Seven dances that keep Lamu traditions alive


Locals perform Goma la Siyu, a Swahili traditional dance during the Maulid Festivals in Lamu County. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Dance remains one of the best mediums of preserving Lamu’s culture and heritage. Lamu's over 20 different traditional dances have helped pass the archipelago's norms and traditions from generation to generation.

Some of these dances are used to entertain guests during cultural, religious, and national events.


Arguably the most identifiable dance is Kirumbizi which is common during the annual Lamu Festivals, and Maulid.

Kirumbizi, locally known as ngoma ya fimbo in Kiswahili, is a dance that incorporates a group of men who stage a mock fight involving traditional curved Arabic swords all dancing systematically to the beat of drums.

The dance is common among the Bajuni community of Lamu who perform it during cultural festivals like weddings, and circumcision among others.

In 2014, this particular dance was the subject of national news when former Prime Minister and Opposition leader Raila Odinga was struck with a stick by an elderly Lamu resident during one such dance.


Goma dance is yet another popular dance that is also usually performed during most of the cultural and religious festivals.

There are several genres of Goma dance (most of which are identified or named after the villages they come from) including Goma la Lamu (from Lamu Island), Goma la Pate (from Pate Island), Goma la Siyu (from Siyu village), and Goma la Barani (from the mainland areas).

READ: Kiti cha Enzi: Lamu's power seat with a 500-year-old history

Generally, Goma dance always involves men standing with walking sticks and dancing to the rhythmic drum beatings.


Unlike Kirumbuzi and Goma dances, this is is exclusively for coconut or palm tappers living outside Lamu Town including Makafuni, Bombay, Kashmir, Kandahar, and other places.

Uta, translated as ‘bow’ or ‘rainbow’ is performed using a stringed bow. It is believed to be a symbolic way of praying for rain.

It is usually performed by 12 dancers. Ten of them arrange themselves in a circle around the two.


Believed to have originated from Matondoni village within the archipelago, chama translates to a ‘follow the leader’ dance.

The group is supposed to emulate the action of the leader in every detail.

The dance was originally performed competitively by various groups representing the mainland villages.

Thwari la Ndhiya

Thwari la Ndhiya is another cultural dance whose origin is Pate Island in Lamu East.

It is usually used during cultural and religious events like weddings and Maulid.

Lele mama

Lamu has also named cultural dances depending on the gender that those involved belong to.

There is ‘Lele Mama,’ a dance performed entirely by women during weddings.


Vugo is another traditional or cultural women-only celebratory dance always performed at weddings and other key events in Swahili society. Here, dancers always use horns.

During an interview with the Business Daily, Lamu Council of Elders Chair, Sharif Salim termed such dances as crucial ingredients in the preservation and protection of Lamu’s Culture and Heritage.

“Most of these dances have lasted for over a century now. Once performed, they remind us about the traditions of our fathers and forefathers. Our young generation needs to know about these dances so that they don’t become extinct. If we lose these cultural dances, it’s like we’re losing the Lamu Unesco World Heritage site. They go hand in hand,” said Mr Salim.

READ: House of Habib Swaleh: A century-old mud house attracts visitors in droves

National Museums of Kenya curator in charge of Lamu Museum and World Heritage site Mohammed Ali Mwenje said "our focus is to preserve the dances so that they can be tapped as a key tourism product.” 

→ [email protected]