If you spend one day in Lamu, and trust me one day is not enough, you will immediately notice the style and beauty norms that make Lamu Lamu. In Lamu, clothing/style/beauty choices and very much inspired by their traditional believes. And being a Swahili town their traditions are a beautiful blend of the Arabic culture, Bantu culture and Islamic religion.
Style in Lamu
Lamu, like many others of the coastline towns, is predominantly a Muslim town/island. And because of this the clothing style for the Swahili people has not changed much over the years. Traditionally the Swahili man wears a long robe with a small rounded embroidered while the traditional Swahili woman dresses in long dresses, skirts and cover their hair with a shawl or scarf. A lot of this traditional clothing is reserved for celebrations, festivals and important religious occasions. When not in their traditional clothing western styled clothing is worn but with the same religious and moral rules they would apply to their traditional/religious clothing.
As a tourist, how should one dress while visiting Lamu?
Lamu’s people are predominantly in the Islamic religion. So, for them modesty is key. The main rule to live by as a woman is to keep your legs covered by wearing a dress or skirt that reaches the knee or longer. And keeping your chest moderately covered. But incase you, as a tourist, forgets this rule its no problem. There are numerous clothing stores willing to sell you a Dirac (dress) or shawl, at an extremely affordable prices, to cover up.
Beauty in Lamu
Henna, a body painting work of art, plays a large role in the Swahili culture. Traditionally henna is worn be the women at times of celebrations, such as weddings, religious festivals and other occasions. Henna art is a combination of Indian and Arabic cultures and has been part of the Swahili culture for centuries.
How is Henna Applied?
When henna is not being used as a hair dye or fabric dye, henna is applied on the skin for decoration. The henna is applied onto the skin with a plastic bag that acts like a piping tool. The henna artist will carefully and purposefully paint beautiful patterns across the skin. Traditionally the henna paint and design is not only done for beauty purposes, it is also for good luck. For weddings, the bride will sit for hours are she is painted on her arms, hands, palms and also on her legs, feet and the bottom of her feet. Once the paint is on, she will have to sit for a few more ours as she waits for the paint to dry. One the paint is the dry, it is washed off and what will remain is a “temporary tattoo” like design that will stay on her skin for weeks.
Henna and Tourists
Henna is not only for the Swahili people. It’s beautiful art has tourists wanting to try it as well. There are a number of henna artist all through Lamu ready to introduce you to the beautiful world of henna art.