Kenya-Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests

  • Topic: 500 to 1000 BP
  • Country: Kenya
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

This site is made up of eleven separated forest sites and comprises ancient villages of the kayas and the Mijikenda people extending 200 km along the coast. The settlements were created during the 16th Century and abandoned in 1940s and are now referred to as the sacred place of ancestors. A visit to the place now has formalities as one will be entering the world of the ancestors and there are also rules and procedures for the utilization of the natural resources in the area that aid with the conservation of its biodiversity. The Sacred Mijikenda forests reflect the significance of the attitudes and beliefs in shaping a rural society’s landscape overtime in response to their prevailing needs. Contained in the forests are traces of fortified settlements of the Mijikenda ancestors serving as a focal point for the cultural and ritual activities continuing on the site today. The intangible aspects of the forests are supported by the physical and cultural features including burial grounds, gate sites, paths, ritual groundings and settlement sites symbolizing the material embodiment of their world perspective and traditional belief system.

The site also has a historical value as it shows the Mijikenda migration, north of Tana, Somalia, from Singwaya to Kaya forest around the 16th Century. Their migration may have been influenced by the pastoralists’ movement of the Akwavi Maasai, Galla or Orma in the area. Oral tradition also suggests that the Mijikenda people settled in the Kaya area after their migration before being split into two groups, the Kaya Kinondo and the Kaya Kwale. Two migratory routes during the 17th century are suggested. The first migratory route is the Singwaya, where each of the groups brought their own ritual talisman known as fingo, which were buried in the new settlements. The Rabai, Kauma and Digowere groups formed later along the coast of what is now Kenya. They assimilated the Mijikenda identity and went on to build their own kayas. The second route is the Legends, which is the date of establishment of the first kayas and is suggested to be around 1560 and the last 1870. For centuries legends purport the early kayas thrived with their inhabitants developing distinctive languages and customs. Eventually dispersal away from the fortified villages began due to population pressure and internal conflicts. The legends are said to be corroborated by 19th century written histories of the Swahili coastal trading towns which flourished from the 12th to the 14th century with traders from the coast intermixing with people inland. In recent years the idea of the legends as historical narratives has been challenged by those who see them as an Arab-Swahili political construct to reinforce the unity of the Mijikenda and at the same time their segregation from the Arabs and Swahili along the coast.

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