The Arabs founded Malindi as a town in the early thirteenth century. Before the arrival in East Africa of Arab from Arabia and the Persian Gulf the town of Malindi most likely did not exist. In this time the economy depended on fishing, hunting, agriculture, collecting of salt and an extensive trade in the Indian Ocean. Until the end of the fifteenth century, Malindi had probably reached its zenith.
On the 15th April, 1498 Vasco da Gama reached Malindi.
Malindi was at this time a kingdom and a wealthy town.
The inhabitants were mixed. The ruling class was the Arabs, the majority the Africans and because of the trade, there were also some Indians. In Malindi were living around 1000 Arabs, 2500 Africans in or by Malindi and additional 2000 Africans in the surrounding plantations.
Malindi’s extension was approximate. 600 m along the seafront and inland up to 250 meters. Walls surrounded the town. The Arabs were living inside the walls in stone houses, the African mainly outside in mud-and-wattle huts with palm thatch roofs. The houses of the Arabs were rectangular, multi-storied houses made out of coral stones with a flat roof and mangrove rafters used to support the ceiling. The rooms were designed around a central courtyard.
The economy consisted of agriculture and trade with various ports in the Indian Ocean. Around Malindi were large plantations with fruits (lemons, oranges), coconut palm trees, vegetables (millet, rice, sugar cane), cattle and meats. Slaves and ivory were exported. Malindi was an important port in East Africa. Because of the monsoon places all over the Indian Ocean could be reached. Malindi had increasing importance throughout the fifteenth century. Read All History from 16th Century »
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese selected Malindi as a supply station for Portuguese ships. They built up their own administration, supply station and customhouses.
But even in the first half of the sixteenth century the wealth of Malindi was declining. There was a constant harassing of Arab and Indian Vessels from the Portuguese that want to have control over trade in East Africa.
1518 Mozambique took over Malindis role as a supply station for Portuguese ships. The Portuguese had problems to defend Malindi and Malindi had no proper harbour.
With the construction of the Portuguese Fort Jesus in the neighbouring town of Mombasa (1593) Malindi declined. Mombasa has the finest natural harbour in East Africa. The Portuguese administration and the customs houses were transferred to Mombasa. The workers, the troops and even the ruling Sheikh Muhammad of Malindi moved to Mombasa. As a result, there was no administration left in Malindi.
Next Mombasa was directed by the Portuguese to be the first harbour to come in for traders of the north coast. As a result, there was a reduction of trade in general and heavy looses for all other coastal towns.
1634 the town shrunk to one-third of its original size, the Arabs were living in “utter poverty”. After 1666 the Portuguese lost complete control of Malindi.
At the end of the seventeenth century, Galla people moving south from Somalia controlled most parts of the coast of Kenya. Malindi was abandoned. Most of the Arabs moved to Mombasa. From the end of the seventeenth century until the middle of the nineteenth century Malindi was only thinly populated.
The Galla were defeated in the middle of the nineteenth century by the combination of Masai and Somali raids.
The Sultan of Zanzibar refounded 1861 Malindi. The Sultans territories on the coast of East Africa stretched de facto from southern Somalia to southern Tanganyika. He sent 150 Baluchi soldiers to supervise the resettlement and the planting of grains. 50 Arabs, mostly from Lamu, were clearing the land for several kilometres around the town with the help of a thousand slaves. They planted mainly millet and maize along with coconuts, bananas and mangoes. Malindi’s wealth increased strikingly from 1861 to 1890. It was administered by Arab governors appointed by the Sultan of Zanzibar and supported by a garrison of between thirty and one hundred and fifty Baluchi troops. Around 1890 the population of Malindi town is estimated to be around four hundred persons. The main factor for the tremendous growth of the population and the agricultural economy was the extensive use of slaves.
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After 1873 the slave trade became illegal. 1890 followed an Anti-Slavery Decree of the Sultan of Zanzibar, which allowed the slaves to buy themselves free. The slave trade overseas was prohibited. The status of slavery was not finally abolished until 1907.
In late 1890 with the restrictions in the slave trade and the following lack of slave labour agriculture in Malindi region began to decrease. The Arabs were partly unwilling to hire the local Africans on a wage basis.
1886 an Anglo-German-French Delimitation Commission limited the influence of the Sultan of Zanzibar to a ten-mile strip along the coast.
