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Feature: Kenyan girl with Chinese blood steals limelight

NAIROBI, June 30 (Xinhua) -- She was born in a remote island along the Kenyan coast. In her childhood, she learned her forefathers were among some Chinese sailors who escaped from a wrecked ship hundreds of years ago.


Her fate is totally changed after groups of Chinese visited her village to study the cultural relics left by an ancient Chinese fleet. And suddenly she steals the limelight as she is invited to visit China as a special guest and is offered a scholarship to pursue further studies in a Chinese college later this year.


Her name is Mwamaka Sharifu, a 19-year-old graduate of Kenya's Lamu Girls Secondary School and widely known as the "China girl" since media disclosed her Chinese origin.


On Thursday evening, she took the flight to China together with Alfred Mramba Kashari, mayor of Kenya's Malindi city, as they are invited by the Chinese government to join the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of its greatest ancient navigator Zheng He's overseas adventures.


"I want to see the place where my ancestors live," said Sharifu, adding that she is going to explain to her hosts why there are Chinese descendants living along the coast of east Africa.


Sharifu was born in the remote village of Siyu of the Lamu islands, where many pieces of ancient chinaware were unearthed recently. Legend has it that a Chinese vessel sank somewhere near the island hundreds of years ago and the sailors aboard settled down and gradually merged into the local community.


Many archaeologists and journalists who visited Lamu believe the wrecked ship must be one of the Zheng He's grand fleets, which visited Kenya's Malindi, Mombasa and other east African ports in 1415. Apart from a lot of chinaware found in Kenya's coast areas, the fact that some locals exhibit Chinese features makes scholars believe that they are the offspring of Zheng's crew.


"I look forward to visiting China and studying in the Chinese university," said Sharifu, adding that she'd like to choose medical science as her major so that she will be able to come back to help her fellow Kenyans.


None of her friends is as lucky as Sharifu: besides the upcoming root-finding trip, the Chinese government also offered her scholarship to pursue a bachelor's degree in China.


The Chinese embassy and some private Chinese have offered financial assistance to the Lamu schoolgirl. And with the help of the embassy, the Ministry of Education of China has decided to provide an extra government scholarship for her.


"This year marks the 600th anniversary of the navigation from China to Kenya by Zheng He, the great Chinese navigator. To give an opportunity to Miss Mwamaka Sharifu to study in China has a special significance in commemorating this important event and promoting the existing China-Kenya friendly cooperation to a new height," said the embassy in a statement.


She also got recommendations from Athman Lali Omar, head of Coastal Archaeology National Museums of Kenya.


"I'd like to salute the Chinese for seeing her through at least to secondary school level. And I would like to congratulate Mwamaka Sharifu for pursuing in her study to this level and also for her interest to go further in her education," he said.


The Lamu islands of north Kenya, including Pate island, Manda island, Lamu island and some other smaller islands, had been trading frequently with the oriental world for hundreds of years.


The Siyu village on Pate island has around 2,300 people, according to the village chief Bwana Ahmedi Maka. Among them, there are still about 30 people who are believed to be the offspring of the ancient Chinese sailors.

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