important archaeological site, situated on the South-East coast of the island. It was excavated during an eight-year period, starting in 1980. The earliest settlement was dated to the 8th century, and the conclusion drawn from archaeological evidence (locally minted coins, burials) indicate that a small number of local inhabitants were Muslim, probably from the late 8th century onwards, and at least from the early ninth. The excavations also revealed a major break in the development of Shanga in the mid or late 11th century, with the destruction and the rebuilding of the Friday Mosque Horton relates this to the writing of the historian João de Barros, about members of an Arab tribe, generally believed to be Qarmatians, who arrived at the Swahili coast. De Barros connects these new arrivals with a republican style of government.
Shanga was abandoned between 1400–1425; the event was recorded in both the History of Pate and in oral tradition. The Washanga ("the people of Shanga") consist of a clan who still live in the nearby Swahili town of Siyu. Rezende's description of Siyu in 1634 states that "the kingdom of Sio has no king but is ruled by governors"
Evidence of Chinese exploration
In 1999, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported a surprising encounter on the island of Pate. He found a village of stone huts. He talked to an elderly man living in the village who said that he was a descendant of Chinese explorers who were shipwrecked there centuries before. The Chinese had supposedly traded with the locals, and had even loaded giraffes onto their ship to take back to China. However, the Chinese ran aground on a nearby reef. Kristof found evidence that confirmed the man's story. Such evidence included the Asian features of the people in the village, plus Asian-looking porcelain artefacts.
National Geographic then published an article by Frank Viviano in July 2005. He had visited Pate island during the time he stayed on Lamu. Ceramic fragments had been found around Lamu, which the administrative officer of the local Swahili history museum claimed were of Chinese origin; specifically, from Zheng He's voyage to the Swahili Coast. The eyes of the Pate people resembled Chinese. Famao and Wei were some of the names among them which were speculated to be of Chinese origin. Their ancestors were said to be from indigenous women who intermarried with Chinese Ming sailors when they were shipwrecked. Two places on Pate were called "Old Shanga", and "New Shanga", which the Chinese sailors had named. A local guide who claimed descent from the Chinese showed Frank a graveyard made out of coral on the island, indicating that they were the graves of the Chinese sailors, which the author described as "virtually identical" to Chinese Ming dynasty tombs, complete with "half-moon domes" and "terraced entries".
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- Martin, 1973, p.6
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