Blog Post

Lamu Watch Day 2014: Safeguarding Lamu Old Town’s Heritage

In 2001, Lamu Old Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town’s history dates as far back to the eleventh century and surviving ruins of historic sites and monuments date back to the fourteenth century. Safeguarding the history of the people, known as the Waswahili (Swahili people), and their historical sites and monuments has become a priority since the inscription of this ancient Indian Ocean trade port. However, the current socio-political and economic issues plaguing coastal Kenya have brought about challenges in organizing the local communities of the Lamu Archipelago and coastal region. Although the Kenyan national government has planned for strategic economic development and growth for the region with the building of a new port, Lamu Archipelago Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport, there are concerns for environmental and heritage impact as well as community sustainability.

This year’s 2014 Lamu Watch Day brought local stakeholders together to organize as partners, forming the Lamu Watch Day committee. The local stakeholders that participated as Lamu Watch Day committee were the Lamu County Government—Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Culture; National Museums of Kenya—Lamu Museums and Research Institute of Swahili Studies of East Africa; Kenya Red Cross Association Lamu Branch; Save Lamu; Lamu Tour Guide Association; Lamu Cultural Promotion Group; and the WMF nominator/site spokesperson. The opportunity provided these stakeholders a chance to meet and engage in dialogue about the challenges in safeguarding the World Heritage Site and its surrounding historical sites and monuments as well as ways of protecting and promoting Lamu’s rich cultural heritage.

The work of the Lamu Watch Day committee is commendable. Within a week, the committee was able to successfully orchestrate a week of events to capitalize on Lamu Old Town’s inclusion on the 2014 World Monuments Watch. These events targeted the community and a collaborative effort to safeguard and encourage social change, responsibility, and awareness for capacity building and a sustainable community. Lamu’s 2014 Watch Day consisted of site clean-ups, an exhibition, treasure hunt, trivia, traditional entertainment, a youth conservation forum, and the launch of a local sailboat, Lamu, that will journey to the United States to be exhibited at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The preservation of Lamu’s cultural heritage is important to the cultural integrity and the survival of its indigenous communities. There is a need for continuous engagement and education in the community through activities that will encourage interest and stewardship in the rich heritage of the local culture.