The big kettle of Fort Jesus and how it came to being

The famous huge co ee pot outside the Fort Jesus Museums which was built by Hussein Alawy in 1988 as a decoration, June 25, 2015.

One evening in 1987, two men working at a curio shop outside Fort Jesus in Mombasa conceived an idea to erect something to mark 10 years of former President Daniel Moi's rule.

"My boss insisted we do something to commemorate 10 years of President Moi's reign the following year. But after pondering over the idea, we saw the need to do something that had historical bearing with the local community. It was a matter of killing two birds with one stone," says Hussein Alawi, the man who built the big kettle, locally known as buli, outside Fort Jesus.

Ali Taher popularly known as Faiz "Ali curio" and Alawi -- accomplished artists in their own rights, sought the help of a UN conservationist attached to Fort Jesus, who not only bought the idea but also offered to design the kettle.

Ali conceptualised the idea and supplied materials needed to complete the three foot "Swahili buli", a representation of an old kettle made of bronze that originated from the Middle East. The kettle was popular as it could keep coffee hot for long periods.

With the help of two other assistants, Alawi built the three foot kettle complete with a fountain in a month. "It was one month of dedication for a cause. I gave it my best shot," says Alawi of the buli which was completed in 1988 and for which Ali Curio paid him Sh18,000 as labour.

It was not an easy task for Alawi, 47, and Ali, who initially faced opposition from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).

NMK Coast region assistant director Athman Hussein admits the organisation was initially opposed to the kettle being put outside Fort Jesus. "We did not know how it would impact on Fort Jesus. There were fears that it could overshadow it," says Hussein.

Today, Hussein hails the two artists for the kettle which he says has contributed to the beauty of the centuries-old tourist attraction. "Many people visiting Fort Jesus have to stop, stare and take photos beside the buli," says Hussein.

The buli renders a metaphor of shared cup of coffee and its significance in bringing people together.

"Sharing coffee among the Swahili is a cultural tradition observed for centuries in Swahili towns such as Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa," says Hussein.

Hussein says such kettles have since gone out of market.

But NMK is yet to gazzette the kettle as one of its artifacts.

"NMK Act 2006 is very clear that something must have been in existence in 1900 for it to qualify as an artifact," says Hussein. "Our laws seem to dwell more on the history of the product other than its importance," he observes.

Besides the kettle are three Arabian coffee mugs, two of them on top of one another and one enjoined to the two with a layer of cement.

Two other mugs are found in the background making a total of five mugs.

Alawi says NMK should take over the maintenance of the buli as it has made Fort Jesus more popular.

"There used to be a fountain but which stopped working when power was disconnected as there was no one to pay electricity bill," he says.

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Fort Jesus kettle