Too much westernisation ruining Lamu’s culture – Elders

Wednesday March 18 2020

Lamu Council of Elders Chairman Shariff Kambaa (right) and his deputy Mohamed Mbwana. They are calling on the county and national governments to introduce measures to save Lamu cultures and traditions from getting extinct. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Lamu elders are now worried that the county’s cultural heritage and traditions could get extinct if urgent measures are not put in place to preserve them.

Lamu Council of Elders Chairman Shariff Kambaa told the Nation on Sunday that there has been continued proliferation of western cultures into Lamu in recent days, a move which has in turn resulted to various traditions getting lost.

Mr Kambaa said Lamu Old Town which was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2001 in recognition of its efforts to preserve their culture and heritage could lose the title due to the too much westernisation.

He accused both the county and national governments of laxity in preserving the Lamu cultural heritage.


He called on both governments to engage local elders and other stakeholders including the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) in charting a way forward to promote cultures and preserve the traditions of the various communities living in Lamu.

Mr Kambaa cited counties like Kilifi and Kwale where governors have on various occasions engaged elders in promoting and defending their cultures.

“We have seen governors like Amason Kingi of Kilifi and Salim Mvurya of Kwale meeting with Kaya elders in a move aimed at promoting the Mijikenda traditions.

“It’s unfortunate that in Lamu, no single leader has come out to try to engage us as elders over the same. That’s why many of our traditions here are already lost. It’s the high time that the national and county governments came together and engaged us on how we can promote and preserve our cultures and traditions failure to which they will become extinct,” said Mr Kambaa.


Mr Mohamed Mbwana, the deputy chairman of the Lamu elders’ council, said Lamu traditions are crucial since they signify the county’s identity.

He wondered why the county government is delaying the proposed establishment of a cultural centre in the region.

Lamu County Executive for Trade, Tourism and Industrialisation Dismas Mwasambu in 2018 revealed plans by the county government to set up a Sh6 million cultural centre at Mokowe that would help in promoting and preserving the Lamu cultural heritage as well as helping in bringing national cohesion and integration among locals and visitors.

Mr Mbwana called for a speedy implementation of such a project to help save the current situation.


“We were told the county government would build a cultural centre at Mokowe to save our cultures and traditions from being eroded by the emerging western cultures. I support the initiative. Let it be implemented fast in order to save the current situation,” said Mr Mbwana.

Lamu County, particularly the Old Town has become a major tourist attraction site with hundreds flocking in every year to have a feel of life in one of Africa’s oldest towns.

Some of the unique attractions of Lamu Old Town include the narrow alleyways with the only means of transport being donkeys, carts and people walking on foot while intra-island movements are by boats or dhows.

In recent days, such features have been tampered with, particularly with the introduction of motorcycles, bicycles and vehicles operating within the Old Town.