Written by Ess Opiyo.

Culture and the travel industry have consistently been connected. Social sights, attractions and occasions give a significant inspiration to travel, and travel in itself produces culture. Over the years, the connection between culture and the travel industry has been distinguished and a type of consumption birthed: cultural tourism.

I grasped an opportunity to attend a cultural festival in South Coast. Of the many festivals that are hosted across the country at different times of the year, this was my first! I came to know about it from a friend’s whatsapp status. I did not give it much thought, given that this year much of what we want to preach is conservation and sustainable tourism. The universe kind of aligned.

Honestly, I am not usually into festivals and gatherings. A disclaimer I feel obliged to put for the good people who know me too well and are already snearing at the thought that I have turned down their invitations in the past. A first time for everything however calls for a changed perspective and advocacy. 🙂

The Diani Ngalawa Regatta festival is the only festival in South Coast organized by South Coast Community Ecotourism Association, which showcases traditional local culture. The launch of the festival followed the realization that the recognition of the traditions in the community were fading away and that the only Kenyan culture known to many tourists is the Maasai Culture, which is not found in the Coast.

This edition marked the 8th annual edition of the festival in Diani since its inception in 2012. The organizers have managed to successfully pull off the eight consecutive editions with the help and support from generous donors and sponsors. The main objective of holding the entire event is to promote community-based tourism among the people in the Coast region and promote matters that deal with environmental and cultural conservation.

The festival brought together domestic and international tourists; young and old alike to witness the showcasing of the traditions and talents of the local communities in the South Coast. It has grown so much in popularity that some tourists plan the dates of their stay in Diani around the period of the Regatta.

Why you should Support Cultural Tourism

Shot by Andras Porffy

Cultural festivals offer the opportunity for locals to showcase their culture, traditions and heritage. For a moment, you can live in the traditions and learn of the way of life of a people. At the Regatta festival we witnessed the men and women of the community showcase their mode of dressing in a colourful lesso fashion show event, and the school going kids entertained us in swahili songs and dances learnt from their schools. This to me reinforced in me an image of the identity of the coastal people, one that was remotely existent in my mind. Also I got to learn a new cultural song. You can bet I might have gotten some of the lyrics wrong 🙂

“Ukuti Ukuti, Wa mnazi wa mnazi…….

Mwenzetu mwenzetu,

Kagongwa, kagongwa

Na nini, na nini

Na gari, na gari

Tumpeleke hosipitali asije kusema kwa mama yake, yes sir, yes sir yeeee “

The appreciation of our cultures through cultural tourism lead to creation of new markets and brands that enhance our heritage. These markets and brands, usually given the chance to exhibit their art, ideally showcase the richness in traditional, performing and visual arts and crafts. Besides the exhibition of various products, we witnessed acts from local contortionists and talented youth.

Proceeds from cultural festivals go a long way in supporting the local markets and brands. The Regatta festival has managed to support dozens of local women who earn directly by selling local food prepared in the swahili way. Besides these, the Regatta Festival attracted honey, and eco-briquette charcoal among the products for sale. The organizers hope to connect even more people in the community to new markets moving forward.

From the Diani Regatta proceeds, South Coast Community Ecotourism Association helps people from the local community , especially women and youth, to create tangible micro enterprises, sourcing markets within and outside the region, creating employment, generating sustainable income and local empowerment. Important for you to understand that these initiatives cannot be sustained if as domestic tourists we do not make a point of embracing such festivals.

Further, important conversations around conservation go around in these kind of events. For instance, matters of environmental conservation, cultural conservation and cultural- based tourism.

A way to the people and economic benefits aside, you have an agenda to touring a new destination, networking and making new friends. Kill two birds with one stone. I enjoyed the white beaches in Diani, built networks from Mombasa in the tourism industry, writers and photographers who I am looking forward to having great collaborations with in the near future.

The highlight to my day had to be witnessing the canoe racing from the skilled local fishermen and captains on their Ngalawas. The whole inspiration to the theme of the festival, since a Regatta is a sporting event consisting of series of boat races.A Ngalawa is an enchanting traditional canoe and one of the widely recognized boats seen on the Swahili Coast. It’s thin body around 6 meters in length is basically a Mtumbwi, dug out and shaped by hand from the back of a mango tree. The raised bow and higher sides to the frame take into account the Ngalawa to counter the water resistance. The boat boasts of outrigger glides attached to a hull by rope ties, which enhance stability and speed when sailing.

The race involves various sponsors partnering with the skilled men to race over a long distance to the finish line over the calm waters of the Indian Ocean. Incredible expertise and seamanship is needed to participate in the race. The veteran captains from Baobab and the Kenyaway made it look so easy as they sailed seamlessly and bagged the first and second position respectively.

Through the sponsorship of the various cooporates, the local fishermen have acquired cooler boxes, solar powered freezers and sails for their boats. They also get money for participating in the race.

Did you even enjoy a new environment if you did not pop into one of the locals?

At the end of the day, it dawned on me just how much such festivals depict how cultural heritage can be intangibly a way of life to the local people. I am looking forward to attending more cultural festivals this year, among them the Rusinga and Turkana festivals, whose vibrations had not resonated with mine till I took the leap!


Passport Overused · February 4, 2020 at 1:53 pm

Great post 🙂

Samuel · February 4, 2020 at 7:36 pm

Well narrated. The day activities are to be remembered for long. Truly changed my perspectives towards cultural festivals. Looking forward for the one.

Benson · February 5, 2020 at 9:02 am

Great post. Worth reading

Martinah Charity · February 5, 2020 at 9:47 am

Nice piece

Nasra · February 5, 2020 at 6:33 pm

It was great meeting you at this event and looking forward to more excursions. Well written Ess.

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