Website Category: Traditional Cultural Landscapes
Area: 15 km2
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (v) interaction with the environment (vi) association with belief system
Location and Values: The Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests comprise ten separate sites located along the low range of hills above the coastal plains between the towns of Mombasa and Kilifi in Kenya. They are representative of a wider group of more than 30 sacred forests in this general area, each ranging in size from about 30 to 300 ha. They were once the fortified villages of the Mijikenda people, who migrated to the area from Somalia during the 16th century, and found sanctuary in these coastal forests. Subsequently, the villages were abandoned and the forests became revered as the abode of ancestors, repositories of spiritual beliefs and places of ritual. As such, they are now protected by traditional laws and maintained by councils of elders.
Slideshow of the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests: The slideshow includes photos from five separate kaya forests, focusing primarily on the Rabai Kayas (Mudzimwiru, Mudzimuvia and Bomu-Fimboni), Kaya Kinondo and Kaya Kambe. Although two of these kayas (Mudzimwiru and Kinondo) are not included in the world heritage listing, the photos are useful to illustrate the attributes of the site. Many of the photos include the Rabai kaya elder, Daniel Garero who served as my guide and demonstrated the necessary etiquette in visiting these sacred places (for example, sitting for a while at certain points, walking barefoot etc). The interior of each kaya tends to have a central clearing where the village would have been located, hidden within the forest. Not much evidence of the original layout or structures remains, but some temporary reed-mat houses have been built to illustrate how it would have been. Within the forest encircling the old village area are various clearings, each dedicated to a particular ritual activity (such as rain-making, fertility etc), with a small grass-thatched shrine for offerings. Elsewhere there are graves, marked with a simple stone, or, in the case of village chiefs, an erect post. The kayas are biologically rich, and are the last remaining fragments of a once-extensive coastal forest belt, so their conservation is of concern from a biodiversity as well as cultural viewpoint.
Slideshow of the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests:
Comments and Impressions: Although the kayas owe their continued existence to the sacred and spiritual values they embody, it is clear that these values are not universally respected and the kayas are under enormous threat by local people for firewood, building poles and other uses. At present, there is only one kaya (Kaya Kinondo, which was excluded from the world heritage listing) open for public visitation, with organised guiding and payment of fees to support local community projects. The kaya story is a fascinating one and tourism would seem to provide an opportunity to enhance the economic value of the kayas and gain community support for better protection.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the southernmost kayas (Kaya Gandini and Kaya Mtswakara) on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. From these kayas, it is worth taking a few minutes to explore the surroundings and search for other kayas to the north, noting the extent of cultivation and the isolation of these forest remnants.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details