For those planning a trip a bit further afield, there is always Lamu, a small island off the coast of Kenya. Lamu, Kenya’s oldest living town, was founded in the 14th Century. It is one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa and the old city is inscribed on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”. The port of Lamu has existed for at least a thousand years. The town’s history is marked by a Portuguese invasion which began in 1506 and they dominated for many years. After a rebellion against the Portuguese, in 1652, Lamu was assisted by Oman in lifting Portuguese control. Lamu’s years as an Omani protectorate mark the town’s golden age and during this period, Lamu became a centre of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as various trades. Today, Lamu is a popular destination for backpackers in search of an authentic experience.
Due to the narrowness of the streets, motor vehicles are not allowed and the city must be explored on foot, by bicycle, or, on donkeys. These wonderful animals do all the heavy work on the island. Fortunately, The Donkey Sanctuary in England has opened a small clinic there are provides free treatment for the 2000-3000 working donkeys living there. Howver, the donkeys are not the only animals working on Lamu and there are thousands of cats living there as well.
The Lamu cats are famous all over the world. They are believed to be a preserved gene pool of the long-legged, fine-boned Egyptian cats of ancient times that travelled on the dhows of Arab traders in past centuries.
In Lamu the cats are still appreciated for efficient work in keeping the rodent population down. Their position in Lamu, where the resident human population is predominantly Muslim, has been enhanced by the fact that the Prophet was particularly fond of cats, as was his first disciple, Abu Hureira, ‘The Father of Kittens’.
Although it is hard to estimate the precise number of cats in Lamu, a conservative figure could be as many as 4,000 in town alone and close to 10,000 in the archipelago. Although most are attached to some household, many are ‘street-cats’, struggling to survive on handouts from fishermen and shop-keepers, scavenging in rubbish bins and catching rats when possible. Fortunately WSPA (www.wspa.org.za) has been involved for several years and ensures that the cats are sterilised.