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The Takwa settlement is situated on the south side of Manda Island, in the Lamu District in the coastal province of Kenya. They are the ruins of a Muslim town which was abandoned around the 18th century.
The Takwa site can be easely reached from Lamu town. The ruins were first excavated by James Kirkman in 1951. In 1972 the site was cleared again under the supervision of James de Vere Allen, the Curator of the Lamu Museum.
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Takwa was never a large place. It was founded around year 1500, and probably abandoned around 1700. Kirkman thought that it was perhaps a place were holy men or religious people retreated. The Great Mosque at Takwa is relatively well preserved. The other structure remaining of importance is the Pillar Tomb, which has an inscription with the date of 1681-1682. It is reported that when Takwa was abandoned, its inhabitants settled just across the bay at Shela on Lamu Island. Twice a year the people of Shela come to the Pillar Tomb in Takwa to pray for rain. (Martin, p. 27) The Takwa Ruins were designated a Kenyan National Monument in 1982.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Map of Kenya showing the islands
Lamu Town â€ â€¢
Manda Town â€¡
–Rulers of Pate
—- Bwana Mkuu
—- Bwana Tamu
—- Fumo Madi
â€ Administrative Centre
â€¡ Archaeological site
â€¢ World Heritage Site
The Lamu Archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean close to the northern coast of Kenya, to which it belongs. The islands lie between the towns of Lame and Kiunga, close to the border with Somalia, and is a part of Lamu District.
The largest of the islands are Pate Island, Manda Island and Lamu Island. Smaller islands include Kiwayu, which lies in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve, and Manda Toto. Today the largest town in the archipelago is Lamu Town, on Lamu Island. The town is on the World Heritage List.
The archipelago contains several archaeological/historical sites of great significance, such as Takwa and Manda Town (both on Manda Island) and Shanga (on Pate Island). Some have been partially excavated in later years, shedding important new light on Swahili history and culture.
The islands are reputed to be one of the westernmost ports of call of the great Chinese fleet of Zheng He, or even to be the resting place of a wreck of one of his ships. No direct evidence has yet been discovered of his visit, although it is known that he visited Mombasa, further down the Kenyan coast, in around 1415.
Allen, James de Vere: Lamu, with an appendix on Archaeological finds from the region of Lamu by H. Neville Chittick. Nairobi: Kenya National Museums.
Lamu town is the oldest living Swahili town in Kenya, comparable to others such as Zanzibar in Tanzania. The town dates back to at least the 12th century. Since this time Lamu has flourished as a maritime trading centre whose main population, the Swahili, engaged in international trade, fishing and farming. The architecture of Lamu is uniquely Swahili, with its narrow streets, storied buildings, intricately carved wooden doors and numerous mosques.
Lamu is also unique in that it is host to three museums and a Fort with an impressive exhibition space, namely: Lamu Museum, Lamu Fort ,German Post Office Museum, and Swahili House Museum. Lamu Museum can arrange guided tours to various archaeological and historical sites, whether to neighbouring Manda Island or further afield to Pate Island, where the ruins of the earliest known Swahili settlement of Shanga – dated to the 8th century AD – can be visited.
The Lamu Society was formed in the early 1980s to offer a forum for ideas and projects that would encourage the conservation of the island community’s historic material culture. The Society has been instrumental in raising funds and assisting in the work required to document, preserve and restore aspects of earlier time periods and hence in the development of the Lamu Museum.
The Society’s publications focus on the history and preservation of the island’s cultural heritage, whilst its periodic newsletter informs members about events and ongoing aspects of interest.
Since the 19th century Lamu has been regarded as an important religious centre in East Africa. Every year, thousands of pilgrims from the region flock to Lamu town for the famous Maulidi, or Milad-un-Nabi, celebrations that are held during the third month of the Muslim calendar to mark the birth of the Prophet Muhammed. The East AfricanMaulidi is believed to have been started by Habib Swaleh Jamalely, a Comorian Arab who emigrated to Lamu and established himself as a scholar and doctor of traditional Arabic medicine. He was a pious man whose deeds are still emulated today, as exemplified by Maulidi. The Maulidi celebrations are known to bring people from as far as the Comoros, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lamu Heritage Attractions
Lamu is a dominant cultural centre reputable for its historic past and traditional socio-cultural traditions. As such visitors to Lamu can enjoy a large and diverse collection of heritage and cultural attractions. At the district level, Lamu has the remains of many heritage sites. These range from towns, like Shanga, Paté and Manda to hundreds of monuments, like Siyu Fort. Some of these sites, such as Manda, are easily accessible, while others are located in thick vegetation making access difficult. The development of access to these areas is currently being addressed by the site’s management team.
