The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) has raised concerns over the growing number of people encroaching on historical tombs and other culturally significant sites in Lamu.
Mohamed Mwenje, NMK curator in charge of Lamu museums and World Heritage site, said tombs in Lamu Old Town were in danger of being grabbed by private developers.
One of the most renowned tombs in Lamu is that of Mwenye Mui Zahid Mngumi, in Langoni, which is over 200 years old.
Zahid Mngumi was famous for building Lamu Fort between 1813 and 1821.
Another historically significant tomb is that of Mwana Hadie Famau which is between 300 and 400 years old, according to NMK. It is in Mkomani, also in Old Town.
Gadeni Pillar Tomb
Famau was referred to as the ‘Saint of Lamu’ because of her strong religious beliefs.
Another monument at risk is the 14th century Pillar Tomb in Gadeni.
These three tombs are key parts of Lamu’s history, having existed for more than 100 years.
They are key tourist attractions, Mr Mwenje said.
Though NMK has secured title deeds for the lands where the tombs sit, some community members still encroach on the sites, making conservation and preservation efforts difficult.
NMK, he said, finds it hard to eject encroachers once they settle because they claim the ruins are part of ancestral land.
“We have tried to keep encroachers at bay by fencing off some of the lands where these historical tombs and sites are located. Some community members still squeeze themselves in. This needs to stop,” he said.
He also cited another major challenge – locals disposing of their waste at the sites.
“We need to preserve, protect and maintain the cleanliness of these sites and monuments. Let’s avoid turning them into waste disposal points. This is raising the entire cost of preservation,” he said.
Lamu is home to hundreds of historical sites and monuments.
Of the 47 counties, Lamu has the highest number of historical monuments and buildings.
Last year, NMK said it was in talks with development partners to raise at least Sh200 million for maintaining the monuments and sites.
Lamu Old Town remains a key tourist attraction in the Coast region due to its preserved culture and heritage spanning decades.
It stands as the oldest surviving town in East Africa, with over 700 years of continuous human habitation.
It is also the only Swahili settlement that retains its original character.