1887 the Sultan of Zanzibar leased his territories on the East African coast from Vanga in the south to Kipini in the north (which included Malindi region) to the British East Africa Association. In their territories, the Company had control over the administration of the entire area, the collection of taxes and customs duties. In the following year, the Sultan asked the company to oversee in his name some large plantations in the Malindi area.
1895 the Sultan of Zanzibar transferred the lease of the ten-mile coastal strip to the British government. Britain gained the privilege of exercising full executive judicial and fiscal control over the area.
From 1890 to 1910 the agricultural economy declined. The economic stagnation of agriculture was temporarily terminated when a new group of Europeans began planting (1906) and exporting large quantities of rubber from their plantations. 1917 ended this period because the price of rubber fell sharply because of overproduction in Malaya.
The years between 1925 and 1938 were characterized by droughts, which were often followed by floods. Agricultural production declined. Famine relief was common during this period. On the other hand, there was a big increase in production of cotton until the year 1935, when the price of cotton decreased sharply. From 1925 to 1938 exports from Malindi port to coast and foreign destinations declined by more than one half. During the 1920s the road to Mombasa was greatly improved, but the port facilities of Malindi remained as primitive as they were in 1861. Therefore after 1924 many export commodities were sent out of the region not so much through the port but were more transported to Mombasa by lorry.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a few Europeans from upcountry and from Mombasa came to Malindi to spend a short holiday at the sea. 1932 opened the first hotel (Brady’s Palm Beach Hotel), 1934 the second (Lawford’s Hotel). The waters of Malindi became internationally known as the best for deep-sea fishing on the East African coast.
During World War II there was not much economic development in the Malindi area. Although by late 1939 all the tourists had left Malindi, they were more than compensated by the arrival of many soldiers. By late 1944 the holidaymakers from upcountry were returning, and the army was slowly pulling out so that Malindi once again returned to normal. Immediately after World War II two new Hotels (Malindi Hotel, later named Sindbad Hotel and Eden Roc) were built north of the town on the seafront.1948 the population of Malindi Town was 3,292. In the period from 1929 to 1948, the population of Malindi Sub District increased from about 27,000 to 39,000 (+42%).
1962 the population in Malindi Town increased to 5,818. Ethnically the largest percentage increase was that of the European population. Most of the European were retired people from the highlands and at the beginning most likely wealthy English farmers. By the late 1950s when it was generally known that Kenya would obtain independence from Britain in the near future, more European farmers decided to retire permanently. The big impetus to retirement from the highland farms came in late 1962 in the year before Independence. Most of the Europeans settle down north of the old town (Lamu Road). During the Arab, Portuguese and Zanzibar periods, this area was covered by plantations, which stretched from the immediate outskirts of the town to several miles north. It was not until after World War II that it was developed as a residential area. In the south of the Old Town, around Vasco da Gama Point and extending to Silversands as far as Casuarina Points another strictly residential area was developed. Almost all the European-owned houses faced the sea. In the early 1960s the fifth tourist beach hotel was constructed, the Driftwood Beach Club. With the arrival of so many Europeans in Malindi after World War II, there was pressure by the new residents for the improvement of the services and amenities of the town. To gain money for these improvements in Malindi 1952 local taxes (rates) were introduced. New roads were constructed, electricity introduced, new schools built and a new hospital constructed.
Until the late 1960s, there were two different types of tourists who came to Malindi: the East African Residents, especially from Kenya and the overseas visitor from Western Europe who flew directly to Malindi (with a change of aircraft in Nairobi). The majority of the overseas visitors came from England, France, Switzerland and Germany. Before the advent of charter flights from Europe in 1965, the five tourist beach hotels were small. Until 1969 they nearly triple their bed capacity up to 614 beds.
In the 1960’s also in Watamu opened three tourist hotels: Watamu Beach (1967), Seafarers (1966) and Ocean Sports (1956, but rooms were not added until 1967). Their bed capacity increased from 1966 from a total of 20 beds to 1968 to a total of 208 beds. End of the 1960’s tourism industry became the largest single business sector in the town. Over half of the money spent by visitors was originated from outside East Africa.
In the period from 1945 to 1968, the population in the Malindi Sub District expanded dramatically from 40,000 to 93,000 (+133%). Part of this expansion is due to the migration of Giryama people into the Sub District.