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Kilifi's Mr Culture advocates for cultural tourism through fashion

Arts Lounge

A 25-year-old Kilifi youth has made significant strides in advocating for culture tourism by showcasing the traditional Mijikenda dress known locally as Mushulo.

Eddie Peru began his journey five years ago, and he has appeared on several runways on the national platform while dressed in traditional regalia.

“Our culture provides us with a sense of identity and belonging, and there is always some sense of pride when one identifies with their culture,” he said.

In 2018, he won Mr Culture Kilifi county and then Mr Tourism Worldwide Kenya in 2020, which was held in the Philippines last year but he did not attend due to financial constraints.

“I was crowned Mr Tourism WorldWide Kenya in 2020. The ceremony was scheduled for 2021, but due to a conflict, it was moved to December 2022.

However, I was unable to attend due to financial constraints. I knocked on a lot of doors, but I didn’t get the help I needed,” Eddie says.

Tourism is a major selling point for East African countries, and it is one of the development pillars.

Expand industry

Eddie says for decades, tourism stakeholders have focused primarily on beach and game safaris, ignoring potential products that could expand the industry.

“Beaches and wildlife are insufficient. We may be witnessing a cultural renaissance; if we don’t tell our story, no one will know,” Eddie says. Aside from the tourist destinations of Malindi and Watamu, various tourist attraction sites in Kilifi County are still untapped due to a lack of aggressive marketing, he adds.

Eddie also appealed to the Kenya Tourism Board, the government agency charged with marketing destination Kenya, to include the rest of Kilifi County in its marketing programmes so that local and international tourists can sample the county’s diverse tourist attractions.

Aside from the beautiful sand beaches, Kilifi has many historical sites to explore as part of its unique culture. Religion, gastronomy, and language are among the many products available; a proud culture that draws visitors from all over the world.

Malindi, for example, is one of the few places in Kenya with a rich multicultural heritage, the majority of which has survived, including several world heritage sites.

Some of the county’s heritage dates back centuries, and tourist attractions like the Vasco Da Gama Pillar have helped Malindi become a world-renowned destination.

Eddie says culture tourism seeks to provide new experiences for visitors by encouraging active participation in the places they visit and promoting contact and involvement with locals as well as their traditions.

The Kilifi county government launched the “This is Kilifi” project in 2018, with a focus on tourist attractions with a rich history, as well as social aspects such as festivities and unique architecture.

The government is also looking into archaeological discoveries, rock art, and unique landscapes for the benefit of communities and to boost national tourism in general.

Stakeholders have urged county governments to brainstorm ideas for grassroots cultural tourism promotion.

Traditional attire

Tsuma Nzai, director and custodian of Mijikenda traditions at Magarini cultural centre, claims that the embrace of traditional attire has revitalised cultural tourism in the county.

“Culture is not as backwards as it was portrayed during colonial times; it is not witchcraft or retrogressive,” Tsuma said.

“We must harness culture for long-term development.” Traditional dresses for women and mufulo for men are among the traditional dresses that have drawn international tourists to Malindi and its environs.

Locals dress up and participate in entertaining tourists in order to earn a living. The Giriama heroine and warrior, Mekatili wa Menza, who fought the British colonialists when they imposed hut tax on her people, the Mijikenda, in their childhood.

Mekatilili wa Menza was also the first to wear the hando dress, but it was lost to the influence of modernity and religion.

“We have tried to bring the hando back by using fashion tourism, such as the hando festival, which has always been accompanied by traditional Mijikenda dances such as gonda, sengenya, mwanzele, and mabumbumbu,” says Nzai.

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