Mombasa’s Malaika


This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Zakaria Tiberindwa from Uganda. Thanks for your entry Zakaria!

Dhow cruises, pilau feasts, the tusks on Moi Avenue, and a Likoni Ferry ride are some of the things you will see or partake of when you visit Mombasa for three days like I did. You could even spend there more time. It is the place where peculiar cultures meet strange traditions; they cuddle before they go on to commune and give birth to an infusion of customs. Yes, its traditions infuse African, European and Arab culture without making any feel inferior. The Swahili tradition which pre-dominates Mombasa is partly a by- product of that infusion.




While swimming in the rich cultural experience, I met an enormous beast; Fort Jesus which like I was swimming a wealthy cultural legacy. I found her taking a serene rest in the Mombasa sun in utter defiance of the ruthless scotches there from. For a structure that has endured all forms of mischief, treachery and almost untamable forms of revolt coupled with hundreds of years in existence, it comes off as no surprise that it bullies on-lookers with such an innate defiance that it carries. The former military base of the various powers; mainly the Portuguese and Arabs that ruled the Island over the years stands like a souvenir of the age so long gone, an age that in Uganda we only get a glimpse of in history classes. No wonder that the surrounding streets are strewn with ancient buildings. In fact a stroll through the corals of the fort and the various arts and crafts shops, jeweler’s stores and the like that stand on the streets is akin to going through an interesting lecture on the history of East Africa.

Mombasa is a city that carries an aura of seductive mystery. Now, forget about the Mermaid legend, all those lies about Mermaids living in Mombasa. And just in case, you have not been fed on that lie; that primordial lie, that you cannot visit Mombasa and never get entangled in a strange late-night encounter with a mermaid, thank your God. Thank your God because it is just that; a terribly good lie which no man who has visited or is about to visit that pretty Island deserves to hear.

Instead what you need to hear for you to get a rough idea of Mombasa’s allure is Grand Charo’s sweet melody, Malaika (Angel). Obviously, some have argued that it is Fadhili William’s tune and others have even called it Fundi Konde’s.  But there are those who think it is Miriam Makeba’s original creation. Yet, she simply lent the song a voice of popularity. What is more important is that Grand Charo, Fundi Konde and Fadhili William all have their roots in Mombasa which makes the song, of Mombasa heritage.

You need to listen to the song; seriously you need to listen to the song, if some of those demons that bring mermaids into your imagination wherever someone speaks about Mombasa, are to be exorcised. As for me wherever I listen to it or rather the calming bango fusions which I picked from Mombasa, I am teleported right back to the Island. The memories of that fine ride that I had with a Mombasa beauty or rather a Mombasa Malaika in a Tuk- Tuk (an Auto Rickshaw) are conjured. They float in my veins and I remember how that kind daughter of a man for now we shall call her Sulaika my Malaika offered to give me company on my Tuk- Tuk ride around the city. I remember how I stood before the girl, when we were parting ways and said.

“Sulaika my Malaika,

I got no penny to fly back to Mombasa

I know I may never find you Sulaika

but let me sing you a chorus, Malaika

Of the song I love, oh Sulaiika

I will sing of my love from Uganda-“


“Malaika, Nakupenda, Mailaka

Malaika, Nakupenda, Malaika”


I sang while a tear rolled down her cheek.


“Nami Nifenyajje, kijjura Mwenzio

Ningekuoa Malaika

Nashindua na Mali sina, we

Ningekuoa Malaika”


“You know my angel; you know how much I love you, my angel.” I quickly added just when I was done singing. “You know that I have been defeated by the lack of fortune or else I would be in Mombasa forever. And while there, I would have married you my angel. Money is now troubling my soul, and it is troubling my soul. Money has locked me up in Uganda and I cannot stay in Mombasa my angel. I did not know I would find angels in Mombasa. For if I had known, I would not have planned to return to Uganda.

About the Author: Zakaria Tiberindwa: I am a Uganda writer who has done most of my writing as a humor columnist in a number of Uganda’s newspapers my most recent stint having been with Uganda’s leading weekly, the Sunday Vision. I am currently enrolled on a Bachelor of Laws at Uganda Christian University. I love writing, read more at


Writing Contest

This is an entry to the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest. The theme of this contest was "Inspiration: A Place You Love". Enjoy reading and don't forget to leave a comment!

2 responses to “Mombasa’s Malaika

  1. Thanks Lisa for publishing travelers from around the world. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to read a piece by a local writer in Uganda. Its interesting to see the local thoughts of an actual resident as opposed to just a traveler who went there for a few days. I particularly liked the story of the mermaid, everyone can relate to some random story that has been passed from mouth to mouth for generations without any real merit!!

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