These sailboats enable the rich cultural blend seen in coastal Kenya.more
The Kenyan Coast
A Cultural Crossroads
Bordering the Indian Ocean, Kenya’s coastal region extends from Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south. All along the coast, traditional knowledge and practice continue to evolve as diverse cultures intersect.
In the north, the Lamu archipelago has been a center of cultural exchange for centuries. For example, Lamu Town is one of the oldest and continually inhabited settlements in East Africa and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region reflects the confluence of African mainland, Omani, Indian, Chinese, and European cultures. Binding them together is a strong Islamic presence, as seen in design, architecture, and dress.
Farther south, Mombasa is one of the best known cities in East Africa and home to its largest port. Elsewhere, popular tourist resorts dot the coast, punctuated by significant historical and archeological sites, like the ruins of early Swahili villages and the old slaving caves of Shimoni.
The Smithsonian extended the cultural crossroads by bringing the food, crafts, and artisans of the Kenyan coast to the National Mall.