After an 18-month hiatus, festivals in Lamu are expected to return to their pre-pandemic glory, with residents and tourists ushering in the first of many; the four-day Maulid festival.
The 132nd edition of Lamu’s Maulid festival season is back in full swing with huge noisy crowds thronging the streets of Lamu old town for the first time in 18 months since the ban on festivals and events following the Covid-19 crisis.
Expectations are already high among street vendors and hoteliers that the National Government’s lifting of some Covid-19 restrictions such as the night curfew could lead to the resurgence of tourism numbers in Lamu with at least 5,000 visitors expected at this year’s edition of the Maulid festival.
These types of events were all but absent over the past year, as health measures coupled by the National Government’s veto against mass gathering put a suspension on the festivals that are usually the spur for Lamu’s tourism sector.
“The significance of the Maulid festival cannot be underscored especially since it’s the first major festival that leads up to the world famous Lamu Cultural Festival which is the gem that marks Lamu as a popular tourism destination,” Ali Bunu hotelier and owner of Sunsail Hotel stated.
The festival is marked annually by a section of Muslims in remembrance of the birth of Prophet Muhammed in the Holy City of Mecca in 570 AD.
It is marked every third month of the Islamic calendar and in Lamu is usually marked in principal at the renowned Riyadha Mosque.
Speaking to the press, Riyadha Mosque and Islamic Centre Secretary-General, Abubakar Mohammed Badawy, stated that this year’s edition of the festival will be used to sensitise residents on the need for peace and unity ahead of next year’s polls.
“The Covid 19 pandemic has indeed had an impact on this year’s festival with markedly low numbers in comparison to previous years, where we normally have as many as 30,000 people in past festivals,” he said.
Besides the festival marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammed, it will serve as a showcase of Lamu’s rich culture that includes traditional dances of various areas in Lamu such as Goma la Pate, Siyu, Matondoni, and Uta, Shairi recitations, Islamic calligraphy competitions and Maulidi processions.
“There are also donkey and dhow races which are key events of any festival in Lamu, in which youths play a critical role in participating in them,” Omar Maalim, a Lamu resident said.
The Kenya Ports Authority are also sponsoring dhow races which are usually popular among both residents and tourists.
Street vendors interviewed also indicated that the Maulid festival has now begun picking up after the first two days being dull in comparison to previous years, where the four-day event has always been marked with pomp.
“The COVID-19 impact has affected many local tourists, many of whom have shied away from coming this year due to financial constraints,” Amina Ndungu, a food stall owner noted.
She further stated that there needs to be a lot more intervention from the County Government to enable Lamu to benefit more from festivals through tourism influx.
“The County Government needs to invest more towards marketing Lamu as a favourable destination with emphasis in marketing the county as an Island of festivals for which we are known for,” Lamu Chamber of Commerce Chairman, Ikhwan Omar observed.
Sentiments echoed by Lamu Tourist Association Vice Chairman, Fridah Njogu, who stated that the Maulid Festival presents an opportunity for tourism to have a resurgence following the effects of Covid-19 to air and land travel to Lamu.
On its part, Lamu Tourism CEC, Josphat Musembi, stated that the County Government had already taken steps to ensure that the Lamu Old Town is clean with the Lamu Municipality staff working around the clock to ensure the environment is conducive for the festival to continue.
Lamu County Commissioner, Irungu Macharia, also assured Lamu residents and tourists of adequate security being there during the festival period, with around the clock patrol teams being dispatched around Amu Island to ensure no incidents tarnish the festival’s reputation.
By Amenya Ochieng