Lamu - Original Swahili Settlement
As Kenya’s oldest living town, Lamu has a rich and colorful history. The town was one of the many original Swahili settlements that stretched from Somalia to Mozambique. It remained a thriving port town through the turbulent Portuguese invasions and later the Omani domination of the 14th century.
No car No Traffic
The physical appearance and the character of the town have changed little over the centuries. The narrow, winding streets accommodate only pedestrian or donkey traffic. Some people are concerned that Lamu’s popularity and increased tourism will ultimately undermine the unique value system and culture of this Swahili settlement. Others argue, however, that without the tourist industry Lamu will suffer and stagnate
Lamu Swahili Food
To experience Swahili food is to taste the history of the east coast of Africa. Today’s Kenyan and Tanzanian cookery has been strongly influenced by the arrival of foreign settlers, the foreigners brought with them new ingredients and ideas from their own cultures and countries, and over the centuries Swahili cuisine emerged as a colorful mix of the best of African, Arabian and Asian flavors.
The Lamu Museum
The Museum is open Monday – Saturday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Visit the Germany post office and the Swahili house too for more information about the history. Other places to see the history is Takwa Ruins, Pate Island and Shanga
The population of Lamu is predominantly Muslim although there has now been an influx of people from throughout the Kenyan coast diversifying the ethnic makeup of the area. However, men can still be seen to wear the full length robes known as khanzus with kofia caps while women cover themselves in the black wraparound cloth common in other Islamic cultures. It is therefore requested that the tourists coming to Lamu should respect this culture and tradition by dressing modestly around town and refraining from displays of public affection.
Unfortunately Lamu had a slave-based economy until the turn of the 20th century. When slavery was abolished in 1907 the economy of the island suffered greatly. In the early 1970s, Lamu became famous for its reputation as an exotic location, attracting backpackers, hippies and other travelers looking for an escape from the outside world.
Lamu Cultural festival is the largest celebration of the art and culture of the Lamu people. It’s held every November and draws a big local and international crowd. Events include dhow and donkey races, calligraphy and henna competitions, cultural dances, craft exhibits, a food bazaar and various theatrical performances.
Idd ul Fitr marks the end of Ramadhan (1 month of fasting) and is a religious holiday which is celebrated by many. During this month there is a carnival feeling as the community concentrates on family, good deeds and giving to the poor. There is a fete for the kids in the town square and traditional dance on the seafront.
Maulid marks the birth of the Islamic prophet Mohamed. The event is celebrated in the 3 major mosques in town. It’s a month long celebration that climaxes in a 3 days event that attracts Muslim pilgrims from as far as the Comoros and Zanzibar Islands. Each night Maulid is performed in the mosques, there is reciting of poems, singing and drumming, on the final day men and boys parade through the town singing, dancing and playing traditional music.
Prayers (Swallah) 5 times a day
Most businesses are closed during prayers. Non Muslims are welcome to enter the Mosque by arranging with the Imam.
Lamu host both christian and muslim weddings. Christians can wed from the church or at DC’s office while the muslim marry using the sharia law either in the mosque or at the Khadi’s office.
Majority of the women in Lamu are muslims. Not many will be seen walking during the day as they are not suppose to be seen by men from outside the family. In this case, you will find a big number of men in many public places.
In many places around Lamu, you will have to remove your shoes while entering other peoples’ houses. Shoes are normally left on the entrance and it is considered as disrespect not to remove them. It is very common to see people walking bare feet in town.
The traditional way of eating in Lamu is by sitting down on a mat with legs acrossed. People normally eat using bare hands and it’s common to see them eating from the same plate.