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    Lamu Island What to Do & Lamu Island Activities

    The Lamu Island is a small island located in the Lamu County which occupies an area of about 6,497.7 km2 and a population of 101,539 inhabitants. It is precisely found on the Indian Ocean. It covers a strip of the northeastern coastal mainland and the Lamu Archipelago together with the villages of Shela, Matondoni and Kipungani and is approximately a distance of some 410 Km from the national capital, Nairobi. The Island is believed to have been founded as far back as in the 14th century, making it Kenya’s oldest living town and the best-preserved Swahili settlement in the East African Region. The Island is built on coral stone and mangrove timber and is well known for its simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, elaborately carved wooden doors among other interesting layout planned and constructed by the early settlers of the island. History tells us that Lamu Island defeated the Pate Island and Mombasa in the battle of Shela (Pate Island is another Island on the Indian Ocean) in the eighteenth and nineteenth century respectively.


    Lamu Island then became autonomous but after the slave trade was abolished in Africa, the Island was annexed by Zanzibar and remained a loose province on its own until when Kenya was granted independence from Great Britain in 1963 when it was added to Kenya. It was also known to have prospered the slave trade back in colonial days and attracted a lot of people from different parts of the world with notable among them being the Arabs. The Arabs built the famous Pwani Mosque and a sea port which have remained an integral part of the Island till date. Due to its diverse nature, it inculcated a lot of ancient and traditional artifacts making tourism developing as early as the 1970s with visitors coming in from all over the world to experience the aroma of the island and the best of Swahili culture. The place is also said to be one of the best places for the teaching of Islamic values in the world. The Lamu Old Town itself was added to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2001 in what UNESCO described as a three unique features of the town. UNESCO said the architecture and urban structure of the town, graphically demonstrate the cultural influences that have come together there over several hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India utilizing traditional Swahili techniques to produce a distinct culture which difficult to find in any part of the world. Also, UNESCO described the growth and decline of the seaports on the East African coast and interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans as representing a significant cultural and economic phase in the history of the region which finds its most outstanding expression in the Lamu Township.


    Furthermore, the paramount trading role and its attraction for scholars and teachers according to UNESCO, gave Lamu an important religious function in the region, which it has maintained to this very day on the island. The dominant religion on the island is Islam. One common practice that visitors ought to know about this wonderful island is that the inhabitants of the place love to welcome visitors to their houses and give them special treats with the best of Real Swahili foods such as lobster, coconut sauce, fish, vegetables and among other foods. In the evening, they gather around to entertain visitors with stories but note that some may choose to demand some small fee while others too will demand nothing. The streets on the island are so narrow such that donkeys provide almost the only mode of transport, carrying heavy loads, this feature makes the town quite unique but speed boats are also available as an alternative means of transport on the island. Tourists can better still, tour the island with dhow (a traditional Arab sailing vessel with one or more lateen sails) which is considered one of the primarily means of transport along the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, India, and the East Africa Region where seas are located. The Shela beach on the North end of the island is a beautiful stretch of white sandy and tiny broken sea shells. The beach is just some few Kilometers away from the Lamu Township and is well worth visiting especially, the locals you meet on the way with some of the young boys selling delicious homemade samosas, a popular local food sold at the beach made from potatoes, onions, peas, meat and other ingredients. The popular Social Club on the island is also one main primary source of entertainment for both the locals and tourists especially on Saturday nights. The best of music, beer and pool table are the hallmark of the club which is a mixture of African and reggae music. There are moderate and expensive accommodation pricing in the island and its ranges from budget hotels and guesthouses to the luxury of the Peponi Hotel in Shela, and private houses in Kipungani which one can choose depending on what one can afford. There are also local flights from Mombasa to a small airport in Manda Island which just opposite Lamu Island, and with a ferry or a speed boat; Lamu is just some few kilometers from reaching. A visit to the place will leave in your memory for the rest of your life.


