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Background


The peaceful tropical island of Lamu conjurs up childhood memories of treasure island and the larger-than-life character of Long John Silver. You will of course not find the one-footed pirate and his parrot here but what you will most certainly get in Lamu are great warm, endless sandy beaches - and perhaps if you stay long enough and search hard enough, a few lost treasures.

Here, you live life as it was created to be lived - at it’s own relaxed rhythm as you go back in time to behold the mysteries and fascinations of medieval living through Lamu's ancient stone town.

 

Getting There


Lamu is best accessed by air and there are scheduled flights daily from Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Malindi. The island is serviced by an airstrip on neighbouring Manda Island. The strip can also be used by private charters. A dhow ferries arriving passengers to either Lamu town or Shela. Many yachts also come to Lamu, often sheltering in the channel near Shela. 
 

Key Attractions


Lamu TownLamu, apart from being an island where rest and relaxation can be found to your heart's content, does have a few things to see. There is the Lamu Fort which dates back to 1821, having been completed by the Sultan of Oman after Lamu asked for protection. A second site is a fluted pillar tomb, which may date as far back as the 1300s.

Lamu's other offering is the Lamu Museum, with exhibits on Swahili culture, the mainland's non-Swahili groups, and two siwa horns which are probably the oldest surviving musical instruments in black Africa. The exhibits explain the history and meaning of the items, allowing visitors to understand the rich culture that Lamu contains. There is even a description and history of the buibui, including the fact that it was only introduced in Lamu in the 1930s.

Other attractions are easy to spot, with Lamu's beautiful carved doors being a prime example. Just north of Lamu are the ancient ruins of Shanga, which adds its own bit of interesting history to Kenya's coast. The site covers 221 acres, and contains what remains of the coral walls of 160 houses, 2 palaces, 3 mosques, and hundreds of tombs.

What is fascinating about Shanga is the local legend behind the name, which says that it was settled by Chinese traders from Shanghai - and so the name of Shanga. Supporting this theory are the facts that the words for tea - chai - are the same in Swahili and Mandarin and also that Chinese pottery has been found among the ruins.

But a trip to Lamu cannot be complete without a visit to 14th century town with its narrow winding streets that almost look endless. Of cource a trip to the beach would just aptly conclude your experience of this great coastal town.

 

History


LamuLamu, at its current location, was established by the 14th century. 1505 brought a Portuguese warship to the island, and Lamu agreed to pay cash tributes in return for protection.

Portuguese dominance of Lamu continued for 180 years, threatened only briefly by a Turkish fleet. Lamu's golden age began at the end of the seventeenth century. The Portuguese were no longer in control (having been ousted by the Omanis), and Lamu flourished for the next 150 years. Ruled by the Yumbe (a council of elders), Lamu was controlled only loosely by the Omanis.

It became the star port of the Indian Ocean and a centre of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as the trade which made it rich. In 1812, however, Lamu defenders defeated an attacking force at the Battle of Shela. The invaders were massacred and the Yumbe of Lamu, fearing a bloody reprisal from the Mazruis in Mombasa, asked Oman for protection. The Sultan of Oman gladly occupied Lamu, permanently ending the island's independence.

The Sultan then proceeded to destroy the Mazrui, who were Omanis and had declared themselves to be independent from Oman. The entire coast fell and the Sultanate was moved to Zanzibar. Lamu went into a downward spiral towards the end of the nineteenth century as Mombasa and Zanzibar grew rapidly. Its eventual economic collapse resulted in the quiet, peaceful island that exists today.

The passage of the Antiquities and Monuments Act in 1983 spurred the community and government agencies to work with the National Museums of Kenya to carry out the subsequent Lamu Conservation Plan completed in 1986. This plan proposed creating a conservation area and dictated how land could be used in the town to ensure sensitivity to the historic fabric of Lamu.

 

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