Precious Loss
November 30, 2011 5:35 AM   Subscribe

The ruins of Gede are the remains of a mysterious lost city on the Swahili Coast of Kenya, located deep within the Arabuko Sokoke forest. The mystery of Gede (Gedi) is that it does not appear in any Swahili, Portuguese, or Arab written records and present day research has not yet been able to fully account for what actually happened to the city. The inhabitants were of the Swahili, an ancient trading civilization that emerged along the eastern coasts of Africa ranging from Somalia to Mozambique. Archaeological excavations carried out between 1948 and 1958 have uncovered porcelain from China, an Indian lamp, Venetian beads, Spanish scissors, and other artefacts from all over the world, demonstrating the occupants were engaged in extensive and sophisticated international trade. Questions still remain as to what caused the downfall of Gede, but by the 17th century, the city was completely abandoned to the forest and forgotten until the 1920s. Today, a National Museum, Gede's sister cities from the period are part of the ethnography based archeological work of Dr Chapurukha M. Kusimba of Chicago's Field Museum, whose lifework has thrown light on the precolonial heritage of the Swahili peoples.
posted by infini (23 comments total) 135 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing, amazing post. Thank you for guaranteeing I'm not going to get any work done this morning.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:10 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I bet Allan Quatermain is to blame somehow....

More seriously, I find stuff like this simultaneously horrifying and enticing. The idea of a vibrant urban culture just disappearing as the people go elsewhere is really disturbing to me, although it's hardly all that rare -- the Maya abandoned their cities, Irem was apparently destroyed by a natural disaster and its people never recovered, Rome went from one of the most powerful cities in the world to a relative backwater, Carthage, of course "delenda erat," but a lot of these happened slowly and for identifiable causes. They mystery of why people give up on a location is... enticing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, we tend to think of these disappearances as mysterious and disastrous but the reality seems to be that it happens to quite a few cities and cultures, from Troy to Detroit, as the reasons for their existence disappear. In the Netherlands we're seeing the slow dying off of the northeast of the country, as younger people move west in search of jobs while their parents age and die. Quite a few villages and small towns have or are becoming unsustainable as true population centres as the empty houses outnumbered the inhabited onces and there are not enough people anymore to support any aminities....
posted by MartinWisse at 6:46 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


And note that these guys were just /one/ of the actively trading peoples in and around the region. Africa was trading with China before it was cool, yo.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


And note that these guys were just /one/ of the actively trading peoples in and around the region.

The Swahili are still active in trading and the culture has evolved even as the language has become the de facto lingua franca, though some places remain as throwbacks.

Africa was trading with China before it was cool, yo.
posted by infini at 7:28 AM on November 30, 2011


Awesome post.
posted by Vhanudux at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2011


The women of the stretched-breast tribe would stretch their breasts so they feed the children on their backs while they worked.

Oh... oh my.
posted by fatbird at 8:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


"There were local African kings," he continued, "and later there would be intermarriage with those who settled here. A famous African aristocrat was a lady ruler and she married an Arab. Islam was pervasive around the 12th-century and most of the citizens were Muslims but this did not mean coastal Africans abandoned everything of their traditional lifestyle. They went to the mosque but afterwards went directly to the shrine, this is an exorcism charm, a part of Swahili life."

V.S. Naipul writes about this a bit in his novel Beyond Faith. Islam, for most of history, has had its limits on non-Arab populations.

Very good post infini. Thanks for taking the time to put it up.
posted by three blind mice at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2011


All a huge ploy to get you to sit through my vacation photos...

(actually this was the first moment I had time to sit and dig up all I could to satisfy my curiosity, it was the eeriest place I've ever visited)
posted by infini at 8:21 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oooooh, this is wonderful stuff! Thanks for the intriguing post!

History is so much more amazing than anything fiction can come up with...

All except that bit about the stretched breasts. Actually had to bite my lip to keep from shrieking when I heard that one. Ouch.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2011


Brilliant post. Well done.
posted by waxbanks at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2011


I have no idea about those breasts, I didn't see any in the links... darn teenagers....
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2011


Working your way up the coast, infini? I'll expect a comprehensive post on some lost treasure in the Horn of Africa in the next few weeks. Keep being awesome.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens if we find out they used slave labor?
posted by Renoroc at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2011


"What happens if we find out they used slave labor?"

Then we reaffirm that globalism often requires a captive workforce.
posted by clvrmnky at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2011


Slave trade and the Zanj Rebellion
posted by infini at 11:20 AM on November 30, 2011


They mystery of why people give up on a location is... enticing.

I know! Wouldn't it be at least a little bit tempting to stay behind, like "well if no one else is going to use this giant castle no one will mind if I do"?
posted by Hoopo at 12:13 PM on November 30, 2011


the Maya abandoned their cities, Irem was apparently destroyed by a natural disaster and its people never recovered, Rome went from one of the most powerful cities in the world to a relative backwater, Carthage, of course "delenda erat," but a lot of these happened slowly and for identifiable causes. They mystery of why people give up on a location is... enticing.

Don't forget the Indus Valley civilisation - the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China. The exact cause of its decline is still unknown, but climate-related changes in glaciation & subsequent decrease & rerouting of river flows are the prime suspects.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2011


This makes me think of plague cities - entire cities abandoned as fast-acting plagues overwhelmed their infrastructure. I'm not home now or I'd reference the book, one about archaeological digs that corroborate historical/biblical events with real explanations. At any rate, there was one excavated city that showed the progression clearly: burials, then mass burials, then buildings and sections walled off, then the city abandoned with a layer of corpses left where they fell.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:31 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent post. Thanks for putting it together.
posted by immlass at 4:34 PM on November 30, 2011


since gede looks so much like the juarez, mexico of today, i would guess that a walmart opened nearby and people just stopped going there.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:23 PM on November 30, 2011


Cahokia
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on November 30, 2011


Great post! I was just there in Watamu / Malindi this past weekend.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:48 PM on November 30, 2011


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