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Drum beating (Matwari) during the maulid festival

A quick tour of the famed Lamu Maulidi Festival

Lamu has at least seven key festivals celebrated annually and which brand the archipelago as ‘the Island of Festivals’.Such events which are key tourist attractions include the Maulid Festival, Lamu Cultural Festival, Food and Expo Festival, Fishing Competition, Yoga Festival, Shella Hurt Contest, Painters Festival, and Kite Festival among others.

Some of the festivals, including Maulid and Yoga were celebrated early October.

Coast business  takes you through the famed Lamu Maulid Festival.This year’s Lamu Maulid Festival, which was in its 135th edition since its inception, was celebrated for three days.The event kicked off on October 19 and ended Friday, October 21, 2022, at Lamu Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site.

More than 7000 Muslim pilgrims, guests and tourists from across the globe attended the fete.

what should one know about the Lamu Maulid Festival?

Maulid is a religious (Islamic) festival.

It is marked annually by some Muslims in remembrance of the birth of Prophet Muhammed in the holy city of Mecca in 570 AD.The festival is celebrated every third month of the Islamic calendar and is always held at the Riyadha mosque, considered the centre of the event.

The mosque is the longest-functioning and most influential Islamic teaching institution among Swahili in Coastal East Africa.It is worth noting that Islam plays an important role in Swahili culture and Lamu has a reputation for the yearly celebration of the Maulidi Festival.

The Lamu version of the Maulidi, which is unique in East Africa, is always celebrated at the Riyadha Mosque where the Holy Habib Swaleh originally founded it in 1866. 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  have a certain influence on Swahili poetry.

Maulidi, therefore, is a celebration of a people’s culture and tradition held so dear by the residents that blend history and present .

During an interview with  Riyadha Mosque and Islamic Centre Secretary-General and the festival spokesperson, Abubakar Badawy said since Habib Swaleh’s times, the importance of music as a constituent of the religious ritual has increased continually.“Today, thousands of pilgrims from the Kenyan mainland, the Arabian world, and other countries come to Lamu to listen to the religious recitals of praise poems, music and dances, calligraphy, and art exhibits, among other colourful performances every year,” said Mr Badawy.

The Lamu Maulid celebration is a joyous occasion where attendees are always entertained with various cultural dances and competitions.

Goma dance is the most popular local traditional dance during Maulid.It involves men standing with walking sticks and dancing to the rhythmic drum beatings.Kirumbizi dance is also common during the festival. It incorporates a group of men who stage a mock fight involving traditional curved Arabic swords all dancing systematically to the beat of drums.

During Maulid, a prayer vigil is held throughout the night around the Riyadha mosque, alternated with chanting and narrating the life of Prophet Mohammed accompanied by songs and dance.A procession into the town of boys and men holding hands is also conducted on the last days of Maulidi. During the Maulid Festival, several competitions and races are also held.One such competition is the famous donkey race which is considered the real Maulid show stopper.

The donkey is a great symbol of Lamu’s culture and so this race is held in awe.Other competitions are dhow sailing, swimming, and football.Residents also compete and display awesome skills in Swahili poetry, Quranic recitals, henna painting, and board games.On the last day of Maulid, there is always a lively parade or zeffe that winds through the narrow alleyways of the town, lined by cheering crowds.

Another thing about the Maulid festival that one should know is that it is a great shopping event that gives you the opportunity to buy different kinds of home products, and toys for children.

It is during the Maulid festival that traders always reap huge profits.

A visitor should also plan a visit to some of the great places while in Lamu for the festival.Such places include the House of Habib Swaleh within the Riyadha Mosque compounds. The structure has over 120 years of existence and the Lamu Fort, a building with over 200 years of existence.The Lamu Museum and the Old Town are also important places that one should not miss visiting.These places offer an opportunity to learn more about Lamu and the great Swahili culture. There is so much to see and do during Maulidi.

Generally, a trip to Lamu for the Maulidi festival brings an out-of-this-world experience.Such a visit will make one fall in love with the place and the  people are warm and very hospitable.

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