The Lamu Cultural Festival, which celebrates Lamu’s rich culture and the preservation of traditional Swahili lifestyle, is one of Kenya’s most popular community-based cultural festivals. This event takes place every year in November and lasts three days, during which tourists from all over the world can engage in activities such as traditional henna painting, poetry, traditional dancing, Dhow sailing, Competitive Boa games, and donkey races that date back centuries.
1. Traditional Henna Painting
The Lamu Cultural Festival is not complete without henna: a mixture of water, powdered leaves, and unripe lemon juice that is applied to the body using a tiny twig to paint gorgeous swirling patterns on hands and feet, creating a tattoo with many details. It takes about 5-6 applications for the henna to set.
2. Dhow Sailing
Dhow boats are one of the most frequent ways of transportation in Lamu, dating back to the island’s history and culture, and as such, dhow sailing has become one of the festival’s most popular attractions. The rules for Dhow Sailing racing at the Festival are simple. The Dhow that crosses the finish line first wins. Winning the marathon, on the other hand, necessitates years of talent and determination. The race pitches the best Dhows against each other, putting the sailors’ skills to the test as they must weave around buoys to win.
3. Donkey Race
Donkeys are another common means of transportation in Lamu, as cars struggle to navigate the tight streets and the donkey racing is one of the Festival’s most anticipated events. In preparation for the Festival, donkey riders train for over a year.
4. Traditional Music and Dancing
Taarab music is popular in Tanzania and Kenya, and women are more likely to perform it throughout the day. Men frequently execute a dance called ‘Kirumbizi,’ in which they wield long, heavy sticks. Men also enjoy performing ‘Hanzua’ (sword dances). Poetry is an important means of preserving Swahili oral history. Swahili poetry is known as ‘Ushairi,’ and it is frequently recited throughout the event.
In addition to the activities listed above, the festival also features traditional craft and needlework, as well as Boa, one of the oldest board games, which is played competitively during the day. Traditional meals such as ‘Kiamati,’ which are crispy dumplings made from flour and dipped in sweet syrup, and ‘Viazi Karai,’ a famous snack made from deep-fried potato and seasoned with a blend of spices, give you a look into Lamu’s everyday diet and culture.
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