Lamu and Zanzibar, two ancient towns on the coast of East Africa Historical Perspectives of East Africa Assignment
Lecturer: Mr Bagaja
Student Number: TTM-08-13
Student Name : Mutunga Katia
Date Submitted: 23/ 10/ 2010
Lamu “The oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa “ World Heritage Site List Background
The island of Lamu is situated on the north coast of Kenya. Lamu town is the largest town on Lamu Island, which in turn is a part of the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya.
| It is currently populated by a variety of peoples including native Banjuni, Galla, Swahili, Arab and the most recent additions- Caucasians. Lamu Old Town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. As a listed site the Old Town is protected by international law from anything that could harm or destroy its unique structure. The inscription was completed for the following reasons:
| 1) The town's buildings physically show us how important human interactions have come together over hundreds of years, to create a distinct culture. 2) The town is the best example of the growth and decline of East Africa's seaports, and this significant stage of human history. 3) The town has an important religious function in the region. It continues to be a significant centre for education in Islamic and Swahili culture. Lamu's exceptional architecture and welcoming people are testament to its long history of diverse cultural influence. The island of Lamu seems to have stopped in time and is stuck in the 14th century. This 'Lost in Time' island has a quaint charm and laid back way of life and is bound to lull every visitor into its slow rhythm. The town is once again prospering with an influx of new peoples from around the world, here to experience everything the Old Town has to offer.
By the 14th Century, Lamu already existed as a rich trading city-state, exporting ivory, timber, amber and spices, while importing luxury goods such as porcelain and carpets from across the Indian Ocean There are ancient accounts that mention Chinese ships of Zheng He's fleet sinking near Lamu Island in Kenya in 1415. Survivors are said to have settled in the island and married local women. Though there are contentions about the authenticity of this particular account it is proven that the Chinese were amongst the very first visitors of the East African coast. The port of Lamu has existed for at least a thousand years. The town was first attested in writing by an Arab traveller Abu-al-Mahasini who met a Judge from Lamu visiting Mecca in 1441. The town's history is marked by a Portuguese invasion which began in 1506, and the Omani domination around 1813 (the year of the Battle of Shela). The Portuguese invasion was prompted by the nation's successful mission to control trade along the coast of the Indian Ocean. For considerable time, Portugal had a monopoly in shipping along the East African coast and imposed export taxes on the pre-existing local channels of commerce. In the 1580s, Lamu led a rebellion against the Portuguese, prompted by Turkish raids. In 1652, Lamu was assisted by Oman in lifting Portuguese control. Lamu's years as an Omani protectorate mark the town's golden age. During this period, Lamu became a center of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as the trade. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the authority of the Sultan of Oman increased in the region and Lamu prospered. Lamu's inhabitants and those of Oman built and rebuilt most of the traditional stone houses and mosques during this time. However by the end of the 18th century Lamu was in decline as the main trading activities shifted to Mombasa. This was due to the large development of Mombasa port. During the 19th century disagreements with Pate lead to the construction of the Lamu Fort. The Fort was completed in 1821 with the help of the new Sultan of Oman. At this time Lamu was also once again acquiring substantial wealth, trading goods from mainland plantations...
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