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Curtain falls on Lamu cultural festival amidst fanfare

The 20th, edition of the most celebrated Lamu annual cultural festival concluded successfully at the weekend amid much fanfare.

The action packed festival attracted over 40,000 foreign and domestic tourists to the Lamu archipelago enthralling them with dhow races, donkey races, display of handicrafts, fishing competition among other electrifying activities and performances.

The winners of the various performances on display along the iconic seafront were feted with grand cash prizes while winners in dhow races were given boat engines.

Lamu cultural festival which is held to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Swahili people is one of the most important festivals celebrated in the medieval archipelago.

The festival features Swahili poetry, traditional dances, Henna paintings, dhow races, swimming competition and donkey races and Swahili bridal ceremony among other activities that are aimed at promoting the unique Swahili culture.

Other annual festivals celebrated in Lamu include the Maulidi Islamic Festival, Lamu Yoga Festival, Lamu Painters Festival, Lamu Art festival, the Shela Hat Contest and Fishing competition among others that attract visitors in droves.

The annual event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus restrictions and this year, like earlier before it showcased the rich culture and heritage of the Swahili people.

The closing ceremony was held at the Mkunguni Square where Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi was present as the chief guest.

Mudavadi said he was happy to be in Lamu Island, a place characterized by its picturesque sandy beaches and its traditional stone architecture. “The festival is not only useful in the promotion of the tourism sector but also useful in enhancing social integration among the diverse communities,” said Mudavadi.

The Prime Cabinet Secretary urged other counties to emulate the annual Lamu cultural festival and initiate similar events as a ‘medium for social cohesion and integration.’

Other dignitaries in attendance were envoys from Britain, Denmark, Netherlands, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Sudan as well as Marsabit and Garissa Governors Mohamud Ali and Nathif Jama respectively.

Initiated in 2000, the three-day cultural festival is normally marked in the old town, a historical place that was listed in 2001 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Lamu Old Town is a unique and rare historical living heritage with more than 700 years of continuous settlement.

This year, the outdoor cultural extravaganza organized by the Lamu County Government was running under the theme ‘a melting pot of diversity and multiculturalism’ and had been declared by stakeholders as a ‘huge success.’

The mega festival that highlights the Swahili culture resumed with a bang after the world had normalized after a long Covid-19 pandemic hiatus.

Stakeholders contend that the mega fete had been very successful and it was great to have it back in a big way after the Covid-19 pandemic eased.

Area Governor Issa Timamy said at least 40,000 foreign and domestic tourists thronged Lamu as the grandeur of the archipelago came alive with the festivities reaching a crescendo.

“This year’s festival not only featured a number of quality performances but also attracted a huge audience as we did not compromise with quality,” said Timamy.

He said the three-day cultural extravaganza showcased the brilliance of Lamu culture and heritage in all its glory adding this year the price money for the winners of the various categories of activities have been doubled to inject some fun, energy and vibrancy to the cultural extravaganza.

“The winner of the dhow race walked away with Sh.200, 000 up from the previous Sh.100, 000 while the winner of the donkey race got Sh.200, 000 up from Sh.100, 000,” he said.

He said the charming coastal town is turning to ‘year-round festivals and carnivals’ to raise the profile of the lovely enchanting island and attract visitors.

Timamy said in a bid to promote tourism, the devolved unit has decided to organize the festivals in the archipelago to keep the county bubbling and attractive to tourists all year round.

He said cultural troupes from various counties showcased different dance forms on the last day of the annual festival, the coastal county’s biggest and best cultural festival.

Timamy contends that the many festivals held in the archipelago will offer tourists the opportunity to explore the archipelago and ‘discover what makes Lamu tick.

The county boss says Lamu is steeped in history as it has been visited by people from all over the world turning it into a centre of cultural exchange.

He says the celebrated Swahili cultural heritage is a unique wealth of Lamu which must be preserved so that it can provide economic benefits to the archipelago.

“This preservation can be done by actively holding festivals such as the annual cultural festival which brings on board quite a lot of stakeholders, such as the county government, hoteliers, the private sector and also the host community,” he said.

Timamy said the year-round festivals will enhance Lamu’s reputation as a tourist destination as well as other UNESCO-recognized sites in the historic archipelago.

Lamu Tourism Association Chairman Ghalib Alwy said the cultural festival is one of the most anticipated events that provide a wonderful opportunity to experience the island’s pristine beaches, medieval ambience, magnificent old stone town and age-old traditions of an enchanted island where history continues to live.

Alwy who is also a veteran local hotelier said the festivals constitute one of the most exciting and fastest growing forms of leisure, business, travel and tourism-related phenomena.

“The many festivals held here attract visitors of all shades and extend the tourist seasons and add vibrancy to the local tourism scene,” said Alway adding that Lamu is usually bustling and full of tourists during the festivals.

He said during the annual events visitors also have the chance to taste various kinds of Swahili culinary specialties from the region.

The hotelier said the festival draws such huge crowds that it becomes nearly impossible to find accommodation in Lamu old town.

“When talking about the journey of Lamu one aspect that is synonymous with it is its year-round captivating festivals,” said Alwy.

By Hussein Abdullahi


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