Lamu,KENYA:The 17th edition of the Lamu Cultural Festival kicks off on Thursday this week with hundreds of both domestic and international tourists expected to flock in the Lamu Old town to mark the unique event.
This year’s event runs from 16th to 19th November.
The Lamu Cultural Festival is an annual event which is celebrated to showcase the rich culture and heritage of Lamu’s Swahili people that has captivated the world for centuries.
Tourism and trade stakeholders in the County are already optimistic that their sectors will be boosted by the event.
Many are of the opinion that this year’s cultural fete will be a tester to determine whether tourists have regained confidence to visit the region that has been marred with insecurity challenges caused by frequent Alshabaab attacks that have left scores of security officers and civilians dead.
Lamu’s tourism was badly hit in 2014 and 2015 due to the threats of terrorism and introduction of travel restrictions by some foreign countries to its citizens following the killing of over 100 people by Al-Shabaab militants in June, 2014 in Mpeketoni and its environs.
This prompted the national government to launch a multi-agency security operation in September 2015 whose major aim was to flush out the Al-Shabaab’s elite group Jaysh Al-Ayman said to be hiding within the Boni forest.
Speaking in his office on Monday,Lamu Cultural Promotional Group chairperson Ghalib Alwy said all was set for the fete despite the financial setbacks experienced in preparing for this year’s event.
Alwy said they were optimistic that that tourist numbers would be encouraging since many had already began flocking the island ahead of the fete.
This year’s event however received very little sponsorship compared to previous ones.
“This year has very few sponsors and that means we have a shortfall in the amount of cash required.But with the little we had,we know the festival will be a blast.We are hopeful that tourist numbers will be impressive.There are quite a number of early bookings from both domestic and foreign tourists.Some tourists have even set up permanent residences here.Thats a good sign,”said Alwy.
Lamu county commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo said enough measures had been put in place to ensure adequate security for those travelling to Lamu by road for the festival.
He said there are also enough security measures for the entirety of the festival.
“We are vigilant.We have ensured every area is covered by deploying adequate officers.People shouldn’t be scared to come to Lamu by road for the festival.We have adequate patrols everywhere and people should feel safe,”said Kitiyo.
The Lamu Cultural Festival is the largest event known worldwide and that is held annually in the historical town which is also listed as a UNESCO World heritage site.
The festival presents a rare opportunity to see traditional dances,the famous donkey race, dhow races, Swimming competition, heena painting and cultural display of the Swahili people well known for the accomplishment of craftsmen and women, traditional skills including wood carving from the county in a single venue with the fast paced donkey race competition attracting hundreds of spectators.
Other cultural events that have been marked in the region include the Faza and Kizingitini Cultural Festivals which are held in the months of June and August respectively.
Lamu Old Town which is also known as the ‘The Island of Festivals’ has its own calendar of events and festivals ranging from Eid-Ul-Adhar, Maulidi Festival, Food and Expo Festival, Lamu Fishing Competition, Lamu Art Festival, Lamu Yoga Festival and the Kite Festival.
These festivals make the archipelago lively throughout the year attracting both local and international guests.