BEIJING, July 11 -- Nearly 600 years ago, 20 Chinese
sailors swam ashore an island off Kenya's east coast, having escaped from a
|Mwamaka Sharifu: Descendant of Chinese
They went on to marry local women and convert to
Now a 19-year-old girl who claims to be one of their
descendants has come to China to study, having been given a scholarship by the
Mwamaka Sharifu, from Lamu island in Kenya, will
begin her studies in September.
She says she is a descendant of sailors travelling
with Chinese explorer Zheng He (1371-1435) in the Ming Dynasty.
Sharifu's story has attracted a lot of attention, as
this year is the 600th anniversary of Zheng's first major voyage around the
Indian Ocean. Some scholars believe Zheng is the first man to travel a direct
sea route linking the Indian Ocean with the West.
Countless exhibitions, books and documentaries began
coming out in China about his adventures. Sharifu was invited to China and
arrived on July 1.
"I feel proud and happy to be part of it," she said.
"I am looking forward to studying in China."
Sharifu said she admires Zheng's courage and
adventurous spirit. "I was born as brave as my ancestors," she said. "It is rare
for girls in my Muslim village to go so far to study, to such a big and
"My mum and dad were worried about me. But I told
them I will be fine in my home country."
Born to a poor family, Sharifu's father, Sharifu
Lali, a fisherman, 55, and her mother Baraka Badi Shee, a housewife, 53,
couldn't support her university education.
"The scholarship will change my life and the lives of
the rest of my family," she said. "I believe that through hard work - a
characteristic of the Chinese - I can make a better living."
Having already been to Shanghai, Taicang and Nanjing
in Jiangsu Province, Sharifu appeared quiet when arriving in Beijing on Friday,
where she will tour the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square.
"China is far better than I thought. It is so
beautiful and well-planned," she said.
"Beijing is a big city," Sharifu added. "But Taicang
city will always be a special place for me as it is said it is where my
ancestors came from."
Located in East China's Jiangsu Province, Taicang is
where Zheng set sail from.
Legend in Lamu Island says two of the Chinese ships
struck rocks off the eastern coast of Kenya and 20 sailors swam ashore. However,
local tribes said they could only stay if they could kill a big python in the
One sailor - a master swordsman - lured the python
out of the cave and killed it. The Chinese sailors stayed, married local women
and converted to Islam.
The heritage of Chinese descendants in the African
village has been passed on from generation to generation, not by written records
but by oral tradition.
"My grandma said some Chinese sailors came to Kenya
by way of the Indian Ocean. Most of them died after a storm at sea but some
survived," Sharifu recalled.
Now, only six people on the island of 7,500 people
are known as Chinese descendants. They are Sharifu, her mother, her two sisters
and two younger brothers. However, despite Chinese porcelain being unearthed on
the island and the existence of Chinese folklore there, it is not known if the
group really are descendants of Zheng's sailors.
Sharifu said that in 2002 some Chinese experts came
to her home and cut some of her mother's hair for DNA tests in China. Later, she
said, they told her mother that she was a Chinese descendant.
The teenager was calm when being questioned about her
Chinese blood, saying that people have a right to doubt her. "Asking questions
will help people know more about me. And I am convinced that I am a true Chinese
Sharifu's story was put under the spotlight after she
wrote a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Kenya last year, expressing her wish to
pursue a higher education in China.
"I want to learn traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
so that I can treat my people in Kenya after graduation," she explained.
The Muslim girl wore a grey silk scarf around her
"When I was in Kenya, I used to wear the scarf on my
head. But now I keep it lower, because I think people here like to see me."
(Source: China Daily)