    Lamu Museum

    The Lamu Museum is on the waterfront, housed in a building once occupied by Jack Haggard, Queen Victoria's consul in this outpost. Displays on Swahili culture include a reconstructed Swahili house and relics from Takwa. Other exhibits include Lamu's nautical history, the Maulid Festival and tribes that lived along this part of the coast, including the Boni who were legendary elephant hunters. The nautical section of the Lamu museum features a variety of dhows Ceremonial horns, or siwa, are an important part of the collection. The Lamu siwa is made from engraved brass but the siwa from Paté was carved from a single elephant tusk. One of the largest buildings on the seafront dating from 1892 and once the home of the local leader, Lamu Museum has the finest characteristics of the verandah-style architecture of the 19th century. Housed in a very grand Swahili warehouse on the waterfront, the Lamu Museum is an excellent introduction to the culture and history of Lamu Island. It's one of the most interesting small museums in Kenya, with displays on Swahili culture, the famous coastal carved doors, the Maulid Festival, Lamu's nautical history and the tribes who used to occupy this part of the coast in pre-Muslim days, including the Boni, who were legendary elephant-hunters. There's a bookshop that is specializing in Lamu and Swahili culture. The pride of the collection is the remarkable and ornate siwa (ceremonial horns) of Lamu and Paté, dating back to the 17th century. Lamu's siwa is made of engraved brass, but it pales beside the glorious ivory siwa of Paté, carved from a single massive elephant tusk. Swahili relics from Takwa and other sites in the archipelago are displayed in the gallery downstairs. The upstairs rooms, recreating the wedding quarters of a traditional Swahili house, are particularly worthwhile - not least for priceless factoids like the custom of showing the nuptial sheet to the women of the bride's family to prove consummation had taken place.


    Takwa Ruins Lamu Island

    Takwa Ruins are located in the Manda Island, northern side of Lamu. The ruins are the remains which include a wall that surrounded the town, about 100 houses, a mosque, ablution facilities and a tomb dating back to 1683. The ruins are those of an ancient Swahili town which is believed to have prospered from the 15th to the 17th centuries, with a population of between 2000- 3000 people. Takwa was a holy City since doors faced towards Mecca; however the city was eventually deserted after fighting broke out between Takwa and Pate. The Takwa site can be easily reached from Lamu town. The ruins were first excavated by James Kirkman in 1951. In 1972 the site was cleared again under the supervision of James de Vere Allen, the Curator of the Lamu Museum.


    Takwa was never a large place. It was founded around 1500, and probably abandoned around 1700. Kirkman thought that it was perhaps a place where holy men or religious people retreated. The Great Mosque at Takwa is relatively well preserved. The other structure of importance is the Pillar Tomb, which has an inscription with the date of 1681-1682. It is reported that when Takwa was abandoned, its inhabitants settled just across the bay at Shela on Lamu Island. Twice a year the people of Shela come to the Pillar Tomb in Takwa to pray for rain. (Martin, p. 27) The Takwa Ruins were designated a Kenyan National Monument in 1982. But be careful - the boats have no shade and you are in the sun (and on water) for several hours. As the entry through the mangroves is reliant on tides, you can be sitting waiting for quite some time before you approach the landing spot to disembark for the ruins. While many people who engage in Lamu travel come primarily to relax on a Lamu Beach, there are some cultural pursuits that you won't want to miss out on. The first recommended cultural stop for those on a Lamu vacation is the Lamu Museum, which is found in town on the waterfront. Though it is small in size, it is jam-packed with interesting cultural and historical exhibits and pieces, and you can easily spend an hour or more here. If you want to arrange a day trip to Manda Island to see the Takwa Ruins, you can likely book a tour at one of the nicer Lamu hotels, and the numerous boat (dhow) operators will be happy to take you to all the main attractions in the archipelago. Those looking for fun and interesting Lamu travel pursuits will not want to pass on a visit to nearby Shela Village.


    Swahili House Museum

    The Swahili House Museum on Lamu gives visitors a glimpse of the traditional setup of a Swahili home. Houses are usually oblong and built around a small open courtyard. The houses in the few remaining very traditional towns are single-story buildings, but in a wealthier and crowded town, such as Lamu, most are two-storied and many have three stories – the structurally safe limit. A story is typically added when the occupying family expands by the marriages of its daughters. In some grander houses the ground floor was occupied by slaves and used as warehouses, and the family members lived above.


    Drainage is an important consideration: houses have flat roofs and house drains send the often heavy rainfall into the streets drains, which empty into the sea. The axis of a typical house runs north and south. The entrance to the courtyard is properly at the north end and the owners private rooms are at the south end. The vagaries of the street layouts mean that a staircase from the front door may twist and change directions so as to end up in the right place. The traditional house is a very private place, its outside walls having only holes for ventilation. Light comes from the open courtyard. The entrance is through a large seat-lined porch (daka) raised a foot or two above the street, with a double wooden door traditionally elaborately carved and decorated with geometric or floral and leaf patterns and Quranic inscriptions.


