Morris Kiruga mulls over the bizarre legends behind the striking Hell’s Kitchen canyon in Marafa.
Photo: Brian Siambi
There’s a small sandstone canyon in Malindi called Hell’s Kitchen. Located less than an hour’s drive from Malindi town, this captivating hole is nature’s art, and that’s even before you hear the legends about why the gods made it.
If you stand at the viewpoint at sunset, the rays bathe the ridges and contours of the canyon in such splendor you won’t stop staring. It is an odd beauty, this hole in the ground. The kind of beauty we recognize in paintings and pictures, and sometimes people. That makes you forget that even now, in this serenity, this canyon could be growing right under you and you would never know.
You could stand by the viewpoint and just appreciate the marvels of nature or hike down into the belly of the canyon to see its formations up close. The latter requires good shoes because the soil within is loose and the gullies are deep. Fair warning though, it is not called Hell’s Kitchen just to sound goth; when the sun is directly overhead, it can get so hot that no one will let you explore it.
If you ask about how the gods made Hell’s Kitchen, each story will sound more bizarre than the last. One goes something like this: when the floor of the canyon was once above ground, it was home to a rich family of the Wakiza clan. The gods were displeased with them so they sank only their home with the family still inside. What was left was splendour to the senses, but perhaps not for those the gods doomed.
Another legend goes that when the gods were displeased, they warned the townspeople to either flee or face destruction. Everyone listened except one woman who stayed put and sank with the town. Everyday since then, the guide will explain with a straight face, she cooks or she burns, in some versions of this morbid legend. If this doesn’t convince you not to hike down the canyon at midday when temperatures could well be above 50 degrees, I don’t know what will.
When my guide, Jefwa, was done regaling me with these tales, we talked about community and erosion. The canyon and the community in Marafa are intertwined and because they consider it sacred, we were explicitly told that alcohol, cigarettes and carnal activities are forbidden within the canyon. I am not sure whether we were warned about this because we looked like likely offenders, or if there had been cases of debauchery just before we arrived.
I also found it rather fascinating how Jefwa and his fellow guides were multilingual. A few of them could barely speak English or Swahili because here, there are more prominent languages of commerce such as Italian.
There is another Hell’s Kitchen in Kenya. It is part of the Hell’s Gate gorges, which are named after sections of a house. There’s a bedroom where evil rests and a kitchen where he presumably gets his dinner made on days when he doesn’t want to sit and enjoy the splendours of Malindi.
Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com