Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests

The Mijikenda Kaya Forests consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

Forêts sacrées de kayas des Mijikenda

Les forêts sacrées de kaya des Mijikenda consistent en 11 sites forestiers distincts qui s''étendent sur près de 200 km le long de la côte. Ils recèlent les vestiges de nombreux villages fortifiés, les kayas, du peuple Mijikenda. Les kayas, créés à partir du XVIème siècle ont été abandonnés dans les années 1940. Ils sont considérés aujourd''hui comme les demeures des ancêtres, révérés comme des sites sacrés et entretenus par les conseils d''anciens. Le site est inscrit en tant que témoignage unique d''une tradition culturelle et pour ses liens directs avec une tradition vivante.

غابات كايا ميجيكندا المقدسة

تشمل 11 موقعاً، وتبلغ مساحتها 200 كلم تقريباً على طول الساحل. فيها آثار لعدد من القرى المحصنة، المسماة "كايا"، والتي يتميز بها شعب ميجيكندا. أنشئت قرى "كايا" بدءاً من القرن السادس عشر، وأصبحت مهجورة في عام 1940. لكنها تعتبر اليوم بيوت الأسلاف ومواقع مقدسة تحرص الأجيال المتعاقبة على الاعتناء بها. وقد أدرج الموقع بوصفه شهادة فريدة عن تقليد ثقافي ولارتباطه المباشر بتقليد حي.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Леса кайя Миджикенда

состоят из 11 отдельных поселений, расположенных вдоль двухсоткилометровой береговой линии, где еще сохранились остатки многочисленных укрепленных деревень, называемых кайя, племени Миджикенда. Строительство кайя началось в XVI веке, а прекратилось в 40-е годы прошлого века. Местные жители полагают, что в них пребывают их предки, поэтому чтят кайя как святыни. Только советам старейшин дано право следить за их содержанием. Объект занесен в Список как уникальный памятник традиционной культуры, тесно связанной с современными традициями.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Bosques sagrados y kayas de los mijikenda

El sitio inscrito consta de 11 sitios independientes diseminados a lo largo de 200 km de costa. Muy ricos en vegetación, contienen los vestigios de numerosos pueblos fortificados, conocidos como kayas, del pueblo Mijikenda. Los kayas, creados en el siglo XVI pero abandonados en los años 1940, se consideran ahora morada de los ancestros y son venerados como sitios sagrados por parte de los consejos de ancianos. El sitio se inscribe como un testimonio único de una tradición cultural y su relación directa con una tradición todavía viva.

source: UNESCO/ERI

ミジケンダの聖なるカヤの森林

source: NFUAJ

Heilige Kaya bossen van Mijikenda

De heilige Kaya bossen van Mijikenda bestaan uit 11 afzonderlijke bosgebieden verspreid over ongeveer 200 kilometer langs de kust. Ze bevatten overblijfselen van een groot aantal versterkte dorpen – bekend als kayas – van de Mijikenda gemeenschap. De kayas werden gebouwd vanaf de 16e eeuw, maar verlaten in de jaren '40 van de vorige eeuw. Er zijn meer dan dertig kayas overgebleven. De Mijikenda zien ze als verblijfplaatsen van voorouders en vereren ze als heilige plaatsen. Ze onderhouden het bos rond de kayas om deze plaatsen te beschermen. De bosgebieden zijn bijna de enige overblijfselen van dit eens zo uitgestrekte kustbosgebied.

Source: unesco.nl

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Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
Outstanding Universal Value

Spread out along around 200km of the coast province of Kenya are ten separate forested sites, mostly on low hills, ranging in size from 30 to around 300 ha, in which are the remains of fortified villages, Kayas, of the Mijikenda people. They represent more than thirty surviving Kayas.

The Kayas began to fall out of use in the early 20th century and are now revered as the repositories of spiritual beliefs of the Mijikenda people and are seen as the sacred abode of their ancestors.

The forest around the Kayas have been nurtured by the Mijikenda community to protect the sacred graves and groves and are now almost the only remains of the once extensive coastal lowland forest.

Criterion (iii): The Kayas provide focal points for Mijikenda religious beliefs and practices, are regarded as the ancestral homes of the different Mijikenda peoples, and are held to be sacred places. As such they have metonymic significance to Mijikenda and are a fundamental source of Mijikenda’s sense of ‘being-in-the-world’ and of place within the cultural landscape of contemporary Kenya. They are seen as a defining characteristic of Mijikenda identity.

