Watching a donkey race festival in Lamu


The blue glistening waters call out for your touch when you arrive in Lamu. The dhows with their sails up beckon you to dare not take a sunset ride and bare witness to the most breathtaking sunset. On the shorelines, the fishermen's catch of squid with it's black ink and the droves of donkeys peak your interest of what Lamu has to offer for it's annual cultural festival.

‘My ambitions as a ridah’ fit the theme song for this year’s donkey race which featured a donkey aptly named Shakur after Tupac Shakur.

From as early as 8.00am on Saturday the final day of the cultural competitions, the streets of the old town are lined up with locals and tourists a like seeking the perfect spot to watch the speeding donkeys.

The atmosphere is filled with Giriama songs from the local dance groups and the air has an expectant excitement. The locals know all the racing donkeys by their names and bets are placed in gest on which donkey will win the race.

As the temperatures rise, so does the expectations of who will win the race. The streets are cleared and at 10am the riders in their teens are flagged off to cheers and everyone leans in to get a better view.


The Master of Ceremony doubling up as a donkey race pundit whoops the riders on, drawing the attention of those in the ocean.

Whether in the dhow or a speed boat, heads turn to catch a glimpse of the passing donkeys, surprisingly racing at 69 kilometres per hour. The race is over in minutes with Shakur crossing the line first to win this year's donkey race.

Tupac would certainly be proud. But it's not over yet, there's still the intriguing dhow race to go.

In a silent protest to the Lamu coal power plant, residents of the UNESCO world heritage site billowed sail read #mawenicarriers and others 'No coal in Lamu'. The dhow captains organise their teams of tens to sit with accurate precision to apply the right pressure to the stern and bow against the winds ahead. The dhows set sail chopping waves in the deep blue waters racing against the wind and each other.

The dhows are flanked on either side by locals and tourists on speed boats cheering them on. The dhows loop around the island and the mangroves taking an hour and a half before the first burgee is sighted, signalling the first dhow is on its away. Everyone moves to the jetties to see the winner.

Dances of male groups drumming and playing the flute erupt, signalling the celebrations of yet another successful Lamu cultural festival. The market is lined with barbecues grilling the already marinated chicken, prawns and corn on cobs. The air is filled with a hot and spicy smell from the pilau and biryani being served, merging to the blend of the music. As the night sets in and the temperatures lower, the celebrations rise as the people cool off with the soothing tamarind drink.

In the end, you can't help but get clarity on why this is the most awaited festival on the island.