Name of element
Traditions and practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda
Enkipaata, Eunoto and Olng'esherr, three male rites of passage of the Maasai community (2018)
Enkipaata, Eunoto and Olng'esherr: three male rites of passage of the Maasai community (2013)
Enkipaata, Eunoto and Olngesherr: three male rites of passage of the Maasai community (2011)
Indigenous knowledge of wood carving (backlog)
Isukuti dance of Isukha and Idakho communities of western Kenya (2012)
Isukuti dance of Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya (2014)
Rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi Shrine (2016)
Rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi shrine (2019)
The ‘Traditions and practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda’ were inscribed on 1st October, 2009. The Mijikenda are the dorminant ethnic community in the coastal region of Kenya that nurtures the relations with the Kaya forests. They are nine (9) distinct Bantu groups who speak closely-related languages. They include the Chonyi, Duruma, Digo, Giriama, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Rabai and Ribe.
Kayas are forested settlements of spiritual and cultural significance to the Mijikenda community whose spaces are indispensable for the enactment of living traditions that underscore their identity, continuity and cohesion. Their identity is expressed through oral traditions and performing arts related to the sacred forests, which are also sources of valuable medicinal plants. These traditions and practices constitute their codes of ethics and governance systems, and include prayers, oath-taking, burial rites and charms, naming of the newly born, initiations, reconciliations, marriages and coronations. The values attached to them and the use of natural resources within the Kayas are regulated by traditional knowledge and practices that have helped in the protection of the Kaya forests and the biodiversity to the present day.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Department of Culture in partnership with National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Coastal Forest Conservation Unit (CFCU), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Centre for Heritage Development in Africa (CHDA), local administrators and Kaya Communities undertook activities on the implementation of the Kaya project with the objective of safeguarding the ‘Traditions and practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda’.
The traditions and cultural practices associated to the Kayas are still viable and constitute an important basis for their identity and ultimate survival of the Mijikenda communities. Most practices associated with the Kayas are practiced today and indeed continue to influence the conduct of the populace regularly.
The Kaya project was scheduled to be undertaken in three consecutive parts. Part I activies included, a three-days’ training workshop for fifteen Kaya representatives from Kayas Rabai, Kauma and Duruma on project design and management. Income generating activities were also initiated for the same three Kaya communities. Part II activities incorporated a follow up on progress of the income-generating projects started for communities living adjacent to the three Kaya forests as well as documentation, photography and filming of Kaya traditions. Two field visits of young people to the Kayas were organized to arouse their interest and promote inter-generation knowledge transmission and participation in conservation of the cultural heritage. Thereafter, project brochures were produced and Newspaper supplements on the ICH of the Mijikenda were also prepared for wider dissemination. In Part III of the project, activities undertaken included organized intra and Inter-Community Cultural exchange programmes as well as community Cultural Festival.
Despite the fact that the element is still viable, there are risks associated with it. Many of the Kaya elders are aging without corresponding replacement by young and energetic elders for continued transmission of the element. Encroachment into the Kaya spaces by land grabbers also poses a risk to the enactment of the element wheras over-exposure and increased flow of tourist/foreign visitors to the Kayas threatens its safeguarding and tend to undermine customary practices governing access to the element.
The inscription of the element has a positive impact on strengthening the safeguarding of the traditions and practices associated to the sacred forests of the Mijikenda and its conservation. Although the income-generating projects are experiencing environmental challenges especially during the dry season, the elders, however, are optimistic that success is on their way.
Department of Culture/Ag. Director of Culture
P.O. Box 67374-00200, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 020 2727980-4
+254 020 2725329
Other relevant information
Cell: +254 721 571 646
Kayas are fortified settlements inhabited by the Mijikenda communities, who are gradually leaving them while abandoning the Traditions and Cultural Practices associated to the Kayas in favour of informal urban settlements at the expense of the traditional social systems that have bound them in harmony with the natural environment for a long time.
The Traditions and practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda are codes of ethics and governance systems, traditions, rituals and practices that sustained peaceful coexistence amongst all the communities in the Kayas. These practices are a set of rituals, ceremonies, social practices, cultural values and traditional knowledge about nature, transmitted orally among the various ethnic groups of the Mijikenda. They strengthen community ties and reinforce their common identity, while promoting mutual respect and social justice, thus ensuring balanced protection of their forest environment.
