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Lamu Archipelago
Map of Kenya showing the islands
Lamu Island Lamu Town †•
Manda Island Manda Town ‡
Manda Airport
Pate Island Faza †
Pate Town
--Rulers of Pate
---- Bwana Mkuu
---- Bwana Tamu
---- Fumo Madi
Shanga ‡
Kiwayu Island
† Administrative Centre
Archaeological site
World Heritage Site

Lamu Island is a part of the Lamu Archipelago of Kenya. The island is linked by ferry to Mokowe on the mainland and to Manda Island. There are no motorized vehicles on the island, instead donkeys are for transport.

A port was founded on the island of Lamu by Arab traders at least as early as the fourteenth century, when the Pwani Mosque was built. The island prospered on the slave trade. After defeating Pate Island in the nineteenth century, the island became a local power, but it declined after the British forced the closure of the slave markets in 1873. In 1890 the island became part of Zanzibar and remained obscure until Kenyan independence. Tourism developed from the 1970s, mainly around the eighteenth century Swahili architecture and traditional culture. There is one town and three villages on Lamu Island:


Lamu town

Lamu Town is a World Heritage Site.


The Friday Mosque, at Shela

Shela is a village about 2 miles from Lamu Town. The origin of the village is unknown, but according to tradition it was settled by people from nearby Manda Island. In 1813 the elite of Pate Island, allied with the Mazrui clan from Oman, attempted to subjugate Lamu in the Battle of Shela. This attempt failed totally, and the defeat of Pate at Shela signalled the rise of Lamu as the leading power in the archipelago. Shela's golden age was from 1829 to 1857, when 5 of its 6 mosques were constructed. It is especially known for the Shiathna-Asheri Mosque.

Shela is now a centre for tourism on the island, with several guest houses feature by the coast. Shela is also home to the most spectacular beaches on Lamu island, which were unfortunately damaged during the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The appearance of the area is much more in keeping with the imagined East African coastline, with its almost pure white sand, traditional dhows, and clean appearance. It makes a sharp contrast to Lamu town (directly opposite the airstrip on Manda) which lacks a beach and functions as a relatively busy port.


Known for the building and repairing of dhows.


Small village on the SW coast of the island.

In popular culture

Michael W. Smith featured a song about visiting the island called "Lamu" on his 1986 album The Big Picture. A different version is featured on Smith's 1987 live album The Live Set.

See also

Coordinates: 2°17′S 40°52′E / 2.283°S 40.867°E / -2.283; 40.867

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