Hello there Peaches. Allow me to share with you my experience of the 17th annual Lamu Cultural Festival which was scheduled on the dates 16th November – 19th November; Thursday – Sunday.
The 16th November this year marked the 17th year that Lamu cultural festival has been celebrated in Lamu since its inception in August2001 by the county Government of Lamu. The cultural festival showcases Swahili culture, promote tourism and withhold its socio-cultural identity as “The island of festivals.” The festival has a theme each year and this year’s theme was “Amani na maridhiano” which means “Peace and coexistence” following the current political instability in the country.
I have always desired to attend the Lamu cultural festival and for some weird reason I kept missing it. Maybe I didn’t want to as bad as I did this year simply because I needed to mellow out and break the monotony of the hustle and bustle of the city for the therapeutic ocean. Nonetheless, it was going to be my first time ever to step foot in the beautiful island hence the excitement. The flights flying to Lamu are skyward, fly540 & SAX. So I booked my flight with fly540 in advance and the White House guest house in Shela through booking.com at an amazingly good price – well, Kshs. 2,500 @ night. It took me 1&1/2 hours to arrive in lamu including a transit of 10 minutes in Malindi. Unfortunately, due to unavoidable circumstances, I missed out on the poetic and musical activities, football tournament, donkey & swimming races which happened on Thursday and Friday. Luckily though, I made it for the extraordinary Jahazi dhow race on Saturday which marks the dhow-building heritage of the sea-faring community of Lamu.
On my arrival, I was welcomed with beautiful smiles from all corners and ushered to the boat deck. I was astonished to see uber boats, speed boats and all sorts of boats anchored as a means of transport. The passenger boat suited my preference because the more the merrier.
The little boat trip from the Manda airport to lamu island took us approximately 15 minutes. You could tell it’s a festival day in Lamu by the festive decors on the streets, Swahili food bazaars, international and local tourists walking around, and the amount of people packed like sardines bumping into donkeys who were all over the place.
The people in Lamu are so kind and accommodating. Their Swahili is a little different due to their Bajuni culture. For instance; Viazi = ziazi = potatoes. There’s a funny popular bajun saying “Ambacha ukucha punda uyao” = tegemea ukuta punda yuaja = lean on the wall the donkey’s coming.
I took a speed boat to my guest house in Shela so that I could freshen up. The White Castle-like line up of hotels view at my destination was stunning to watch; almost like a mini Greece. Conveniently, my guest house was a 2-minute walk from the beach. I checked into the quirky decored White house and freshened up in my room so I could leave for the cultural Jahazi dhow race as I couldn’t wait.
Rushedly, I boarded the boat back to Lamu for the Jahazi dhow race. That’s when I met Farhana the famous Kenyan vlogger. She’s a total sweetheart; beautiful both in and out. She was accommodating enough to welcome me to their speed boat ready to follow the dhow race in the sea which commenced at exactly 2:30 p.m. They call them Kasa aka dhow. To be honest, I couldn’t fathom who was leading because it was a little confusing since there was no mark to signify any route but then i got the hang of it later on when people were cheering for the leading dhow. Needless to say, I would advise that they should consider introducing a commentator for the future dhow races so as to keep everyone in the loop and more entertained.
The sea was full of all kinds of boats and it was amazing to see both International and local tourists in their colorful boats which had different flags, also, engraved in unique names as though showcasing their art that matched the boats’ ‘personalities’. People started cheering for the winner and everyone in their boats was celebrating by speeding past others, splashing sea water while dancing and singing. It was a total magical sight of euphoria which is very contagious so to say. We all cheered on exuberantly enjoying the sea-carnival party which went on till sunset for sundowners, which made the glistening sea-water brighter while the sea-song of the waves rippling gently soothed me, diverting me from the hurly-burly and stresses of life.
Guess who was in the island for the festival too? Yes, you got it. Our very own Sultan; Hon. Hassan Joho, the Governor of Mombasa county in his flamboyant boat. Everyone was joyous to see him as they gathered around his boat for a selfie of which he did not hesitate by virtue of his humbleness. He helps to uplift so many youth’s lives and just radiates cool positive vibes for a governor, hence the reason as to why he’s a man of the people.
The prize-giving ceremony was on the same day held at an open ground in Lamu where a mass of people paraded anxiously waiting for the prize winners to be announced by the judges. The deputy Governor of Lamu amongst other government officials handed the prizes to the respected winners. The crowd was exuberant celebrating in harmony, waving flags in honor of the winners. The prizes were in golden cups – sizes depending on the winners positions, in that, the bigger the champion the bigger the cup – money and air tickets sponsored by SAX, skyward, KPA & KAA to mention a few.
The celebrations of victory were so real and loud. The supporters were wild and carefree, roaring with pride cheering their winners.
Far more singular was a private women exclusive event which commenced right after the closing prize-giving ceremony of the cultural festival event. Unfortunately, recording was banned so I couldn’t get to snap pictures out of respect to say the least. The Lamu women showcased the Swahili traditional dance culture which was the Pokomo dance; these women’s bodies were full on vibrate mode shaking every part of their joints. The dances were accompanied with poems, heena art drawings, drama scenes and Swahili bridal display of the Swahili bride in colorful make up and sparkly wedding gown. Women representatives and Gov. officials gave a closing speech of wisdom to mark the end of the event.
Later, Offside Trick – a Tanzanian musical artist group – was performing on stage accompanied by a lady wearing a piece of kanga as a skirt and a loosely fitted top, whining her pelvic girdle and belly dancing to the rhythm of the music sang by the two artists. She entertained the men of course who were drooling with lust and cheering to her dances. However, she got the wrath of the conservative women in the island as that was ironically culture shock to them and taboo for a lady. But then again, women whining and belly dancing is actually part of Swahili culture so I didn’t really get what the fuss was about really. Do not get me wrong though, culture and religion do not mix and that’s where the confusion is. The little voice in my head commented, “Dear critics, if you can’t handle the heat in the kitchen, you know what to do.”
We were exhausted at that point so we had dinner and took a boat back to the White House in shela as I prodded wearily through the sand to my room.
In a nutshell, Lamu has shown the world the essence of oneness & unity and taking pride in one’s culture which ensures the longevity of the festival.