Lamu was listed as a World Heritage Site on the 14 December 2001. This landmark status came after 28 years of strict conservation of Lamu Old Town. As a national monument the town has many fascinating architectural characteristics, unrivalled by any other Swahili town along the East African littoral. The old town has approximately 532 houses. About 496 of these houses are privately owned, 23 are considered public and 13 are religious buildings mainly mosques.
The town has survived the pressure of modern destruction and development by both government and private developers. The town’s well-conserved architectural setting of narrow streets, divided by blocks of lined houses, has fascinated many visitors. Perhaps of most appeal are the stone walled houses in which flat roofs are supported by painted mangrove poles.
The interior of a typical Lamu house is divided by two or three long galleries, with at least one or two self-contained rooms. The walls are covered with geometric plaster designs and wall niches. Lamu town has several buildings of importance including the Lamu Fort and Yumbe the former house of a Lamu Sultan. Aside from Lamu’s physical heritage the town has a rich living culture. For almost a century, each calendar year sees Lamu flooded with religious tourists from across the globe, here to attend the popular Maulidi Festival.
About 20,000 religious tourists come to the town to attend this Festival, during the Islamic month of Rabil awal. The climax of the Maulidi celebrations comes in the final week of this month. At this time various traditional Swahili dances from the neighbouring towns of Paté, Siyu, Ndau, Faza and Matondoni are hosted at the Riadha Mosque grounds to entertain the pilgrims. Taking advantage of the sombre week of mfungo sita, (Rabil awal) Lamu Museum also arranges a series of cultural events, such as traditional dhow races, bao games, donkey races, henna painting and Islamic calligraphy competitions.
Typically during the month of August, though occasionally occurring later in the year, Lamu’s second large festival is held. The Lamu Cultural Festival is organised by the Lamu Cultural Promotion Group. It is a three-day Swahili cultural festival that combines traditional dances, indoor and outdoor cultural activities and an exhibition of Lamu’s rich material culture. The Cultural Festival, like the Maulidi, also draws crowds as large as 20,000.
Lamu Old Town’s museums and fort are maintained and managed by the National Museums of Kenya. These are: the Lamu Museum, known for its exquisite Swahili ethnography exhibits; the Swahili House Museum, a restored 18th century house, reflecting the life of privileged Lamu Swahilis; the Lamu Fort, built in 1814 by Bwana Zeid Ngumi the last Sultan of Lamu; and the German Post Office Museum, showing the post office when it was operational in the late 19-20 th Century.
Lamu’s material culture is best shown by its carved doors and traditional furniture which can be viewed all over the town. There are almost 18 woodcarving workshops in Lamu mainly producing Swahili doors, furniture and smaller artefacts, such as the miniature dhows that are popular with tourists. One of the busiest workshops in the town is the Skanda Woodcarving Workshop, this was opened about 50 years ago and is credited with having trained hundreds of woodcarvers who are now scattered all over Kenya’s major towns. Visitors are welcome to view woodcarving classes at the workshops. There are also gift and curio shops scattered around the Old Town, selling quality local items.
One of the reasons for Lamu’s inscription on the UNESCO heritage list is its unique social-cultural life, which has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. A traditionally conservative lifestyle is still maintained by many Lamu households. Lamu’s female Muslim population still predominately wear bui bui’s, and donkeys remain the major form of transport in the town.
The ruins of Takwa are located on Manda Island, a 30 minute boat ride from Lamu town. Here one can witness the remains of a thriving 16th century Swahili trading post. Among the more notable features at Takwa is the unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar atop the qibla wall; while the significance of the pillar is not known with certainty, some believe it to symbolise the burial of a Sheikh below the wall. A day’s visit is quite a unique experience, and can be complimented by a picnic or overnight camping.
The ruins of Takwa are located on the southeastern corner of Manda Island opposite Lamu. A 30 minute boat ride from Lamu Town. Its geographical location on map is at Grid Reference 186 476, Sheet 180/4.
Takwa ruins are the remains of a thriving 15th and 16th century Swahili trading town before it was abandoned in the seventeenth century. It is not only important because of its period of occupation but also because of its dense settlement and its relatively well preserved remains. The unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar a top the qibla wall is among the most notable features. This pillar is believed to symbolize the burial of a Sheikh be low the wall.
The position of the site at the narrowest location on the whole island, was most probably a strategy. Takwa’s position/location with shallow waters must have been of considerable importance especially during its peak, when many of the sails that came into view were likely to be hostile. Therefore access to the site must have been primarily from the shallow channel which could only admit vessels of shallow draft.
Takwa eventual abandonment in the 17th century was due to salination of the once fresh water and endless fighting between Takwa and Pate people. These ruins were gazetted as a National Monument in 1982 in Gazette notice No. 1514. At present, Takwa is open daily to the Public. It is a very pleasant place for a casual visit, which can be complimented by a picnic and overnight camping.
