Remembering December Colours In East Africa ~ Thursday’s Special

Scan-130428-0122

December is usually the time of the short rains in Kenya. I say usually because these days the tropics are especially affected by climate change so nothing is certain when it comes to weather. It is also the hottest time of the year, and in the upcountry regions, the season for planting. Here on Lamu Island (above) it is also tourist time, although the year we spent Christmas there it was scarcely crowded. This  photo was taken on Christmas Eve as the sun was setting. There were about six other people on the beach. Earlier that day we had arrived in a sudden squall which made the dhow crossing to Lamu from the air field on Manda Island a touch exciting. We visitors all huddled under the awning while the stalwart captain kept us on course across a choppy, foggy strait.

Scan-130428-0024 - Copy

*

Most of our Christmases were spent on Tiwi beach south of Mombasa. Not a busy place either. Here’s the sunrise over the lagoon at Maweni one Christmas morning long ago.

sunrise on the reef

*

And some ageing views of the lagoon in head-on sunshine:

Scan-130510-0036cr

Scan-130603-0061cr

Thursday’s Special ~ please visit Paula to see her colour prompts. As you might conclude, they include aquamarine, cyan and golden.

Looking Down On Lamu

Scan-140802-0010sq

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.

Scan-140802-0015sq

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.

Scan-130428-0136sq

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.

Scan-130428-0084sq

Scan-140802-0011sq

Roof Squares 20

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Quayside Lamu ~ Thursday’s Special

The Swahili communities of the East African seaboard grew out of the commerce between Arab dhow merchants and African farmer-fishermen. It is a trade that began perhaps two thousand years ago, and it is a trade that relied on the gyre of monsoon winds – the kaskazi that bore the dhow merchants south from the Persian Gulf, and the kusi to take them home.

Some of them stayed of course, to manage the trade with the African hinterland. Gold and ivory, ambergris, leopard skins, tortoiseshell and mangrove poles were the lure. In return they traded beads, brass wire, textiles, rugs, dates, porcelain. And so from at least 800 years ago city states grew up along the coast – from Lamu near the Somali border in the north  to northern Mozambique in the south, and also out on the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar and the Comoros. So evolved a new culture as Arab merchants married African women, and along with it a new language KiSwahili – the fusion of Bantu vernaculars and Arabic. Today Swahili is the lingua franca of East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania) although the purest form is deemed to be spoken on Zanzibar.

The trade had its vicious side – slavery, and Stone Town on Zanzibar was notorious for its slave market. The slaving and ivory expeditions of Tippu Tip, a Swahili merchant, were the scourge of Central and East Africa during the nineteenth century. He himself was a Zanzibari plantation owner, but he also served the Omani sultans of Zanzibar who had extensive clove plantations on the island, and furthermore ruled much of the East African coast until the British arrived in the late nineteenth century and whittled down their control.

Even so the East African slave trade continued on into the twentieth century. Slaves were still being sold on Lamu until 1907 when the trade was finally banned.

Scan-140802-0013 (2)

These days the main trade on Lamu is tourism, and the large Arab dhows, bearing dates and rugs and treasure chests, no longer call in there. Local trade using the smaller Lamu dhows still thrives though. Today’s main exports are mangrove poles, coral rag stone and coral mortar – all for the construction business, and boats are also the main form of transport around the island unless you want to walk or take a donkey. All auto traffic, apart from ambulances, is banned, although this year’s political campaigning has seen the arrival of illegal MPs’ vehicles and noisy motorcycles, so risking the rescinding of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage status. Hopefully things will settle down again. But in any event the quaysides of Lamu are still key to life there. In fact the two mile footpath from Lamu town to Shela Village, the other main community, seems to be one long quayside.

Scan-130429-0012

Scan-130428-0098

IMG_0053

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special  Please visit Paula for more September word prompts. In case it’s not obvious, my choice was ‘quayside’.

The Solitude Within

Scan-140801-0001 - Copy (2)

As in the previous post, this is a Christmas photo, but one taken long ago when we were visiting Lamu off the Kenya coast. I’ve posted it before, but make no excuse for showing it again. It is one of my favourite photos, and one caught in a split second with my Olympus Trip. I think the gods of photography were smiling on me.

The gentleman so absorbed is Mzee Lali, the owner of the sailing dhow. He spoke no English, nor said a word to us that I recall on our day trip out to the reef. The conversation was dominated by his nephew, Athman, who, as a speaker of English, Kenya’s official language, could hold a captain’s licence, and so take tourists out on sailing trips.