    Lamu Donkey Sanctuary

    once you're on Lamu Island, the primary mode of transportation are the numerous donkeys, which can sometimes be seen wandering about town. It's an utter joy to tour the narrow streets during your Lamu vacation, and the Lamu beach experience is pretty much about as good as it gets. One of the best beaches in Kenya starts at Shela Village, which is basically a condensed version of Lamu, and much of Lamu Island is dominated by picturesque sand dunes. Lamu Africa will not disappoint, and much like the other top Kenyan coastal destinations, it's pretty easy to spend more time here than you may have originally planned. Lamu Town is generally regarded as the oldest town in Kenya, and it is primarily a Swahili settlement. Founded in the 14th century by Arab merchants, Lamu soon became an East African base that began to really take shape in the 15th century. Since donkeys are the main method of transport in Lamu, the Donkey Sanctuary was started provide treatment for working donkeys. Located in northern Lamu, near the waterfront hosting, an estimated 2,200 donkeys used for agriculture as well as to carry household provisions and building materials can be seen here. Regular treatment clinics have been established, including a worming program every six months that are offered free of charge. Courses and training are offered including harnessing and donkey care. Local donkeys that have been injured are also brought to the stable for rehabilitation and rest. 

Animal welfare is promoted with an annual donkey competition that gives a prize for the donkey in the best condition. Lamu - German Post Office

    German nationals Clement Denhardt and G. A. Fisher first made contact with the Lamu hinterland in the late 1870s. They soon struck a friendship with Ahmed Abdullah Simba, the Sultan of Witu, who at the time was having problems with the rulers of Lamu and Zanzibar and so welcomed a new ally. Shortly afterwards, Witu became a German protectorate. This building was the first German Post Office ever established along the East African coast. The Post office was established on November 22nd 1888 by the Germans, led by Clement Denhardt. The communications and trade contacts for the German Protectorate in Witu could at the time be served through Lamu, a well-established town with links to the outside world. The Post office operated for more than two years before its closure on March 3rd 1891 after the withdrawal of the German settlement in Witu. German Post Office Museum is located in Lamu old town, Lamu district in Coast Province. Lamu German Postal Museum was originally built as a private residence in the late 1800's. Later it was converted and used as the first German Post Office in East Africa, briefly from 1888 to 1891. Lamu was a major sea port with well-established links to the outside world. The building was restored and now houses a museum with photographic exhibits and memorabilia showing the long historical relationship between Germany and Kenya. It also depicts early industrial development through the form of communication via postal services in Kenya.


    Lamu Fort Lamu Island

    Lamu Fort is a 19th-century structure in Lamu, Kenya, built between 1813 and 1821 with Omani help. At first it provided a base from which the Omanis consolidated their control of the East African coast, after which the town lost economic importance. During the British colonial period and after the independence of Kenya the fort was used as a prison. Today it houses an environmental museum and a library, and may be used for community events. Lamu Fort is a defensive structure that was erected at the southeast corner of the old stone town of Lamu. The fort was built beside the Pwani Mosque, the oldest know mosque in Lamu, with origins in the 14th century. The fort originally lay on the waterfront, which then ran along the main street of the town but has since retreated.


    Thomas Boteler, who visited Lamu in 1823, described the fort as "a large square building, with a tower at each corner, but constructed so slightly that in all probability the discharge of its honeycombed ordnance would soon bring the whole fabric to the ground." It had a "large vaulted entrance consisted of three stories of balconies, supported inside by arches. Captain W. F. W. Owen, who visited at the same time, noted that the fort was "one hundred yards square, and surrounded by walls from forty to fifty feet high.” Today the fort is in a central position in the town. It is about 70 metres (230 ft) from the main jetty on the shore. The fort today is a massive two-story stone building. The squat and powerful structure contrasts with the elegant Swahili architecture of the other buildings in the town. The fort today includes a museum with an exhibition on the ground floor mainly concerned with environmental conservation. The courtyard is used by the local community for meetings, weddings and public performances. There are offices, laboratories and a workshop on the second floor, and a conference facility that is available for rent. The fort houses a library with an excellent collection of Swahili poetry and reference material on Lamu. The ramparts of the fort give panoramic views of the town


    Shanga Ruins


    Shanga was a large Swahili town approximately 1000 years old, occupied between the 8th and 14th C. Located on the south coast of Paté Island; Shanga is best visited with a guide as the undergrowth inhibits many travelers. The Shanga Ruins contain the remains of coral walls, two palaces, three mosques and a cemetery outside the walls with hundreds of tombs. A white pillar tomb is one of the first remains to be seen but the large Friday mosque and another mosque near the sea are also quite obvious. Local legend says that the town was settled by Chinese traders from Shanghai thus the name of Shanga. Chinese pottery has been found among the ruins to support this story.


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