National Museums Of Kenya, Where Heritage Lives On
The Mijikenda Kaya Forests comprise of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200km along the Coast, containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as Kayas of the Mijikenda people.
The Sacred Mijikenda Kayas were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008 becoming the fourth Kenyan site to grace the World Heritage List. The 10 sites inscribed are:
- Kaya Giriama (Fungo)
- The Rabai Kayas (Mudzimu vya, Bomu, and Fimboni)
- Kaya Kambe
- Kaya Jibana
- Kaya Ribe
- Kaya Kauma
- The Duruma Kayas (Gandini Mtswakara)
The Kayas are forested or wooded sites situated in the Coastal plains and hills of Kenya regarded as sacred by the coastal Mijikenda community. They are residual areas of once extensive and diverse lowland forest and are small in size, ranging in area from 10 ha to 400 hectares. To date, over 50 Kayas have been identified in the contiguous districts of Kwale, Msambweni, Kinango, Kaloleni, Kilifi, and Malindi. The Mijikenda people are dominant ethnic community in the coastal region south of the Tana who speak closely related Bantu dialects. They are A- Giriama, A-Digo, A- Chonyi, A-Ribe, A-Kambe, A- Kauma, A-Jibana
The Sacred Mijikenda Kayas are an outstanding and unique example of how the collective attitudes and beliefs of a rural society have shaped or sculpted a landscape over time in response to prevailing needs. The Kayas are a living legacy of the people’s history, culture, and religion. Because of the forests’ protected status, they are repositories of biodiversity and home to rare species of plants and animals
THE ORAL HISTORY
Mijikenda oral history relates that the ancestors of the Mijikenda, who were then one people, lived in a place called Singwaya, believed to be north of Tana River and south of the Juba River in Somalia. However, due to conflicts with other communities, they migrated south in waves into the present Kenya coastal region by early 16th Century onwards
They established themselves in fortified villages within forests, known as Kayas. ‘Kaya’ in fact means ‘home’ in most Mijikenda dialects. Within the forest, the Mijikenda placed the powerful ‘fingo’ or talisman which they brought from Singwaya as protection for the community. The sites were inhabited for many generations but gradually people began to leave the forest villages especially in the 19th Century as conditions became more secure.
Kenya has a total of seven (7) World Heritage Sites namely; Lamu town for its unique culture, Mt. Kenya for its undisturbed natural look, Sibiloi National Park in the Rift Valley for both cultural and natural significance, Fort Jesus National Monument and Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological site.
Article by: Juliana Ruto, PRO, National Museums of Kenya
Photography by: Steve Okoko, National Museums of Kenya