He told us that Lali was born on Pate, one of the more remote large islands in the Lamu archipelago. He knew everything there was to know about sailing, Athman said. But because he spoke no English he could not take the necessary two and half year captain’s course, and so obtain a licence.

Somehow this photo echoes the dilemma of island elders. They belong to another world in another time.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:Solitude

Vibrant: me on Lamu Island far too long ago

 

Scan-130426-0017

It was a four day trip over Christmas. We’d been living in Kenya for three or so years by then, and another five to go before we would return to the UK for good. Lamu Island  set my imagination alight. Later I began writing a teen adventure aimed at the African schools literature market. It was published by Macmillan in their Pacesetters series around the time we left Kenya in 2000.  It’s still in print, and even if I say so myself, quite a good yarn. I have a feeling my brain cells were a little more vibrant back then. Perhaps they are craving the African light…

100_3649 - Copy

Vibrant

Three dhows at sundown on Lamu

Scan-140801-0001

You, the very lovely people who have been following my blog for a while, will have seen this image before – possibly more than once. But I’m sure you won’t mind seeing it again. Even if I say so myself, it is a blissful scene,  and a chance capture in the Manda Strait on Boxing Day too long ago.
Trio

Bird’s Eye View of Shela Village, Lamu

Scan-140802-0003 (2)

 

This week at Thursday’s Special, Paula has asked us to interpret ‘a bird’s eye view’. I’m not sure that four storeys up in Shela’s Island Hotel  quite constitutes a bird’s eye view, but it’s as high as I’m going. I’ve written about our stay on Lamu in other posts. One thing I will say here is that we had a room that was ideal for someone as nosy as I am. Three sides were entirely available for nosiness, overlooking the centre of the village. I didn’t know which way to look first.

In the next photo you can see the village square with its donkey park under the thorn tree. There was only one vehicle on Lamu at the time of our visit – an aged Land Rover, and donkeys were used for all forms of land transportation. They were left under the tree until someone needed one to move something. In the bottom corner you can see blocks of quarried coral rag used for house building.

Scan-130428-0138

 

Please visit Paula at Thursday’s Special for more views.

One Word Photo Challenge: Seafoam

Scan-130428-0024

Here are some more Lamu photos (see previous post). Some of you will have seen the top one before, but it is one of my favourites, and I thought the colour of awning fits with Jennifer Nichole Wells’ one word seafoam challenge. It is a colour that I anyway associate with the Indian Ocean. This shot was taken on a dhow taxi in the middle of a tropical downpour. It was December, the monsoon season, and we had just flown in to the little local airport on Manda Island. The strait between the two islands looked suddenly grey and forbidding. It seemed strangely cold too in the midst of the hot season, and not the best start to our four-day Christmas break from Nairobi.

195

But then the rain passed. This is the waterfront of Lamu stone town, one of the best surviving Swahili settlements on the Indian Ocean seaboard, and a world heritage site. You will have to look harder here for the gentle shade of seafoam.

Lamu is a captivating place. I was so impressed by our four days there that I wrote a teen novel, Sea Running,  published by Macmillan Pacesetters for the African children’s literature market. It’s a good yarn about drug runners and first love. It also has a splash of seafoam on the cover.

100_3649 - Copy

For more posts on Lamu:

Dhow-dreaming

The Swahili

Christmas on Lamu

Black & White Sunday

Scan-140801-0010

Today Paula’s guest blogger over at Lost in Translation is Debbie Smyth who many will know from her own blog Travel with Intent. Today she is setting us the challenge to ‘let the shapes shine through’. This is what she says:

 

For me the most important point about monochrome is that by removing the distraction of colour, the photographer is able to direct the viewer to the key elements of the image.  Going monochrome is one of several tools we have as a photographer that allows us to provide focus.

The composition of my own photo is perhaps a little ‘busy’ in this B & W version (it could have done without the pole), but I like the play of light on the dhow sails, the clouds, and Lali’s straw hat. It was taken in Manda Strait, in Kenya’s Lamu archipelago.

For the story behind the photo, please go HERE. But now here are more versions. The second one down is a ‘red filter’ edit, followed by sepia. Let me know what you think.

Scan-140801-0010 - Copy (2)

Scan-140801-0010 - Copy (2)

Scan-140801-0010 - Copy (2)