See the Swahili Settlement of Lamu Old Town, Kenya

Located on an island in the Lamu Archipelago, Kenya is the small town of Lamu, which is the oldest town continually occupied town in the country. Lamu Old Town has the oldest and best preserved Swahili tribe settlements in the world and thus been added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The history of the town dates back to the 14th century when established as settlement and trading outpost for the Swahili people, although some believe the town has been inhabited since the 7th century. Also, a Chinese ship from the fleet of Zheng He sank near the island in 1415, with the survivors settling on the island and marrying local women. Recent studies of DNA has confirmed that many of the town’s inhabitants indeed have Chinese ancestors. At the beginning of the 16th century the town was invaded by the Portuguese which led to the imposition of an export tax leading to a revolt. During the 19th century, under Omani control, the town experienced a golden period as it became an important centre for trade, art and crafts, poetry and politics.

The lanes of the Lamu Old Town are so narrow that vehicular traffic is banned, so to explore the historic town you have to walk, cycle or take a ride atop the thousands of donkeys that roam around town. The Lamu Fort built soon after the island’s victory over neighbouring Pate and Mombasa in 1813 at the Battle of Shela is worth a visit. The population of the town is predominantly Muslim so you will find many mosques in the town with the most beautiful being the Riyadha Mosque, which serves as the centre for the famous Maulidi Festival held during the month of Prophet Mohammed’s birth and attracts a large number of pilgrims.

At the grand Lamu Museum located in a warehouse on the waterfront you can get a glimpse of the Swahili culture, including the traditional horn Siwa made from engraved brass. You can also see a nuptial sheet at the recreated wedding quarters of a traditional Swahili home, used to show to the bride’s family that the marriage had been consummated .

To escape the heat and dust of the town head to Shela Beach to cool down on the pristine white sand beach, where you can buy a delicious samosa.

Photo by Red of

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  1. Red January 4, 2014

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