Lamu seeks to give its ruins facelift, use as tourism sites

Dating back to the 15th Century, they have a lot of ecotourism potential

In Summary

• They were once majestic palaces for sultans, mosques, stone walls and houses

Lamu tour guide Twaha Omar stands next to solid waste illegally dumped at Pate ruins
Lamu tour guide Twaha Omar stands next to solid waste illegally dumped at Pate ruins

Twaha Omar can pass for an ordinary man.

But to many in Pate Island, Omar is a walking dictionary of the Swahili culture, having started his work as a tour guide many decades ago after leaving school.

And he says he won’t rest until Pate ruins have been rehabilitated and made a tourist attraction.

Today, Omar is among the local community in Pate that wants to rehabilitate the priceless ruins dating back to the 15th and 16th Centuries into an ecotourism site.

The tour guide says the ruins have the potential to be another revenue stream, particularly for the community.

Omar, who is an active member of Pate Resources and Tourism Initiative, said the area has now been taken up by banana plantations.

Pate Island, the largest in the archipelago, is known for its distinctive blend of African, Arabic and Persian influences, along with its rich archaeological sites.

The historic ruins of the once-majestic palaces for sultans of the 15th and 16th Centuries remain, as do some mosques, stone walls and houses that were made from limestone, coral and mangroves.

He said the community has written to the National Museums of Kenya with a view to taking over the responsibility.

“We will rehabilitate the ruins once the National Museums of Kenya gives us the authority,” Omar said.

Omar said the revenue stream from the ruins will help to complement what the community is currently earning from other activities.

Other initiatives that the community involves in include the making of potting bags using the local materials, mud crab fattening and apiculture.

The community is also actively taking part in mangrove restoration efforts.

Lamu has the most mangrove forests at 92,293 acres, followed by Kilifi at 21,092 acres, Kwale at 20,643 acres, Mombasa at 9,318 acres and Tana River at eight acres.

About 60 per cent of Kenya’s mangroves occur in Lamu county, which also harbours eight of the nine species found in the country.

Lamu Governor Issa Timamy explains how the county intends to save the ruins
Lamu Governor Issa Timamy explains how the county intends to save the ruins

Lamu’s communities have had a long history and cultural connection to the mangroves, utilising them for various purposes like construction, fuel and traditional practices.

Wetlands International has been helping the community by building their capacity.

Lamu Governor Issa Timamy said the devolved units have been given museums.

“The monuments and sites are still under the national government,” he said.

The governor said he is still following up with the national government

 “My role is to ensure that the Lamu Museums has been rebranded to make it a social and living place,” he said.

Lamu Deputy Governor Raphael Munyua said the county will be able to protect and preserve not only Pate ruins but others as well.

He said the ruins, such as Takwa ruins and Pate ruins among others, give the county a very rich history.

“There are ruins that go back to 600 years, 400 years, 300 years and how Lamu was civilised by different people, including the Portuguese, the Oman and Mazrui,” Munyua said.

“As county government, we are eager to see that these sites are protected, preserved and sold.”

Munyua said the county wants as many Kenyans as possible out there to know that there are massive areas of tourism that they can visit.

He said the Lamu port museums, for instance, dates back 300 to 400 years, with a very rich history.

“Takwa ruins show the civilisation that was there many years before the British and German came to Lamu,” Munyua said.

“We will help the community to protect these resources because the community can do conservation.”

Munyua said for the ruins to be protected and preserved, the local community must be supported.

“You can only support the community for them to be able to protect and conserve these resources and use them sustainably. We can only build their capacity.”

Munyua said museums and artefacts are a very sensitive area. He said there are people who specialise in stealing artifacts.

“The community should also benefit from the sites. Some of the money should go to the community so they can conserve more. There are many other ruins in Lamu that the museums did not really invest in.”

Munyua said as soon as some of the functions are devolved and resources availed, the county will be able to protect those ruins and even restore some of them.

He decried that some of the sites have been turned into farms.

“Pate people are farmers, so they will plant banana in every empty space. Once we take possession of the ruins, we will do something about it.”

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