Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Sunken Ship to Be Dug Out

By Mazera Ndurya
August 09, 2005

Plans are under way to excavate the wreckage of a Chinese ship that sunk in the Indian Ocean, off Siyu Island, about six centuries ago.

Initial surveys have already been carried out by a team of Chinese archeologists and their Kenyan counterparts at the site where the ship is believed to have hit a rock and capsized near Shanga Village in Lamu.

Head of coastal archeology in the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Mr Herman Kiriama, said the excavation of the wreckage would be the climax of the process to unveil the Chinese heritage at the Coast.

A section of Lamu: Plans are at an advanced stage to excavate a Chinese ship that sank near the island 600 years ago. Experts are trying to trace Chinese heritage at the coast.

"A lot has been said about the ship that is believed to have been in the fleet of the legendary Chinese mariner Zheng He, but it is still not clear where exactly it sunk and what other relevant information is buried with it," said Mr Kiriama.

About 25,000 sailors
Zheng He led a fleet of ships with about 25,000 sailors on a peace and trade mission and what we want to establish is which one of the ships was involved in the historical sea mishap. This will enable us to trace the ancestry of the Chinese descendants in parts of the Lamu archipelago, he said.

Chinese archeologists, led by the head of Antiquity in China, Mr Yan Yalin, have conducted surveys in Shanga around the Pazzeria rocks, locally know as Mwamba Hassani, and laid the ground for the excavation.

This will be the biggest underwater archeological activity ever to be conducted since the excavation that was carried out by Americans near Mombasa's Fort Jesus in the 1970s, said Mr Kiriama.

He said the visit by the leading archeologists, who included an underwater archeology expert Zhang Wei and pottery expert Qin Dashu from Beijing University, followed a request by the NMK for assistance to carry out the exercise.

Underwater archeology, said Mr Kiriama, is a highly specialised and expensive undertaking that Kenyan experts were unable to carry out because of the high cost involved and the absence of archeologists trained in that field.

Mr Kiriama said he was confident that the Chinese experts, who have left for their country, would come up with a report that would impress the Chinese government to fund the exercise.

The Chinese people have a lot of interest in their history and we hope to start the project before the end of this year. It will be a joint exercise but since we have no qualified underwater archeologists, our Chinese experts will have to train some few Kenyans to work with them, he said.

It is not clear how long the whole process would take because all the equipment will have to be imported from China.

The Chinese experts will also undertake studies on the Chinese pottery that has been found along the Kenyan coast to establish its origin.

Mr Kiriama said no adequate studies had been carried out on the Chinese porcelain that had been found mainly by fishermen on the coastline.

Chinese interest in the historical evidence began in 2002 when they started tracing families with their ancestry that culminated in a trip to China by Miss Mwamaka Shariffu, 19, as part of celebrations to mark 600 years since Mr Zheng He led his fleet.

Mr Kiriama said a successful undertaking of the excavation would be a boon to the tourism industry as many Chinese tourists would be visiting to learn more about their heritage.

The Chinese people, mainly historians and researchers, will have something to work on and subsequently market it to their kinsmen. This is something our tour agents should now be working on because it will attract many people from China, he said.


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