The Watch

Kua Ruins

Juani Island, Tanzania

2016 World Monuments Watch

Located on Juani Island in the Mafia Archipelago, the Kua ruins are all that remains from a medieval Swahili town. They offer insight into an island civilization that saw Portuguese and Omani control as well as independence, enslavement, and eventual abandonment. Indicators of early settlement and trade—including Islamic and Chinese ceramics dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and currency from mainland Tanzania—have been found in the ruins, while Portuguese accounts from the sixteenth century note the great wealth of the Kua people.

The surviving structures at Kua include the ruins of residences, mosques, and what is believed to have been the sultan’s palace. Building materials include coral, lime, and wood, with mangrove and thatched roofs. Many of the standing ruins could collapse at any time, while the site as a whole is threatened by the continued effects of a harsh climate and destruction at the hands of explorers digging for fabled Swahili treasures. Unmanaged tourism from nearby resorts and potential commercial development put centuries of heritage at risk. Local villagers, mostly subsistence fishermen, are largely unaware of the significance of the ruins and are unable to maintain them.

The 2016 World Monuments Watch supports the steps that have been taken to document the Kua ruins and develop sustainable mechanisms for conservation and ongoing protection. Goals include the creation of appropriate visitor infrastructure and a site management plan that balances the competing demands of tourism, economic development, training, and heritage preservation while building local capacities.

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