Have you ever been to the place they call Paradise Lost? Not the one in Kiambu. Once here, you will understand why it is truly a ‘Lost Paradise’. Paradise Lost Shirazi was given its name by a group of colonial mapmakers, who searched in vain for the villages and coastal estuaries they had been told of by local guides.
One day they stumbled upon an area of such grand beauty that they declared it a lost paradise – and so the story goes – Paradise Lost Shirazi was born. Even to date, the place has not lost its captivating beauty that awed the colonialist several decades ago – and it sadly still remains little known and little visited.
Paradise Lost Shirazi lies at the southernmost edge of the Kenya Coast, on an estuary between the Indian Ocean and the fresh waters of Ramisi River within the protective shelter of Shirazi Bay and can easily be accessed from Mombasa Town. Here, you experience the serenity that is out of this world. The place abounds with rich birdlife and crocodiles can also be seen.
The Shirazi region has a mixture of fishing villages and communities from the Mijikenda group of tribes – predominantly the Digo people – who are perhaps well known for their traditions centred around sacred areas called Kayas (forest clearings, once used as store grounds for sacred objects known locally as ‘fingos’). The community here is engaged in the farming of rice, coconuts, sugar cane, cashew nuts, fresh fruits and subsistence crops.
Paradise Lost Shirazi has a history as rich as its natural beauty. At the heart of Paradise Lost lie the ancient ruins of a Persian trading settlement, dating from the 11th century. Paradise Lost is easily accessible from Mombasa.
Apparently, the Shirazi region and the entire South Coast was a route for shipping and dhow trade both from Swahili settlements in the north and southwards to Zanzibar. Dhows were drawn south by the monsoon winds, the Kaskazi, from November to April, and then returned north by the winds, the Kusi, from June to September.
This route became a major source of ivory, slaves, spices and shells, and by the 9th and 10th centuries Omani and Persian trading outposts began to appear along the coast. In the 11th Century, Hassan Bin Ali, a trader from Persia settled in this region and named the area after his home in Shiraz.
He established a trading post here and built a small town. Inter-marriage with the indigenous coastal tribes began to create a new and unique culture blending Arab influence and African language and customs. Soon this culture had a name, derived from the plural of the Arab word Sahel (coast) – Swahili.
Swahili towns grew and developed their own traditional structures, often located in forests and estuaries, with narrow streets between houses, markets, mosques and elaborate tombs and cemeteries. After establishing Shirazi, Bin Ali eventually moved south to Kilwa, near Zanzibar, and his small Swahili settlement prospered. Then, in 1498 the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, arrived in the area, and a battle for control of the coast between the Portuguese and Omanis began.
This struggle lasted for 400 years, and the ongoing wars and changes in trade routes saw many small towns, such as Shirazi, fade and decline. Today all that remains of the original settlement is the ruins of the mosque and some pillars and stone walls, nestled among the trees at Paradise Lost.