Sunset at Shela beach in Lamu Island.

| Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

'Welcome to Shella Beach...but you must abide by our rules’

“We hope you have a wonderful time enjoying all that our Shella village offers. However, during your stay, it is crucial to keep in mind that you are visiting a community and culture whose norms may differ from your own.”

This cautionary statement is plastered on a huge poster placed on a wall at the entrance to Lamu’s Shella village.

The poster goes on: “As you may well know, most of Lamu’s residents are Muslim, therefore, we urge visitors to be respectful both in their attire and behaviour.”

Welcome to Shella Island, a key tourist hub in Lamu Island where visitors have to adhere to the norms and traditions or else they will find themselves out of place.

Shella, dominating the southeast corner of Lamu Island, is a white sandy beach destination that many people have dreamed of visiting.

Many tourists, both domestic and international, boast of having enjoyed an unforgettable trip to Shella Village.

Here, holidaymakers enjoy their time, but under strict rules.

Tourists and visitors are not allowed to walk in skimpy outfits.

According to the rules and regulations of the local community, walking through the streets while donning a bikini, short shorts, or skimpy and revealing clothes is uncultured.

One is required to dress modestly, in casual clothes while in public areas.

In the tourist village, men are always expected to wear shirts while in restaurants.

Drinking alcohol in public is also prohibited. The community here insists that one should not walk around with alcoholic drinks in their hands while drinking.

The cautionary statement plastered on a huge poster placed on a wall at the entrance to Lamu’s Shella village.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu

Revellers are always reminded to keep their drinks away until they go indoors.

Another key pointer that revellers need to keep in mind as they spend their holidays in Shella is that after 10pm, one must be mindful of the people in the area around them and avoid making any noise or playing loud music.

While walking through Shella village, tourists or guests owning dogs are also advised to ensure their animals are always on a leash.

Lamu Tourism and Culture Director Ali Ahmed stressed that such norms have greatly impacted positively on tourism and preserved the culture and traditions of Shella and Lamu.

Mr Ahmed, a resident of Shella says the rules and regulations have only been kept as general advice to those visiting the tourist village.

“We’re proud of our culture and traditions. These are crucial tourist attractions and that’s why we aren’t ready to see them being eroded by visitors and tourists who might introduce their way of life if left freely,” he says.

One of the hotels in Lamu's Shella village.Here, holidaymakers enjoy their time, but under strict rules.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

“For this reason, we’ve come up with such polite reminders to our tourists. We’re happy many have embraced and appreciated it,” adds Mr Ahmed.

Tour guide operators, hotel owners and boat operators have also helped to ensure full adherence to the existing rules and regulations by society among visitors.

“They always tell their clients in advance about the existing cultural and traditional norms, and by doing so, it has made our work easier. It’s not easy to see a tourist in Shella or even Lamu Old Town dressed in skimpy clothes,” explains Mr Ahmed.

He said his department is in the process of developing a county tourism sector plan and policy that will help manage the tourism industry.

Lamu Tour Guide Organisation chair Ziwa Abdalla noted that the preservation of decades-old culture and traditions resulted in Lamu being recognised and listed by Unesco in 2001 as a World Heritage Site.

Mr Abdalla lauded the Shella community for being at the forefront in protecting their culture, a move that has resulted in the village being among the best and most loved tourist destinations across the Lamu archipelago.

A modified garbage bin in Lamu's Shella beach. Tour guide operators, hotel owners and boat operators have also helped to ensure full adherence to the existing rules and regulations by society among visitors. 

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

It is worth noting that Lamu Island is a major tourist destination with about 30,000 tourists visiting the archipelago annually out of whom, almost 50 per cent prefer spending their holidays in Shella.

“Visitors and tourists coming to our archipelago are rich in money but for us the natives here, we’re rich in our ancient cultures and traditions. People come from far and wide and pay cash just to see our cultures, traditions, and many other attractions that we have here.

It’s crucial to preserve the cultures,” says Abdalla.

Shella Tour Guide Association chair Abdalla Bob, who is also a member of the committee members that drafted the by-laws, said the fact that Lamu is predominantly Muslim also prompted them to come up with the rules.

“It serves to remind them of the fact that they’re visiting a destination that's predominantly Muslim. We have our own cultures and traditions plus the religion that needs to be fully respected. We don’t use force but we’re happy, we haven’t had any challenges implementing our by-laws so far. All are welcome, provided they observe dos and don’ts here,” said Mr Bob.     

Alexandra Mason, a Briton tourist, has lived in Shella for three months.

Ms Mason says her stay in Shella has been fascinating, adding that the village has a beautiful stretch of clean white sand beach and an artsy community.

“I have loved my stay in Shella. Its atmosphere of enduring culture is unique. We have beautiful hotels here like the Shella White House,

Royal House, Bahari, Peponi, Majlis Hotel and Manda Diamond, among others where one can spend their precious time. I am happy being here,” offers Ms Mason.

Through the coordination of the Shella Environmental Resident Group (SERG), The Shella Tour Guide Association, the Shella Welfare Group, the Lamu Tourism Association (LTA), and Discover Lamu, among others, the cleanliness of Shella Beach has been guaranteed.

Ali Omar, a beach operator, says Shella Village has the leanest beaches across the Lamu archipelago. 

“We’ve erected bins at some points along Shella Beach where revellers dispose of their waste as they enjoy their holidays. You can’t throw dirt anywhere in Shella beach unlike what is being witnessed in other beaches in Lamu and the Kenya Coast region,” said Mr Omar.