The Coast is our home, not just a vacation spot

Netizens attacked my religion, nationality over call for decency

In Summary

• Kenyans who dress conservatively elsewhere assume the whole of Coast is a beach

• To critics including Boniface Mwangi, I didn't ask anyone to wear a buibui; I said let's be respectful to local norms

Domestic tourists at Jomo Kenyatta Beach in Mombasa during a past Easter Holiday Holiday/
Domestic tourists at Jomo Kenyatta Beach in Mombasa during a past Easter Holiday Holiday/
Image: FILE

Last week, my column on how to tourists ought to respect local culture when visiting the Coastal regions blew up. It became the subject of many discussions and debates online. Of course being that we live in the digital era, I was not exempt from the Internet trolls, who told me to shut up or move back to Somalia.

Let us start this article by clarifying who I am and what I stand for. I am not Somali. I am a Kenyan coastal native who can trace my lineage to various parts of the coastline of Kenya up to at least six generations back. I do not speak of my own tribe because my genetic make-up is as diverse as the stars in the night sky. Therefore, the coast is my tribe, my culture and my hometown.

Secondly, I am a Muslim woman. Yes, I was born into the religion, which is predominant in the area. However, as most of us do, we often embark on a long, soul-searching journey to find what we really believe in. Islam is the religion I choose.

Having clarified these two important factors, let us get into the nitty-gritty of things. My article on the gradual loss of coastal culture was not only aimed at tourists but also for us locals who have seemingly lost our values with time. I grew up in a Mombasa that was diverse yet harmonious. We all respected each other’s cultures and beliefs… we still do.

However, there seems to be a lax in measure when it comes to the preservation of our cultural norms. Dressing is only a small part of the problem; there are bigger issues that have led us to be lenient when it comes to letting tourists get away with breaking the moral code.

I was accused of asking tourists to wear burqas or cover up completely at the beach. If this were a text, I would have inserted the rolling eyes emoji here. People want to hear what they want to hear and just go with it. I noticed that many reactions were based on my name and my religion. Just because I am Muslim, they assumed I was starting to enforce Islamist ideals on non-Muslims. 

I have spent a good deal of my life in between Nairobi and Mombasa, and I can say with utmost certainty that the skimpy dresses Nairobians wear to Mombasa are not worn in Nairobi in broad daylight. Those clothes are reserved for clubbing or travelling to retreat-like spots. Most importantly, those clothes will never see the light of day in shaggz at cũcũ’s and guka’s house. Why? Because there is a code of conduct based on ideologies, tradition and culture. If we can respect the values of conservancy with the upcountry folks, we can surely implement the same ideals in the Coast.

Some readers argued that Islam or the values of modesty are not the principle ideal of the coastal region. Boniface Mwangi accused my article of being preachy by confusing Islam and African culture. He argued that Giriama women used to walk around topless before colonisation. We have lived together with all coastal tribes, including the Mijikenda people, for centuries. The Giriama women still wear the Hando to date because it is their cultural identity and it doesn’t bother any of us one ounce. Booty shorts and cut-out tank tops, however, are not.

Let’s get one thing clear, I have no issues with booty shorts and bikinis, freedom of choice is for everyone. However, these particular clothes are not meant to be worn in the streets of Old Town Mombasa, markets, or malls filled with families. This is not an Islamic thing; it is a basic common law thing.

Everyone is free to comment on matters that are important to them and I will always speak up when it comes to issues I feel need to be discussed about the Coast. Whether you find my articles ‘whiny’ or ‘backward Islamism’, that is your prerogative. You are free to tear my article to pieces because you cannot relate to it. However; I will always speak up about matters that affect the lifestyle and the people of the Coast because they affect us.

To all of us who are from the Coast, whether we are White, Indian or Arab descended, the Coast is not just a December vacation spot, it is our home.

Edited by T Jalio