Respect local culture when you visit Coast

Also, don't ask if food has spice or order biryani at night

In Summary

• Desperation for tourism has allowed for revealing clothing away from the beach

Tourists along Mombasa beach during a past high season
Tourists along Mombasa beach during a past high season
Image: FILE

Last weekend, I had an impromptu trip to Nairobi from Mombasa. At the airport on my way back to Mombasa, I ran into a woman getting off her Uber, dressed in a long top/short dress. No pants.

I did not have to think about where she was headed to because she was dressed for ‘the beach’. I remembered a time where dressing like that in all Coastal towns was not allowed under any circumstances. It made me wonder, if we (the Coasterians) sold out on our values for tourism.

Before you come for my jugular, hear me out. Yes, I am a well-educated liberal woman who believes everyone has the right to wear what they want. Nevertheless, the preservation of culture is what helps keep our communities alive in this melting pot of a global village we live in today. As I strolled into the airport, walking past more people ‘dressed for vacation’, I wondered if the coastal leaders do what they can to preserve its traditions and values.

I remembered my visit to Zanzibar, where the tourist guide leaflet strictly indicated that no indecent exposure or provocative clothing was allowed in the streets. The leaflet said swimsuits and beach wear was restricted to the resort’s private beaches.

In Malindi, at a time when Italians overran the town, I remember walking past a group of them in bikinis and crocheted cover-ups that did not really cover up much. There was a time where the people from Mombasa were considered too ostentatious compared to the modest, conservative people of Lamu. Yet these days Lamu has become one of those towns that is fast losing its culture and youth to the dark side of tourism. 


When I visited Bali, temples did not allow men or women to enter without being properly covered up. So much so that the country found a booming business of hiring out sarongs to tourists, which they use to tie around their waist before entering any of their holy sites.

The same context applies to most Asian countries as well as the Middle East. Yet tourists have no problem abiding by the rules. Why? Because these countries have put the conservation of their cultures first. Tourists can visit these countries and enjoy the beauty these countries have to offer, but they must abide by the societal norms.

We the Coastal people are losing touch with our culture and social practices. Whether it be from the desperation of getting tourists or our own gradual detachment from social ideals. Whether or not you agree with me, my sentiments of the preservation of culture of the Coast stand as discussed. 

Whether you are from Nairobi or abroad, as a tourist, you ought to observe the modest standards of dressing that is the norm of these coastal towns. Yes, we get it, it is hot, but trust us, we have been wearing buibuis and ninjas since the time of our ancestors and nobody has died from the heat.

Since I have already started addressing tourists on the dressing matter, I might as well continue to list some of the things that tourists do that peeve the hell out of us. One of the main things is ordering biryani at night. Biryani is a local delicacy for sure, and we love that other Kenyans enjoy this dish. However, there are practices to eating Biryani. Biriyani is an extremely rich dish that can cause digestive irregularities, hence it is only eaten at lunch.

Another thing when it comes to food that visitors need to stop doing is asking, “iko na spice?” We are the spice island, hence everything has spice! From tea, to savoury and sweet dishes. We use spices in everything! The only thing that does not have spice is water. 

As a hospitable people, we are eager to welcome guests and show them the best of what we have to offer. However, guests should also remember to adhere to guest etiquettes and try to uphold the local values. 

That being said, we the Coasterians officially welcome all domestic tourists to enjoy the best of what the Coast has to offer. After a difficult and devastating year, we look forward to doing our part in supporting businesses and helping to recover the tourism sector.

Edited by T Jalio

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