Takwa is a settlement between three hundred and five hundred years old unmodified by subsequent constructions. The remains of the walled stone town of Takwa are located at a point where Manda Island is almost bisected by a tidal channel flanked by mangroves. Although Takwa is located only few hundred meters from the sea, there is neither a good harbour nor protected anchorage on the ocean side. The shallow channel was likely the best access to the site, as it is today, although only for vessels of shallow draft when the tides are favourable.
A major aspect of the settlement is the town wall, of coral rag construction, which rose to a full height of about three meters and is best viewed intact in the southern areas of the site. The remains of Takwa within the wall cover about 5 hectares and consist of a mosque, houses, a well and structures with perhaps religious or commercial functions. In addition, there are the spaces created by the location of structures, such as courtyards, streets and other open areas. All structures were built of coral rag, quarried locally, and set in mortar made of earth, sand and lime.
The street, although obscured by rubble today, is significant for the amount of town planning involved: at least five houses with sides on the street are directly aligned with it, and all in the plan are affected by it. Likewise the street leading south directly to the mosque is orientated with an error of less than one degree off contemporary magnetic north – hardly an accident. It is interesting to consider that upon leaving the mosque, the faithful stepped onto a street aimed directly at Mecca.
Pillar tombs are one of the unique architectural features of the East African coast, and Takwa is justifiably known for its fine example, located just a few meters past the north gate. An inscribed block is set into the north face of the tomb wall. The block calls to Allah, Muhammed, and the first four caliphs, AbuBakar, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. At the bottom of the inscription is the Arabic date 1094, which measures that many years from Muhammed’s hijrah, or move, from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622. As the Muslim year 1094 began on December 31, 1682, this date corresponds to the Christian year 1683. The tomb is still considered sacred to the Muslim people of Shela, some of whom are believed to have come from Takwa and who visit the tomb twice a year to pray for rain.
The Takwa mosque is located near the geographical centre of the site, reflecting the central place of Islam in the religious and social life of many in the community. The mosque is characterized by an unusual and striking pillar, which rises from the centre of its north wall. It is possible that the mosque is located on the site of the tomb of a revered person. The pillar, as a characteristic feature of the coast, may have been placed on the mosque in commemoration of the burial site. The ruined remains of about 55 structures occur north of the mosque, with about an equal number to the south.
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Takwa may have been abandoned due to hostility from nearby Pate, whose ascendancy began about three hundred years ago. Perhaps trade competition contributed to the site abandonment, or possibly Takwa became involved in the rivalry between Lamu and Pate, which might explain why some of the Takwa people asked to settle at Shela on Lamu Island. Another likely cause for abandonment was the inferior water supply, for the wells at the mosque and near the pillar tomb are salty today. It might have been easier for the Takwans to resist hostility from Pate than to endure the increasing salinity of their life-sustaining wells.
Artefacts found during excavations in the 1979s include numerous pottery vessels – both locally produced and imported – for cooking and storage, a bread oven, glass beads, spindle whorls, a glass flask of unknown use, fragments of a smoking pipe, fish and mammal bones suggesting a varied diet, and finished iron implements and iron slag indicating blacksmithing on site.
This is a rich inventory of artefacts but it nevertheless only reflects what has not perished in the archaeological record. No cotton or other cloth has survived. Almost all wood is gone, probably moved to Shela, which, considering contemporary woodcarving is likely quite a loss. Leather products such as purses, belts and sandals have all decayed, and particularly valuable items would have been removed as the people left Takwa. Even with the interesting picture of Takwa known from archaeological research, we are still unable to gain a complete piciture of the site’s history.
A safari to Takwa – A visit to Takwa National Monument is a very pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, or even an entire day with overnight camping. Visitors may leave Lamu or Shela by sailing dhow or motorboat, cross Lamu Harbour to Manda Island and enter a narrow channel flanked by mangroves. Although at high tide boats and dhows can reach the very end of the channel, it is best to be prepared to wade a few meters through ankle or knee deep salt water. Far from being dangerous or uncomfortable, this approach makes you feel like an explorer, setting the mood for entrance into the serene and majestic ruins.
Physical description and climate
The Lamu Archipelago is a small group of island situated on Kenya’s northern coast line, near Somalia. It is made up of Lamu, Manda, Pate and Kiwayu Islands. Lamu Town is the headquarters of Lamu District, one of the six districts of Kenya’s Coastal Province, which borders the Indian Ocean to the east, the Tana River District to the south-west, the Garissa District to the north and the Republic of Somalia to the north-east.
Temperatures range from 23 to 30 degrees celsius throughout the year. The hottest months are form December to April, while the coolest are from May to July. There are also long rains from mid-April to the end of June.