The traditions and practices of the Mijikenda are regulatory mechanisms for a cohesive social order that upholds peace and harmonious co-existence amongst the Communities. The highest social and political organ in the community is the Council of Elders. It formulates and regulates rules, taboos and myths by consensus and ensures indigenous knowledge transfer to young members of the community. These council of elders act as custodians of the Kayas and the cultural expressions that underscore the identity, continuity and cohesion of the Mijikenda communities. This involves rendering of social justice, and coordinating the use of natural resources of the Kaya Forests. Leaders seek blessings from the Council of Elders before making major decisions such as venturing into political contests. The Council of Elders evaluates them on the basis of their moral behaviour, braveness and the ability to lead.
The County administration recognizes the role of the Councils of Elders and involves them in consultations pertaining to security and socio-cultural issues affecting the Mijikenda . The Councils of Elders contribute to the construction of a fused traditional-modern system of governance for property rights and allocation of resources; prevention and resolution of conflicts; and participation in decision-making process. The Kaya elders participate fully in activities related to the safeguarding of traditional practices and the conservation of the Kaya forests, strengthen their Councils by including new and younger practitioners, and report to local authorities any destructive activities occurring within the forests.
In the absence of the traditions and practices associated to the Kayas, irresponsible behaviour could find root among the Mijikenda. The traditions of the Mijikenda have worked to reduce wayward behaviour such as theft, promiscuity, intolerance and corruption whose offenders are punished as witnessed during the 2007 post election violence where thieves and looters literary returned to the owners whatever they had stolen in response to the curse of the Elders.
The inscription of the element into the Urgent safeguarding List has promoted its visibility amongst the young generation and strengthened its safeguarding. The traditions and cultural practices associated to the Kayas are still viable and constitute an important basis for their identity and ultimate survival of the Mijikenda communities. Most practices associated with the Kayas are still practiced today and indeed influence the conduct of the populace regularly, save for those who are losing the attachment due to immigration, modernization, formal education and religious influence. Burial for the dead within the Kayas is an ongoing practice. However, due to the increase in population and the reduced space associated with the Kaya, only prominent Mijikenda leaders and Members of the Council of Elders who die inside the Kayas are buried in the Kayas.
Given the fact that many of the elders are ageing, most Kayas have started recruiting young and energetic elders for continued transmission of the element. In Kaya Kauma and Kaya Fungo, for instance, induction ceremonies for young members of the community are ongoing to prepare them to join the council of elders. In Kaya Rabai and Kaya Kinondo, student’s visit to the Kayas has been intensified. The same trend is witnessed in the rest of the Kayas. The Council of elders transmit knowledge about the traditions and practices to the young generation through apprenticeship. Through observation, participation and inheritance, these young men will later take up the roles of the incumbent members of the Council. Regular traditional festivals held by Kaya communities play an important role in the transmission process.
An overwhelming majority of the Mijikenda communities have a strong attachment to the Kayas and particularly with its traditions and practices. The sustainability of these traditions and practices are pegged on the fact that the Mijikenda community respect them and are committed to safeguarding them for posterity. The Mijikenda have continued to work with Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the Government, the Civil Society and other stakeholders to safeguard the traditions and practices.
Over-exposure and increased flow of tourists/foreign visitors to the Kayas threatens its safeguarding and tend to undermine customary practices governing access to the element. In realization of this threat, the Kaya elders have resolved to reinforce strict codes in order to control the traffic and regulate access to the element or aspects of it.
The Department of Culture in collaboration with UNESCO initiated an intervention to safeguard the Traditions and Practices of the Mijikenda. The project received funding from UNESCO in August 2011 and its implementation started in October 2011. The project has a life-span of three years from the time of its inception. The primary objectives addressed in the safeguarding plan are as follows:-
i.To empower the Mijikenda communities with skills, knowledge and resources to promote viability and ensuring transmission of the element.
ii.To disseminate existing information related to the Mijikenda traditions and practices to the public with a view of raising awareness.
iii.To educate the youth and other community members on the importance and significance of the traditions and practices associated to the Kaya sacred forest.
iv.To promote cooperation and networking amongst communities.
v.To promote the management and environmental conservation of the sacred Kayas of the Mijikenda.
vi.To put in place favorable legislative and management framework in support of the safeguarding measures.
