- The most notable items being targeted by the looters include Chinese porcelain plates which have been on the graves of prominent personalities in the county.
Robbing the dead to feed the starving.
Tomb robbers are stealing from the dead in historical Lamu graveyards, then selling valuables to buy food for the living during the ravaging drought.
The National Museums of Kenya-NMK has raised the alarm over increased theft of decorative ornaments and other valuable items from historical graves across the county.
These valuables are then sold to treasure hunters and other collectors at throw away prices.
The situation has resulted in a high cost of restoration and maintenance of the graves and other monuments which are key tourist attractions.
The most notable items being targeted by the looters include Chinese porcelain plates that have been on the graves of prominent personalities.
Lamu is renowned for being home to some ancient historical tombs, known as as ‘tombs of Identity’ that have existed for centuries.
These and many others remain major tourist attractions.
Mohamed Mwenje,the NMK Curator in charge of Lamu Museums and World Heritage site, said the robbed tombs so far have been in Pate Island, Siyu, Gadeni, Mkomani, Takwa, Tchundwa and surrounding areas.
Famous tombs such as the 200-year-old Mwenye Mui Zahid Ngumi in Langoni area on Lamu Island and the 400-year-old Mwana Hadie Famau tomb in Mkomani area of Lamu Island have been plundered.
Ngumi, whose grave was thoroughly looted, is recorded to have been the patron of the Lamu Old Town and is renowned for building the Lamu Fort between 1813 and 1821.
Famau is referred to as the Saint of Lamu due to the strong religious beliefs she lived by,
“The robbers mostly steal porcelain plates and any other items of value which are sold to collectors and treasure hunters in lowly organised syndicates here and across the Coast.
In some cases, the items were simply destroyed, Mwenje said.
Lamu is also home to the 14th century Pillar Tomb at Gadeni area in Lamu Island.
All these tombs are unique to the culture and history of Lamu and form a major part Lamu Old Town as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Tombs of prominent people were elaborately decorated with ornaments of value by the families who mostly went for expensive Chinese porcelain to honor their relaties. Ornaments were seen seen as symbols of their worth.
“Just as gold is used by many to show wealth, back then it was Chinese porcelain that was placed on the tombs to show just how important that person was in society. The trend of thefts are worrying,”Mwenje said.
Most of the tombs do not have active caretakers, making it easy to access and rob them.
“Most were initially cared for by family members who have since passed on and since we can’t trace them to a particular lineage, we have no one to keep an eye on them," he said.
Mwenje said encroachment on the historical tombs was also tough to handle since many of them are located within built-up areas that have seen steady population growth.
The population increase has pushed the expansion and establishment of settlements, resulted in encroachment on the sites.
“The isolated pillar tombs in Gadeni and Tchundwa villages are under threat of encroachment,” he said.
(Edited by V. Graham)