I’ve written of our long ago Christmas stay on Lamu Island HERE. We stayed in Shela village, an ancient Swahili settlement, two miles along the beach from the more ancient Stone Town, now a World Heritage Site. Our rooftop room in the Island Hotel gave me wall to wall views of surrounding village rooftops. The smartly made-over ones tend to belong to Europeans who have come to the island to lotus eat or to run small hotels.
Lamu lies just off the Kenya mainland near the Somali border. It was once one of a chain of Swahili city states situated along East Africa’s Indian Ocean seaboard from Kismayu in the north, to Kilwa down in Mozambique, and including the islands of Zanzibar. These Bantu-Arab settlements had their origins around 800-900 CE, and their growing wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages depended on the Arab dhow trade – the exchange of African slaves, ivory, leopard skins, mangrove poles for oriental silks and rugs, porcelain, dates, treasure chests. Kilwa was also the nexus for the export of African gold from the Shona city of Great Zimbabwe.
The ocean trade depended on the cycle of monsoon winds to carry the dhows to and from the Persian Gulf. If winds were missed then, crews were stranded for months along Africa’s shores, though this gave the captains a chance to repair storm-ravaged boats, and crews the spare time to do some concentrated liaising with the locals. This, then, was the world of Sinbad (Sendebada in KiSwahili), the Basra merchant-adventurer who made many such voyages in a bid to restore his fortunes. His stories, too, have their origins in the 9th century, around the time many of the city states were making their first appearance as permanent harbour-settlements built of quarried coral rag.
Now that the Arab dhow trade is long gone, and the prosperity of the Swahili city states pretty much forgotten, Lamu islanders’ main income tends to be tourism related. The recent trend, then, of private European investment in small, perfectly formed guest houses, involving the thoughtful restoration of the many of the old merchant houses, is probably no bad thing. In recent years, too, there has also been great community enthusiasm to find new ways to promote and share the island’s unique cultural heritage with visitors.
Lamu’s Stone Town has long and famously hosted the religious Maulid Festival, celebrating the birth of Mohammed, but there are many secular events through the year, including the famous New Year’s Day dhow race; donkey racing; sport fishing contests, and cultural, art, yoga and food festivals. In many ways it may remain a deeply conservative community but, by all accounts, still very much a welcoming one. And apart from anything else, in over twenty years I have not forgotten the absolute deliciousness of Lamu’s fish samosas and mango smoothies.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
30 thoughts on “Looking Down On Lamu”
Beautiful place, did you try the boat ride?
Oh yes. It’s obligatory if you want to get to and from the airport on Manda island. We also went for a trip along the mangroves to Manda Toto 🙂
Nice , next time come to Mombasa. You are very much welcome.
We used to visit Mombasa quite often when we lived in Nairobi. It would be lovely to come back.
We learn something new every day. Your well written post on Lamu added to my knowledge. Thank you, Tish!
You are so good reading all my posts, Peter. Thank you for your generous attention.
Your blog is a delight to visit, Tish!
That’s a lovely thing to say, Peter. Many thanks. Am most touched.
Blue skies just like we have down here. 🙂
Not here though. Gone back to gloom and Welsh mizzle.
Oh wow another amazing treat. These are glorious roof shots, and thank you again so much for sharing the history and current status.
My pleasure, Becky. Am glad you like these.
Another superb combination of roofs, history and commentary. What a life!
Lovely as usual. I always learn something from your posts. I hope to get to Zanzibar next year as part of a trip to Tanzania. I just read another post you did on that.
That sounds fabulous, Marie. I have a friend who’s recently been to Tanzania – twice – and had a wonderful time.
What a delightful place to have a holiday and, yum, I love mango smoothies
Have you heard the news lately about Lamu? Some greedy folk want to put up a coal plant down there
Criminal to use dirty coal when there is clean sun. The way the scheme was recently reported – the government urging the developers to cut capacity by half – seems to indicate that it’s not in charge of its own schemes and resources. China seems to be moving in. Colonialism by infra-structure.
From the much I know, the people pushing it are our local thieves
…but with Chinese backing?
Reblogged this on Green, Health & Happiness.
Interesting post and great images.
Oww I can’t afford the flights 🙂
Glad you were able to go to Lamu. Our daughter did too, during her stint at Médecins sans frontières. In our days, Lamu was practically closed off to wazungu. No easy access except by hundreds of miles of dirt road. 🙂
Wonderful pictures of this trip, Tish
Thank you, Shimon. It was a very lovely place.