The project has achieved the following concrete results:-
i.Empowered Mijikenda communities with skills and knowledge on project management.
ii.Public awareness raised on the Mijikenda traditions and practices associated through the production and dissemination of brochures and newpaper supplements.
iii. An educated youth and other community members well-informed of the signficance of the traditions and practices associated to Kaya sacred forest.
iv.Network and teamwork established amongst communities.
v.Conserved environment and well managed sacred Kayas of the Mijikenda.
vi.The outcome of objective vi will be achieved during phase three of the Kaya project.
The activities that were carried out in the implementation of the project in order to achieve the expected results include;
i.Designing and initiating income-generating activities taking into account the specificities of each Mijikenda community. Sixty-six (66) langstroth beehives, Eighteen (18) catcher boxes, ten (10) smokers, Eight (8) wheel barrows, ten (10) bee suits, twelve (12) pairs of gumboots, six (6) watering cans, twelve (12) hoes, twelve (12) machetes, twelve (12) spades, assorted seeds, assorted honey processing and packaging materials were bought and distributed to six Kaya communities. Experts in tree nurseries and bee-keeping were engaged to assist the communities to establish the projects. The individual woodlots established in homesteads of Kaya elders have reduced dependence on forest resources such as firewood, timber and building poles. Most Kayas have generated income from the sale of honey and seedlings and in turn the same is used to support the enactment of ceremonies and rituals and supplements family incomes.
ii. Young members of the Mijikenda community volunteer to undergo apprenticeship so as to gain knowledge and understanding of the practices as they prepare to become future members of the Council of elders. For example, Kaya Kauma started conducting ceremonies and rituals from 23rd November to 13th December, 2013, aimed at inducting ten young members of the community into the Council of elders.
iii.Reviewing and integrating of information into the national inventory; In December, 2010 the Department of Culture organized a workshop for the Mijikenda communities to sensitize them on community inventorying. The workshop focused on community participation in the identification and inventorying of intangible cultural heritage. Since the inscription of the element, the Department of Culture has been holding frequent meetings with the Mijikenda communities and their council of elders. These meetings have been invaluable in gathering information about the culture of the Mijikenda. The information obtained so far has been used to review and update the National inventory.
iv.Four thousand (4,000) brochures in both English and Kiswahili were printed and distributed to members of the public and stakeholders in order to raise public awareness about the project as well as about the existing information related to the Mijikenda traditions and practices. In addition the Daily Nation newspaper carried out a paid-up newsletter supplement on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Mijikenda Kayas.
v.The Department of Culture in collaboration with the Mijikenda communities and other stakeholders organized community cultural festivals and exchange programmes as well as visits to the Kayas by youth. The Inter-community Cultural Festival was held on 8th September 2012 at Kaya Rabai, Bomani village. The festival showcased the greatest assembly of diversity of the traditional dances. Besides the dancing, there were displays of cultural exhibits of the Kaya traditional lifestyles such as making makuti thatches, traditional foods exhibitions and handcrafts. To witness this rare assembly of living culture of the Mijikenda was the Rabai community. Approximately 100 Kaya elders and over 600 community members were in attendance. The festival was graced by the then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of State for National Heritage and Culture, Dr. Jacob Ole Miaron, who was accompanied by the then Director of culture, Mrs. Gladys W. Gatheru (now deceased), UNESCO Programme specialist for Culture, Ms Mulekeni Ngulube, NMK Assistant Director, Coast, and the Rabai District Commissioner, Ms Caroline Nzwili. The inter-community exchange visits was carried out on the 4th and 5th September 2012. It involved Kaya elders, women and youth from Kayas Rabai, Kauma and Duruma visiting each other at their respective Kaya locations. The purpose of the visits was to learn from their peers on how they were progressing with projects, intercultural linkages, cooperation and networks for the promotion of intangible cultural heritage activities related to the Kayas.
vi. In Kaya Rabai and Kaya Duruma, the Councils of elders have been inviting various schools into the Kayas where the elders informally introduce the learners to the traditions and practices of the Mijikenda. Chizini primary school students visited the neighbouring Kaya Duruma while Galana secondary school students from Malindi visited Kaya Mudzimuvya and the Rabai Memorial Museum. This helps to transmit knowledge to the young generation thereby safeguarding the element. A total of about 140 students visited the Kayas.
vii.Carrying out monitoring and evaluation activities at various levels; Monitoring and evaluation is an ongoing process. Since the inception of the project aimed at safeguarding the element, every visit made to the Kaya conducted some monitoring and evaluation to assess the progress so far made. Any shortcomings noted were followed by suggestions on their improvement and way forward.