Commerce brought the East African coast into contact with distant peoples and cultures as early as two thousand years ago. The earliest known historical records – the 1st Century ADPtolemy’s Geography – talk of the coast, its inhabitants, and the trade. Arab merchants began to settle permanently between the 9th and 12th centuries, bringing with them a new religion, Islam. They referred to the people they found there by various names, including ‘Swahili’, which meant ‘people from the coast’. Over the years, the traders intermarried with the local people and some Swahili’s trace their origins to the Arab world.
The Old Town of Lamu is first mentioned by the Arab writer/traveller, Abu al Mahasini, who met a ‘Qadhi’ (Muslim Judge) from Lamu when visiting Meca in 1441. Lamu flourished as an independent city-state and remained a thriving seaport through the turbulent Portuguese invasions, its Omani domination during the 17th century and battles with the neighbouring islands of Pate and Manda. Under Omani protection and with a slave based economy, Lamu remained prosperous for over two hundred years until the 19th century. It was during this period that Lamu’s inhabitants built most of the traditional coral stone houses and mosques that still stand today, using coral stone and mangrove timber from the archipelago, and employing skilled craftsmen from India.
To the Muslim world the word “Maulid” (the Arabic word for birth) is often spoken in reference to the Prophet Muhammed’s (Peace Be Upon Him) birth. However, in Eastern African and the Indian Ocean region, Maulidi or Milad-un-Nabii (Birth of the Prophet Muhammed, PBUH) is the holy celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammed, which lasts the full month of Rabi al-Awal and a few weeks before and after.
A Maulid itself is any ceremony in which the Prophet is venerated. For that reason, it is understandable why there is controversy over when and where the first Maulid was recited. The most consistent record states that the first public celebration took place in Egypt 400 years after the death of the Prophet in the eighth century during the Fatimid dynasty, after which Maulidi was celebrated in Mecca and since has caught on in many other countries in this part of the world. Again there is no precise record of when it began in East Africa, but it is clear Maulidi has been here for centuries.
The person who is responsible for how Maulidi is presently celebrated is Swaleh ibn Alwy ibn Abdullah Jamal al-Lail or “Habib Swaleh”. Born in the Comoros Islands of an Arab father and Comorian mother, Swaleh’s family are Sharifs. He was the first to include instruments at the Maulids he hosted and was criticized for it. After some years, Swaleh was recognized as a man of the people and a respected leader in the community, and they began to follow his example and join in his celebration. At that time no Mosque allowed instruments to be played inside, so he founded the Riyada Mosque and the Mosque College in 1901. To this day, the students of Riyada College lead the recitation, and the Riyada itself is the heart of the festival continuing his legacy.
Though it is a month-long celebration, the most important and observed time is sunset on the 11th of Rabi-al-Awal until dawn on the 12th. The Maulid is recited for that entire span of time, as it is on the actual date of the Prophet’s birth. During the last week of the month, in Lamu, there is a four-day long festival. This begins on the Tuesday and ends on Friday. Since 1990, the National Museums of Kenya has sponsored the gala in Lamu. They organize various community building competitions such as swimming, dhow races, henna competition, tug-of war, and donkey races.
Amidst the festival, in homes and in mosques, the people of Lamu recite one of four Maulids: Sharaful-Anam, Maulid ya Dibei (ya Rama), Baranzanji, and Simt-al-Durar (String of Pearls). The Maulid ya Rama is written and recited in Kiswahili, the others in Arabic. The most commonly read are the Baranzaji, written by Imam as-Sayyid Ja’far ibn Hassan ibn Abdal Karim al-Barazanji (1690-1766), and the Simt-al-Durar, the most recent, written by Khatib Habib Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Habshy (?-1915) from Saudi Arabia. These Maulids can best be described as religious poetry, based on the history and life of the Prophet, with lines and concepts from the Hadith and the Qur’an.
A Maulid can be read at any important event or milestone. In the Swahili tradition, it may be read one to two weeks after the birth of a child, during the shaving ceremony. They are also performed at weddings and less frequently at funerals.
Muslims all of the world add their own variations and culture to the recitation. Of all of the major cities and ports in this part of the world, East African Muslim’s choose Lamu to visit and observe this special time. The uniquely Swahili music, dance, and rituals here are unlike any others. Lamu is a town rich in culture, history, and traditions and will most likely continue to host the biggest Maulidi on the East African coast.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lamu Old Town*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
View of the seaside, Lamu Town
ii, iv, vi
2001 (25th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
Map of Kenya showing the islands
Lamu Town â€ â€¢
Manda Town â€¡
–Rulers of Pate
—- Bwana Mkuu
—- Bwana Tamu
—- Fumo Madi
â€ Administrative Centre
â€¡ Archaeological site
â€¢ World Heritage Site
Lamu town is the largest town on Lamu Island, which in turn is a part of the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya.
Lamu town is also the headquarters of Lamu District and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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