If you happen to be in Kenya at the time of Lamu Maulidi Festivals, you will agree with me that lamu is one of Kenya best tourism destinations,
Each year, Lamu both antique and modern comes to life during the Maulidi festival. Maulidi is the popular name given to Milad-un-Nabi an Islamic festival held during the third month of the Muslim calendar to celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed.
This religious festival has its origins in Egypt in the 8th Century, but the unique East African version is believed to have been developed in Lamu by Habib Swaleh Jamal Lely- an Arab from the Comoros Islands who came to Lamu in 1866.
He established the great Riyadha mosque in Lamu town and began to celebrate a purely East African version of Maulidi.
Maulidi celebrations in Lamu take several different forms, but at the core it is a festival both joyous and devotional that strengthens the communities’ cultural unity.
In Lamu the festivities normally commence in the cool of the afternoon. The main religious celebrations take place in and around the Riyadha Mosque.
The central square outside the mosque is partitioned into areas for men and women, and traditional dances- accompanied by local energetic drumming groups- are held.
The best known of these dances is the Goma. This involves lines of men standing together holding long walking sticks known as Bakora.
Swaying gently to the rhythm of the drums, the men extend the sticks forward or interlink them among their drums.
At the same time, other men pair off and arm themselves with traditional curved Arab swords. They stage mock fights to the beat of the drums, using sandals as shields.
More solemn are the prayer vigils held throughout the night, when the townspeople gather around the illuminated mosque and pray throughout the night, with sessions of group prayer and contemplation alternated with gentle song and chants that last through the night until dawn.
On the last day of Maulidi, the men of Lamu gather at the town cemetery and surround the town of Habib Swaleh.
Following quiet prayers, groups of men and boys join together and begin a procession into town, holding hands and interlinking arms.
The colourful, energetic procession winds along the seafront towards the centre of town, with the crowds singing and dancing together.
Visitors to the island are welcome to watch and enjoy the festivities during Maulidi, but a measure of respect for local custom goes a long way.
Seek local advice about where to go, what to do and wear. The people here are very proud of their culture and heritage, and are very happy to share their island with visitors.
In order to preserve Lamu’s traditions and cultures, Lamu’s museum uses Maulidi to stage several competitions and races.
These events are designed to each encourage local skills or practices that are central to Lamu life. These include traditional Swahili poetry, Henna painting and Koranic recitals.
In order to preserve and encourage the art of dhow sailing, now threatened by increasing availability of engines and prefabricated boats, an annual dhow race is also held during Lamu Maulidi Festivals.
Dhows, built locally to a traditional lateen triangular sailed design, are an important part of Lamu’s life as a trading post, and are still used throughout the archipelago.
The town’s finest dhows are selected to compete, and race under sail through a complicated series of buoys, combining speed with elaborate tacking and maneuvering skill.
Spectators, including both locals and visitors, watch from the town’s piers and jetties, or from the comfort of rooftop restaurants.
Other events included a swimming race, and a challenging cross country race along the waterfront, all in the physically draining heat of the day.
This grueling race sees both local and international competitors weave through the crowds and donkeys of the seafront, and across the sands to Shela- with some racers stopping to plunge quickly into the ocean to cool off along the way.
The real highlight of every Lamu Maulidi Festivals involves the town’s most endearing symbol- the donkey race.
Local donkey jockeys literally spend the entire year honing their riding skills for this event, and the winning rider wears his title with great pride.
Being a winning donkey jockey requires a specific set of skills. As with most such races, small physical stature is helpful, but keeping a stubborn donkey moving and on course requires a definite talent.
Lamu Maulidi Festivals is a celebration of both the past and the future, and the beliefs and traditions that are the heart and soul of this community.
Most visitors to the island fall in love with this relaxed and peaceful lifestyle, and visiting during Maulidi is a chance to experience Lamu life at its most exuberant and joyous.