Kenya’s coastline was submerged in the recent geological past, resulting in the creation of the islands and drowned river valleys – the creeks – of today. KILIFI, a small but animated town, is on such a creek. When the Portuguese knew it, Kilifi’s centre was on the south side of the creek and called Mnarani (still the name of the village on that side). Together with Kitoka on the north side of Takaungu Creek, and a settlement on the site of the present town of Kilifi, these three constituted the mini-state of Kilifi.
In recent decades, as the Giriama tribe of the Mijikenda has expanded, Kilifi has become one of their most important towns. Giriama women used to be quickly noticed by everyone for their unusual dress, incorporating a padded backside, although this is now only seen in rural areas. Older women still occasionally go topless but younger women invariably cover up, at least in town. The Mijikenda peoples, and the Giriama especially, are known as great sorcerers and practitioners of witchcraft, and Kilifi still frequently sees enough serious witchcraft accusations to be reported in the local press.
The town is draped along the north side of the creek to the east of the bridge. If you’re driving you’ll probably pass it by. Even most bus and matatu travellers only see it from the inside of the vehicle while more fares are being picked up. But staying the night is a perfectly good plan and certainly better than arriving late in Malindi. There’s little of sightseeing interest in Kilifi itself, other than the two main mosques – one a stumpy shed in the town centre, the other a newer and attractively minareted blue, green and white temple, the Masjid ul Noor, at the north junction. More interesting are the Mnarani ruins across the creek.