UNESCO’s 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage emphasizes the importance of communities’ participation in the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The preparation of the safeguarding plan for the element was a culmination of a series of meetings organized by the Department of Culture in collaboration with the Kaya communities, groups and individuals concerned. The first activity began with organizing of a workshop for representatives of Kaya elders, women and the youth who were trained on project design, management and implementation. The training equipped the elders, women and the youth with skills and knowledge to guide the implementation activities in their respective Kayas. After the training, every Kaya formed management committees to oversee the implementation process.
The inter-community cultural exchange visits between the communities involved youth, men and women living around the Kayas and this helped communities to share their experiences and challenges in safeguarding the element. The annual inter-community cultural festival brought together all the communities living around the Kayas to witness the traditional performances, rituals and exhibitions which formed some aspects of the element and this strengthened the members who have pledged to keep these traditions alive by transferring them to the younger generations. The student visits to the Kayas were a clear testimony of the willingness of the young generation to learn from the elders their cultures. The elders mobilized the schools, guided them inside the Kayas and were enthusiastic to induct the youth who were excited by what they saw and learnt.
The Department of Culture, being the competent body for the implementation of the Kaya project, facilitated and coordinated all the above activities in collaboration with other Government agencies such as the Permanent Presidential Music Commission, National Museums of Kenya and Coastal Forest Conservation Unit. The aforementioned bodies together with other technical experts provided the human resources required for the implementation of the project.
Appended here below is a timetable and cost of the Implementation of the project ‘Traditions and Practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda’
Activities undertaken from 22nd to 28th October, 2011 in Rabai, Kauma and Duruma communities:-
a)Training workshop on project design and management for three communities at Makuti Villas, Kilifi;
i. Hire of hall.
ii. Hire of equipment.
iii. Purchase of stationery.
iv. Design and initiate income-generating activities of beekeeping, purchase of protective cloths, packing materials, beehives.
Source of funds: The activities cost Ksh 718,900 from UNESCO and Ksh. 256,000 being Government of Kenya’s contribution.
Activities undertaken from 26th February to 2nd March, 2012 in Rabai, Kauma and Duruma communities:-
b)Designing information materials for project brochures in English and Kiswahili;
i. Printing of the project brochures in English and Kiswahili.
ii. Recording, photography and filming of elements.
iii. Preparing a paid up News paper supplement on ICH of the Mijikenda.
iv. Distribution of ICH materials.
v. Field Visits to Kayas by young people.
vi. Hire of buses for students to visit the Kayas.
vii. Provision of lunches and refreshments for students.
Source of funds: The activities cost Ksh 1,025,050from UNESCO and Ksh. 198,000 being Government of Kenya’s contribution.
Activities undertaken from 26th August to 2nd September, 2012 in Rabai, Kauma and Duruma communities:-
c)Initiate income generating activities of beekeeping and tree nurseries, purchase of additional project materials and equipment;
i. Recording, photography and filming of elements.
ii. Distribution of ICH materials.
iii. Organization of one day community Cultural Festival.
iv. Hire of buses for elders travel during the exchange visits.
v. Provision of lunches and refreshments.
vi. Hire of audio equipment .
vii. Organization and coordination of intra-community cultural exchange programme.
ix. Organization of three Inter-Community Cultural exchange programmes.
x. Facilitatation for the participation of a UNESCO expert.
xi. Facilitatation of interpretation.
The activities cost Ksh 1,425,139 from UNESCO and Ksh 194,000 being Government of Kenya’s contribution.
Activities undertaken from 9th to 11th September, 2013 in Giriama, Digo and Chonyi communities:-
d)Training workshop on project design and management for three communities;
i. Hire of hall.
ii. Hire of equipment.
iii. Purchase of stationery.
iv. Designing and initiation of income-generating activities of beekeeping, purchase of protective cloths, beehives, bee catcher boxes.
v. Distribution of ICH materials.
vi. Recording, photography and filming of elements.
