Off the bustling waterfront of Shela Village, dhows sway gently on the incoming tide as merchants and fisherman cross back and forth on the shimmering sand. A few steps away, a small entrance framed by clusters of frangipani and bougainvillea flowers opens to cool shade and green shadows. Entering Kijani Hotel is like stepping into a secret garden, an enchanted hotel of private spaces and elegant retreats, Aquamarine pools glow gently in the shade of giant kunazi trees, small tables and beach chairs lie under a profusion of palms and flowering flamboyants and yellow oleanders branch out over large terraces that face the ocean. Kijani means green in Swahili, at once invoking the small hotel’s verdant gardens and the fecundity of new growth.
Owner Pierre E. Oberson and his wife Mwanashee created Kijani to revive the tradition of stone Swahili houses and provide an authentic retreat for visitors looking to experience Lamu’s past. It took them more than ten years to rebuild the hotel from the ruins of three old properties, using only traditional methods and materials in the restoration. Kijani’s rooms and gardens are filled with antiques and handmade replicas of the furniture, lanterns, ornaments and utensils that graced the stately house of Lamu‘s past. Copies of old Portuguese lamps sway from white archways. An arrangement of ceramic water pots, used to carry oil and water aboard ship centuries ago, stand under the shade of a royal palm. Members of Shela Village even borrow Kijani’s antique ceremonial chair, crafted on the nearly island of Siyu, to celebrate weddings and special occasions.
True to the atmosphere of a Swahili home, Kijani’s rooms and central areas emphasize the aesthetics of privacy and space. Each room has a private veranda shaded from sight by sculpted archways and trees. The rooms are dark and cool, shards of sunlight and ample breeze welcomed through tall wooden shutter. A canopied Swahili bed stands beside antique cupboard and tables inlaid with hand –coloured Indian tiles and painted glass. In the bathroom, intricately carved mirrors set off the sensuousness of warm ochre walls, the heady oriental effect heightened by shafts of light that filter through the shutters from the world outside. Kijani Hotel offers a retreat from the bright bustle of Lamu’s waterfront – a lush oasis of green gardens, pools and cool rooms in splendid Swahili style.