Arab traders used sugar to lure Kendu Bay residents to Islam

The wreck of a water vessel at Kendu-bay pier, Old town. The town lost its glory after the new Homa Bay-Kisumu road construction passed out of the town, forcing investors to move to the new town. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

If you visit Kendu Bay, you can’t fail to notice a number of old mosques built between 1910 and 1960, when the port town was a major trading centre and link point in South Nyanza.

The Arab traders brought goods through the Port of Mombasa, moved them to Kisumu through the Uganda Railway and then onwards to South Nyanza through Lake Victoria from Kisumu Port to Kendu Bay Port.

Since most of the Arabs are Muslims, they converted a number of locals to Islam as a way of cementing their relationship. One of the areas, which benefited was Kendu Bay, where Islam began and spread to other parts of South Nyanza.

Mzee Nyandiko Ongadi, born in 1936 and brought up in Kendu Bay, witnessed the birth and spread of Islam in the area.

Despite not having been converted, Ongandi says the Arab traders used various means to attract the locals to Islam.

One way was by distributing free sugar to the residents every time they attended prayer sessions at the mosques.

They also introduced rice and wheat to the Kenyan market.

“When we first got sugar, we were amazed at the sweetness. We had been used to taking porridge without sugar and so the new taste was quite appealing,” he said.

“During the prayer sessions, people were given sugar and many of them went back to the mosques to attend the teachings. Soon, they were converted.”

After independence, the religion spread so fast within the surrounding areas. An Islamic school was built in Kendu Bay, where children were taught the new religion from an early age.

Today, despite Kendu Bay town being a pale shadow of its former self, residents of the area have embraced Islamic culture and perfected their Kiswahili. Today, it is hard to believe that these people are descendants of Kakwajuok and Konyango clans where the town is located.

Many of them have since moved to other parts of south and central Nyanza to spread the religion.

According to Hassan Abdi, a resident of Kendu Bay, he was born in the religion and both his late parents were staunch Muslims, despite the deep-rooted presence of the Seventh Day Adventists in the area.

“I was born and bred here and have remained a staunch Muslim. I do not know much about the history, but I do know that Muslims all over the world value brotherhood. We share the little we have with our brothers and neighbours, be it food, clothing or shelter. So, it’s not surprising that the early Muslims here shared sugar with the locals,” he said.

Gendia SDA church, which is located about five kilometres from Kendu Bay town, was also one of the first religious establishments in the religion in the early 1900s.

With the death of lake transport and diversion of the Kisumu-Kendu Bay road, the town is no longer as vibrant as it was in its olden days.

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