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Lamu bets on Swahili festival to boost tourist numbers

By Philip Mwakio | Jan 11th 2015 | 3 min read
By Philip Mwakio | January 11th 2015

The annual Maulid festivals traditionally held in Lamu Island, will this year coincide with the official inauguration of the 16th century Takwa historic ruins site on January 18.

Takwa ruins are the remains of a thriving 15th and 16th century Swahili trading town before it was abandoned in the 17th century. It is important because of its period of occupation, dense settlement and relatively well preserved remains.

The unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar a top the qibla wall is among the most notable features. This pillar is believed to symbolise burial of a Sheikh below the wall.

The week long Maulid festival will run from January 12-18 - the most important event in the calendar of events for Lamu. It constitutes one of the most significant attributes of centuries old cultural and religious heritages of Lamu.

In a statement, the National Museums of Kenya Principal Curator in Lamu, Galgalo Rashid said Governor Issa Timany will preside over the function. “After site preparation and presentation, the event will open to visitors with unique blend of both the cultural and natural blends of heritage still conserved here,” Galgalo said. Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) says it will forge partnership with Lamu County leadership to help it bolster tourism in the region.

Managing Director Murithi Ndegwa said Lamu has been undergoing tough times, adding that holding such events will attract visitors to the county in droves. “We hope to see more positives out of Lamu as we believe there lies immense potential in the county as a tourism attraction, if the right infrastructural development and security is enhanced, “Ndegwa said.

Tourist numbers

The Lamu archipelago is one of the most authentic and best preserved Swahili settlements. It has, however, suffered the brunt of travel advisories, owing to security concerns over the past years.

This had in turn led to low international tourist numbers. The imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew in Lamu county after suspected deadly attacks last year in Mpeketoni, Lamu, added to the many woes crippling the economy of the country, largely dependent on fishing and tourism.

This year, the Lamu Museums seeks to emphasise on the county’s cultural heritage - being the centre for Islamic scholarship inscribed into the Unesco’s World Heritage List. “We hope that through this vigorous and concerted effort in celebrating our cultural heritage, tourism will flourish and Lamu will reclaim its glory once more as a preferred destination of choice,” Galgalo said.

Galgalo says the hosting of the Maulid festival which attracts a host of pilgrims from across the globe will see Lamu position itself as a safe tourist destination.

“The Lamu Maulid is typically unique as it is laden with Swahili culture hence its branding as maulidi ya Kiswahili,” the museum official said.

“The planned activities to mark this year’s festival includes; traditional dances from all the villages, the donkey and dhow races, the henna painting competitions and Kofia making contests as well as the intricate designs illustrated in the Islamic calligraphy competitions,” he said.

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