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Mfangano Island Rock Art Sites

Date de soumission : 30/06/2023
Critères: (iii)(iv)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
National Museums of Kenya
État, province ou région :
Homa Bay County
Coordonnées S00 27 23 E34 02 05
Ref.: 6682

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Les noms des biens figurent dans la langue dans laquelle les États parties les ont soumis.


Mfangano is located in Lake Victoria, South-West Kenya. The area is classified as semi-arid to semi-humid, with a bimodal rainfall pattern. The vegetation is variable but dominated by a combination of thick forest trees and shrubs down slope, while the hilltop is dominated by patches of forest and grassland. The inhabitants are the Abasuba people, a sub tribe of the Bantu of East Africa who have been largely culturally influenced by the more dominant Luo through interaction and intermarriage. Mfangano Island derives its name from the term 'okuwangana' which means to unite in Suba language, or a place where people united. The name might have originated due to the fact that Mfangano Island provided refuge to groups that were conquered in the mainland by the more populous Luo peoples. Between four and eleven generations ago, the following groups lived on the island: the Wagimbe, Wisokolwa, Kakimba-Wiramba, Wasamo, Wagire, Wakula, Wakinga, Wakisori, Wakisasi, Waozi, Walundu, Wiyokia, Walowa, Waganda and Wakiaya. Mfangano Island is known as Ivangano (meaning reconciliation) by the Abasuba inhabitants. This name was given to the Island after a 17th century feud among local communities was resolved by a reconciliation ceremony. The Island is also known for its ancient rock art sites and sacred sites. A large concentration of the rock art sites is confined to three areas within the Island and remains outstanding in terms of quality and diversity.

Rock painting sites

Mfangano Island is known for its ancient rock art, possibly 2,000 years old and thought to have been created by early forager-hunters, the Twa people. The Twa people, also known as Batwa or pygmies, have been described as the forgotten tribe who live in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Three sites on Mfangano Island have legends attached to them, with one or even two of the sites still in use. The art in the sites comprises almost solely of sets of concentric circles in two or all three of the colours: red, white and black. The paintings are typical of what is sometimes termed "Twa" art that stretches from northern Kenya in a broadening trail southward to spread across Africa from Northern Mozambique to Angola, and to cease north of the Zambezi River.

Kwitone rock art

This site is a concealed 40-metre-long overhang just below a high shoulder on Itone Hill and in the custodianship of the Wagimbe clan. The art, almost entirely at one end of the shelter and painted over a ledge three metres above a cleared floor, consists of sets of alternating red and white concentric circles, some with ‘spokes' between the two outer circles and concentric ovals. A depression on the ledge below the paintings can retain water (or hold a food offering), and two smooth areas beside it suggest extended human use. Because of the inclination of the ledge, the paintings were probably used as seats. The rock must have been touched many times either with the hand, a cloth or hide. The site is associated with supernatural powers and miraculous events by the local residents. For example, the site is used for rainmaking.

Mawanga rock art

This site has an art on a panel covering about eight square metres, consisting of sets of concentric circles, mainly in alternating white and black with visible images superimposed upon each other. A natural formation in the base rock resembling fingerprints, situated below a low overhang near the rear of the cave, is locally known as the "Hand of God". The wall and roof at the back of the cave are also covered with spectacular natural cupules. The Wasamo clan elders believe that the paintings were made by their distant ancestors to represent designs on their shields. To scare their enemies, their ancestors used the cave and shields for defense during fights when they vanquished other Abasuba clans: the Walundu, Waozi and Wasasi. Because the paintings represent the shields and because of their use in victories, they still retain special rainmaking powers. The paintings acquire additional power from the "Hand of God" which, to this day, is believed to have healing properties. When the sick place their hand in the natural formation they are said to receive some benefit.

Sacred sites on Mfangano Island

A total of 36 different types of sacred sites exist on Mfangano Island of which 19 are still intact and can be located. Though the other 17 can be described as extinct, their history is still told today by the elders. Most of the sites are linked to rain making traditions and represent the link between the people and God. The local people believe that the sacred groves, for example, warn the people of the impending danger, usually by producing a distinct noise or by having a fog overcast. The community would then acknowledge the warnings and appease the spirits through offerings of animal sacrifices. The sacred forests are also ancestral landmarks that instill discipline and unity among the Abasuba.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Mfangano Island rises 300m out of Lake Victoria near the Kenyan shore. It is home to some of the most prominent rock painting sites in the country, featuring abstract patterned paintings thought to have been created between 1,000 and 4,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers. The rock paintings on Mfangano Island are found at two principal sites: in a cave near the sea known as Mawanga, and at a rock shelter further inland called Kwitone. This rock art represents the earliest form of human expression and imagination in the east African region and is also a nexus between culture and nature.

Criterion (iii): The sacred sites of Mfangano have continued to bear symbolic and religious significance to the current occupants of the area, a tradition carried through the generations from the earliest known occupants of the island. They are still utilized for ritual purposes associated with healing and rain making ceremonies.

Criterion (iv): The Mfangano is an important site that is an enduring place that embodies evidence of the peopling of the Lake Victoria region.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The sites are traditionally conserved by the Abasuba community through members of specific clans who are the caretakers of the sites. The sacred sites have continued to be used to date by traditionalists for performance of rituals. To date there are committees that have been appointed by the Abasuba Community Peace Museum to control and manage access to the sites.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The rock art of Mfangano is comparable to the Nyiro and Kondoa Rock Art as they tell the story of an early group of hunters and gatherers that may have preceded the present occupants of this region and spread from northern Kenya all the way to southern Africa. The rock art is generally attributed to the Twa pygmies and referred to as Twa Art. These sites contain a collection of rock art images some of which are of a high artistic value.