Photos The brass Siwa of Lamu dates back to the 17th or early 18th century and was blown to announce special events of the local royal families. Today, both the brass and ivory Siwa can be seen in the Lamu Museum, considered too valuable to be used for public events. They are the last of their kind in Lamu.The seafront of Lamu in the 1980s, with its impressive coral architecture, has been witness to centuries of Arab and Indian sea trade: Cloth and beads bartered for ivory destined for India, and timber and slaves prized in Arabia. Over time, Arab sea captains settled and married the daughters of Swahili traders who would not allow their daughters to leave home, thereby solidifying the trade relationship and guaranteeing the return of the sea captains.Lamu boatmen race Mashua sailing boats in the channel between Lamu and Manda islands during national and religious holidays and the annual Lamu Cultural Festival.Kisimani House, meaning The Place of the Well, was originally built in the late 18th Century for the Sultan of Kilwa. The courtyard and ground floor rooms of the house reflect the glow of moonlight filtering through the bougainvillea on the terrace above, and help to illuminate the classic Swahili courtyard with its massive walls and delicate plasterwork. Kisimani House features some of the most exquisite plasterwork on Lamu Island.The carved wall niches at Darini House in Lamu Town, are among the finest examples of 18th century plasterwork on the island. Traditionally, Swahili women put into these niches their imported Dutch and Chinese porcelain plates and bowls, which were believed to absorb evil spirits and protect the family during important life passages, such as birth, consummation of marriage, and death.For her marriage, a Swahili girl undergoes a series of beauty treatments that mark her transition to womanhood. Her hands, arms and feet are decorated with a dye made of powdered henna, water and the juice of unripe limes which darkens the color. These designs, considered to bring blessings and good luck, are often applied by her Somo, or teacher, who is often an older sister or aunt who instructs her on how to please her new husband.For two or three days, the bride remains in her room behind a curtain while the henna is applied. Drawn with a fine twig, the designs may be geometrical, floral or arabesque. Five to six applications are made to ensue the henna will not fade to soon, and as each needs about two hours to dry, the process may take up to 12 hours. Traditionally, the bride does not have to work until the henna has faded.In modern times, a black synthetic dye is used to enhance the elaborate henna designs. A Swahili woman must remain concealed in black veils and long robes in public, her hands and feet are the only parts of her body that may be seen.One of the most fascinating wedding rituals, Kupeka Msuaki, features a procession of the women from the brides family, seen here in Matondoni, carrying a collection of male toiletries to the groom. These articles include the male essentials of fine soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, perfume, razor, and towel. As the women advance, they rhythmically beat the traditional Vugo cow horn, to accompany their singing. On the far left, a young girl carries an incense burner filled with Udi to enhance the fragrance of the conjugal bedroom. The woman in yellow carries on her head a tray of leis that are made of jasmine flowers, which will be presented to the family of the groom.The groom enters the bedroom carrying a small necklace made of gold or coral, lifts the curtain surrounding the bed, and places the necklace in the bride’s hand. A playful hand tussle occurs, and whoever ends up holding the necklace is believed to have the upper hand in the marriage.Veiled from head to toe, a Swahili bride sits on her wedding bed awaiting the first visit from her husband who may not see her unveiled face until their wedding night. The bride’s highly prized bed, called Samadari, is of Indian design and given to her as a gift from her family. Woven fans made from palm leaves are placed on the pillows for the bride and groom to cool themselves during the night. In former days, the bride would have been accompanied by her Somo, who would hide underneath the bed and provide support in the event of possible anxiety on her wedding night.The bride pictured here wears green – symbolic of fertility and one of the favourite colors of young brides. At left: Behind the bride stands her female relatives who have assisted with her preparations. At right: A small cushion is placed under the bride’s hands to display the wealth of her gold bracelets and rings. Jasmine crescents are attached to her dress to enhance her fragrance, and her cheeks are highlighted with rouge.The groom, Abubakar Mohamed Swaleh, carries a ceremonial dagger, called Jambia, tucked into his embroidered waist wrap, the decoration of which reveals his status in society. Sometimes during marriage rituals he will carry a sword, called Sefu, in a decorated sheath. Accompanied by his father and witnesses, the groom goes to the mosque to meet the Kadhi (religious leader) and father of the bride in the ritual called Nikaab. The groom then returns to the bride’s house in a procession of family and friends singing and beating drums, where he is formally greeted by the women of her family.Tarab is a style of emotional and poetic Arabic music that is very popualr in Lamu. Tarab itself means to be moved to ecstasy, to dance, and to sing. First introduced to the East African coast by the Sultan Seyyid Baragash of Zanzibar in the 1870’s, it has become the music of choice for all wedding parties. The instruments used include tambourines, small drums, and an harmonium. This popular band was formed by musician Famau Mohamed Kauli (pictured left with tambourine).A typical interior of a three-storey 18th century coral house on the island of Lamu features carved wall niches, called Zidaka, in which Swahili women place their treasured porcelain plates and bowls, brought to Lamu from Holland and China. The porcelain was believed capable of absorbing evil spirits and was placed in the niches of the back rooms where the most important rituals of life passages took place, including birth and marriage. It was believed that if a plate broke, evil had been absorbed in order to protect family members during their most vulnerable times. At left; three Maestricht plates brought to Lamu in the 19th Century on trade ships from Holland.Above: A Swahili woman from Pate Island sits on her bed in the privacy of her home in front of a Kasa displaying a collection of imported glass and china. Below: A Pate bride’s jewelry chest includes finely worked gold and coral necklaces, buffalo horn disks, once used to stretch ears, and filigree gold earplugs.Gold jewelry has always been the preference of Swahili women. From top to bottom; earplugs made of wrapped cloth embellished with gold beads, fine gold rings, or Kipete, to trim the earlobe, crescent-shaped gold filigree earrings, or Kipuli, and round gold earlobe disks, or Kuti, featuring different designs on front and back.According to the code of Orthodox Islam, women must be modest in public. They are required to cover their bodies from head to toe in an all-encompassing black veil called a Bui-bui. Despite this limitation, they have perfected the art of speaking with their eyes. This Swahili mother holding her child reveals elaborate henna decorations on her hand.A dramatic procession marks Maulidi, the celebration of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Hundreds of visitors are drawn to Lamu from all over East Africa and the Indian Ocean islands for this annual event, introduced in the 19th century by Sharif Habib Swaleh, a direct descendent of Prophet Mohammed.The impressive Riyadha Mosque is the central gathering point for the celebrants of Maulidi. It is here that devotees pray and are invited to perform their traditional ethnic dances, a popular practice introduced by Sharif Habib Swaleh.