There is more to it than you expect coming to Africa on a holiday. The different festivals and events on Lamu Island will show you the diversity of the local culture.
Islam plays an important role in Swahili culture and Lamu has a reputation for the yearly celebration of the Maulidi Festival. Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, it is held during the third month of the Muslim calendar –between February and April. This version of the Maulidi, unique in East Africa, is believed to have been developed in Lamu by the Holy Habib Swaleh by the end of the 19th century. Swaleh was an Arab who reformed the religious rituals of the festival and became famous for the highly artistic performance of the verses of the Koran that has nowadays a certain influence on Swahili poetry. Since Habib Swaleh’s times, the importance of music as a constituent of the religious ritual has increased continually.
Today, thousends of pilgrims from the Kenyan mainland and the Arabian world come to Lamu to listen to the religious recitals and attend the colourful performance of dancers and musicians from various ethnic groups. On the final day of the celebrations, a procession heads down to the tomb of Habib Swaleh.
22nd – 25th November 2018
Another highlight in the cultural life of Lamu is the Cultural Festival, usually held in the last week of November. The purpose of this festival is to promote the Swahili heritage and preserve the local culture of the islands. Founded in 2001, it is supported by various international embassies and private sponsors. The festival is very popular and the agenda reflects the richness of Swahili culture. Readings and performances by storytellers express the old skills in Swahili poetry. On the main square, there are plenty of musical performances. All the traditional dances (ngoma) from the islands of the archipelago are put into one single venue in the streets of Lamu Town.
During the festivities, the magic of the past turns alive. Traditional displays like dhow building, henna painting, fish trap making, palm weaving and bao games are shown. The donkey races along the Lamu seafront and the dhow races are thrilling and a feast for everyone. It’s fascinating to watch the various types of dhows: the bigger one Jahazi, the smaller Mashua or the fast and indeed most elegant Mozambique dhow. The dhow regattas are a big attraction and certainly the highlight of the festival.
18th – 22nd March 2019
As the Lamu Yoga Festivals since 2014 were such a huge success, with yoga enthusiasts from all over the word coming to Lamu for four days of yoga, connection and joy, the 5th Festival will take place from the 18th to the 22nd of March 2019. A variety of yoga classes and meditations will be available in and around the beautiful and peaceful beaches of Shela, Lamu and Manda. Some of the highlights include a dhow sail, workshops, fun competitions, and a grand final beach party with skilled drummers and acrobats from Lamu. www.lamuyoga.org
Next edition: to be announced.
The Lamu Painters Festival is an event that brings artists from Europe and Africa to Lamu.
Realist and impressionist styles mirror the essence of this traditionally islamic island and coastal Swahili life, a reminder of Lamu´s value as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The participating artists come to paint the landscapes of the island using plein air techniques—figurative paintings that employ abbreviated details and unusual compositions to catch the moment and feeling of a place, usually on canvas. During the last edition, 4th to 20th February 2013, 15 artists attended: 11 from Netherlands and Germany and 4 from Nairobi. The 16-day festival provided the artists opportunities to paint Lamu life—from markets to streets scenes and from portraits to landscapes.
Artists moved around the island daily, sometimes setting up their easels in quirky places—rooftops, alleyways, against chicken coops and on sailing dhows—to capture on canvas the island life they experienced. More than 220 paintings were completed over the course of the festival—an incredible number of works. They were displayed in Baitl Aman Hotel in Shela village in a public exhibition that continued for the duration of the festival. Part of the festival is always a spectacular Dhow race from Peponi beach. www.lamupaintersfestival.org
Forget haute couture, Shela presents Hat Couture!
The contest started in 2010 and since then it was established as a biannual event which takes place on the beach in front of the legendary Peponi Hotel.
The challenge is to design hats from used materials such as pipes, bones, shells, palm leaves, plastic, fabrics, coral and paper from cement bags. No strangers are allowed and so the competition aims to give locals a fun opportunity to express their ingenuity and creativity – and be rewarded for it.
Since its inception, scores of enthusiastic participants have paraded on Peponi Beach to show-off their extraordinary makeshift headwear. The results are beautiful, bizarre, hilarious – and everything in between, demonstrating the talent and good humour of the local people of Lamu.
The odd hat makers will be back at Saturday, February 13th 2016.
On Valentines-Sunday, February 14th 2016, the “Mad-Hatters”-dhow race will be celebrated from Peponi Beach, Shela.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Shela is not exactly a festival, but it feels pretty much the same. The village is full of people and everywhere there is a party. The Muslims commemorate the end of the year with various and colourful weddings and visitors are warmly welcomed to join as guests. After the lively New Year’s Eve, the Peponi Hotel hosts a very popular dhow race on January 1st, which, under the tropical sky, is definitely a perfect start into your new year