Owing mainly to its location, Lamu has been an important port for hundreds of years
Owing mainly to its location, Lamu has been an important port for hundreds of years. With African, Chinese, Portuguese, Arab, Indian and British influences, it has always been a melting pot. Many families can trace their lineage back to Omani forefathers and are still in contact with relatives in Oman. DNA analysis has also shown traces of Chinese heritage thought to have arrived when shipwrecked Chinese sailors took local wives. As a result of this continued intermarriage, the people of Lamu are beautiful, as is their culture. Art, poetry and music were once prized within this region, but today such talents are diminishing with the changing of times.
Yet traditional skills which are still highly acclaimed include the magnificent Swahili carpentry and dhow-building. Beautiful Lamu doors, chairs, cabinets and beds are hand carved out of local hardwood with traditional Arab/Swahili geometric shapes as well as Indian floral patterns. This artwork is used to adorn local sailing vessels called dhows, built entirely by hand out of wood using age-old skills passed down through families over generations.
The Lamu Conservation Trust, with the support of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, is working to develop programs that will preserve such vital traditions and skills within the Lamu culture. With sufficient funding, the LCT hopes to give a greater opportunity to young dhow-building apprentices who want to learn and preserve this important tradition. Such an apprenticeship programme would create a source of income for the community through tourism, whilst educating the youth of Lamu about their heritage and providing much needed employment.
What the Lamu Conservation Trust hopes to accomplish is a heightened appreciation for the rich cultural diversity that exists in Lamu, embracing the old with the new while at the same time preserving the essence of this unique East African Island, which has been absorbing new cultures and ideas for hundreds of years.