Several times in the year, Lamu island, off Kenya’s Coast, comes alive with festivals that attract visitors in droves. There are 17 festivals held annually.
The most popular ones are the Lamu Food Festival, Lamu Arts Festival, Lamu Maulid Festival, Lamu Yoga Festival and the biggest and oldest, the Lamu Cultural Festival that took place last week for the 18th time since its inception in 2001.
The Lamu Cultural Festival is one of the best attended community-based cultural festivals in Kenya.
The aim is to promote the rich Swahili culture, and open up the archipelago to outsiders; to promote the beauty of the island’s landscape and the uniqueness of its people.
From November 21 to 24, people from all over the world enjoyed guided tours around the island.
Lamu Old Town dates back 700 years and has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and Shela which brags, rightfully so, of the most attractive sceneries and powdery beaches in the island.
One evening, visitors took a dhow into the ocean for a sundowner cruise, watching as the sky turned from washed out white, to orange, then dark blue, and then as soon as darkness set in, they docked on the beaches of the neighbouring Manda Island for dinner under the stars.
The most unforgettable events of the festival were the dhow race and the donkey races. These competitions stem from the culture of the Lamu people.
Donkeys are ubiquitous features of Lamu Island, and the race was one of the highlights of the festival.
Riders train for the whole year preparing for the event. They lined up at the starting point and were flagged off, donkey jockeys urged their animals along as they ran along the streets of Lamu.
Tourists and locals cheered on their favourite riders and/or donkeys, and even bet on this hilariously entertaining spectacle.
Other activities included mini soccer tournaments at the beach, displays of the Swahili cuisine, a swimming gala and performances by local and guest artists.
Visitors sat by the seafront at Mkunguni Square listening to taarab music enjoying the ocean breeze.
The festival is a celebration of the island. A remembrance of the way life used to be, an upholding of traditions that are the poetry of this community’s heart, and the ownership of a rich history.