Criterion (v): Since their abandonment as preferred places of settlement, Kayas have been transferred from the domestic aspect of the Mijikenda landscape to its spiritual sphere. As part of this process, certain restrictions were placed on access and the utilisation of natural forest resources. As a direct consequence of this, the biodiversity of the Kayas and forests surrounding them has been sustained. The Kayas are under threat both externally and from within Mijikenda society through the decline of traditional knowledge and respect for practices.

Criterion (vi): The Kayas are now the repositories of spiritual beliefs of the Mijikenda and are seen as the sacred abode of their ancestors. As a collection of sites spread over a large area, they are associated with beliefs of local and national significance, and possibly regional significance as the sites extend beyond the boundaries of Kenya.

The Kayas demonstrate authenticity but aspects associated with traditional practices are highly vulnerable. The integrity of the Kayas relates to the intactness of their forest surroundings which has been compromised for Kaya Kinondo.

Management needs to respect the needs of individual Kayas and to integrate the conservation of natural and cultural resources and traditional and non-traditional management practices; the authority of the Kaya elders should be established.

Historical Description

Oral tradition relates that the Mijikenda migrated south from a homeland known as Singwaya, said to be north of Tana in present day Somalia, sometime in the 16th century. Their migration was prompted by the expansion of pastoralists particularly the Akwavi Maasai, Galla or Orma. Tradition further relates that the original settlers founded six individual fortified villages known as makaya on the ridge running parallel to the Kenyan Coast. Three more kayas were added at some time later.

The A-Digo clan are said to be the first group to leave the Singwaya ancestral homelands, followed by the A-Ribe, A-Giriama, A-Jibana, A-Chony, and A-Kambe. There are several oral traditions related to their migration, but all report that they settled in places on the way and in time split into two groups, founding Kaya Kinondo and Kaya Kwale. At the beginning of the 17th century further dispersal took place from the two main centres and secondary kayas were established. From Singwaya, each of the groups brought their own ritual talisman known as fingo, which were buried in the new settlements. The Rabai, Kauma and Digo people formed later along the coast of what is now Kenya, assimilated Mijikenda identity and built their own kayas. From details in the legends, the date of establishment of the first kayas is suggested to be around 1560 and the last 1870. For centuries the 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 centuries with the traders from the coast intermixing with people inland. These suggest an influx of Mijikenda people around the 17th century. Support is also found in Portuguese 17th century documentation which implies the Mijikenda were settled along the coast by the early 17th century.

It has also been suggested that studies of coastal languages can also offer support for the legends. The nine separate dialects which the nine clans of Mijikenda speak are closely related and linked to other languages along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania. Studies of these languages suggest that a proto ‘Sabaki' language in Somalia split into Mijikenda, Pokomo and Swahili during the 16th and 17th centuries.

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 separateness from the Arabs and Swahili along the coast. Recent archaeological survey and excavation of some of the kayas has further stimulated a review of the legends. What is now emerging is the idea that the legends are a view of how societies see themselves, emphasising the separateness and isolation of the individual kayas and simplifying and condensing into a short time frame complex movements of people over many centuries.

It is now becoming clear that the kayas were well established by the early 17th century and were not centralised monolithic settlements but related to the agricultural hinterland and centres for widely dispersed villages. The Mijikenda were mainly subsistence farmers who worked iron and copper and imported cloth, fish and pottery from the coastal towns. Their system of worship recognised a creator Mulungu who was omnipresent and lesser spirits in closer proximity to daily life. Their system of governance involved age-sets that cut across clan groupings. The most senior age-set formed the tribal council which governed by consensus and organised annual ceremonies.

Throughout the 19th century the use of the fortified villages begun to decline as people started to move away to the surrounding farms or to the coastal towns. The exodus culminated in the early years of the 20th century. By the 1940s, almost all the kayas were uninhabited. The trigger for the exodus is still debated, but the potential for involvement in the developing trade between the coastal towns, Zanzibar island, Arabia and India seems to be been a primary stimulus. Other factors were probably famine and disease.

The immediate impact of the dispersal of people from the kayas to their hinterland was the start of gradual deforestation of the landscape around the kayas. This combined with the deliberate preservation of the forest immediately around the kayas, heightened the distinction between kayas and their setting.

In recent times, an increasing disregard for traditional values and a rising demand for land, fuel wood, iron ore, and construction and carving wood materials have put severe pressure on many of the kaya forests. Over the last 50 years, many of the kayas have been drastically reduced in size, and land that was communal property has been registered under individual title and sold to nationals or foreign speculators. The nominated kayas, part from Kaya Kinondo, appear to be the ones that have been least affected.

In the last ten years efforts to protect the kayas have stemmed largely from initiatives to protect the biodiversity of the forest remains through the use of traditional practices.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation
Activities (1)