By Maina Kiarie
Lamu museum is located in the Lamu Archipelago – a small group of isolated islands situated on Kenya’s northern coastline near Somalia. It is made up of Lamu, Manda, Pate and Kiwayu, all of which have a thriving Swahili culture. The museum, housed in the Lamu Fort, was officially opened to the public in December 1971.
The Lamu Fort is a massive two-storey structure built between 1813 and 1821. The Fort marked the southern border of the traditional stone town and served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers sent by the Sultan of Oman. Its protective presence encouraged settlement and development around it.
In 1984, Lamu Fort was handed to the National Museums of Kenya having previously served as a prison from 1910 to 1984 to both the British colonial regime and the Kenya government. The Fort was established as a museum through technical and financial assistance from Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The general theme at the time of inception of the museum was environmental conservation, since the Fort is basically a community centre for the people of Lamu old town.
The Lamu Fort is typical of the 18th century Swahili architecture. It houses a collection of ethnographic material from the Swahili, Orma and Pokomo groups. In the museum there are archaeological displays showing the Takwa Ruins excavations, carved headboards, throne chairs, musical instruments including the famed Siwa Horns, made from brass and resembling elephant tusks.