Source of funds: The activities cost Ksh 863,724 from UNESCO and Ksh. 219,000 being Government of Kenya’s contribution.
The safeguarding activities explained in B.3b and B.3c above have empowered the Mijikenda communities with skills, knowledge and resources and contributed effectively in promoting transmission and viability of the element.
Replanting trees in depleted sacred Kaya forests and homesteads have reduced reliance on the sacred forest for wood fuel. The activities have improved conservation of the forests, enhanced safeguarding and raised public awareness about the element particularly among the local communities at the national and international levels. They have greatly improved the esteem and identification of the local people and awoken the interest among the youth on the traditions and practices associated with the sacred forests of the Mijikenda.
Through the proceeds from the income generating activities intiated, the Mijikenda communities continue with the enactment of their traditions and practices. The Mijikenda have joined forces with NGOs, the Government, the Civil Society and Stakeholders to safeguard the traditions and practices. The Mijikenda communities have continually expanded their range of activities to better safeguard the element by engaging themselves willingly and with zeal. This, however, has not been necessarily an easy task, as the community is faced with challenges especially lack of resources. The engagement of the community provides a rich context for understanding the issues of viability, transmission and safeguarding practices. This has enhanced the social and cultural development of the Mijikenda communities and the position of the young members of the community. The interest of the youth in going into the forest as demonstrated during their field visits brought to life what students learn in the school curriculum, making the visit a valuable experience of reality. The Kayas illustrate the beauty of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention by providing an interface between text and reality and demonstrating how the Convention addresses people’s inspirations, reinforcing the community’s desires to safeguard their heritage. It is a spiritual experience, stimulating a connection of the community with their ancestors.
It is interesting to note that the traditions and practices associated to the sacred forests of the Mijikenda have survived external influences (deforestation) and still reflects strong cultural beliefs, and by default contributes to conservation of biodiversity. The Kayas of the sacred forests of the Mijikenda are central to the communities’s existence and history and living Intangible Cultural Heritage which lends to its sustainability. In accordance to Articles 11, 12, 13, and 14 of the Convention, the Mijikenda communities have deliberately not labelled sites in the forests; since visitors must be accompanied and the explanation is given verbally as a means of safeguarding their Intangible Cultural Heritage. This is in line with Article 13 d (ii) of ensuring access to the intangible cultural heritage while respecting customary practices governing access to specific aspects of such heritage. All visitors to the Kayas observe the traditions and practices including taboos, such as not to wear shoes, not to sing unless invited and not to damage any vegetation. Inventorying and documentation of the element can only be done in consultation with the Mijikenda communities and the traditions and practices that are confined to the elders are not disclosed to outsiders. This is aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage. For these reasons, it is time to reflect on intangible cultural heritage safeguarding efforts of the Mijikenda at present and to think about the potential for the future.
The Mijikenda communities in consultation with the Department of Culture, National Museums of Kenya, Coastal Forest Conservation Unit, and other stakeholders held a series of meetings to discuss safeguarding measures for the element. The Council of Elders, Kaya conservation groups, Women groups and Youth groups have been undertaking different activities that enhance the safeguarding of the element.
The Mijikenda communities have participated actively in apprenticeship programmes whereby yothful members of the community are imparted with knowledge and skills relating to the enactment of the traditions and practices of the Mijikenda.
The Kaya community conservation groups have been involved in replanting trees in the Kayas especially in those which had been depleted with trees. For instance, Kaya Chonyi Conservation and Development Organization have planted trees on the reclaimed spaces that had been grabbed and those that have been surrendered voluntarily. These conserve the tangible heritage and safeguard the intangible cultural heritage.
The Kaya elders continue to carry out exchange visits to share ideas and best practices of safeguarding the element. During the annual inter-community cultural festival, community members voluntarily contribute exhibition items, provide foodstuffs, perform various dances and offer their labour for the success of the event. This is a clear demonstration that the Mijikenda communities are committed to implement the safeguarding plan. The Inter-community interactions has led to exchange of some practices leading to more sustainability.
The Department of Culture in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts is the competent body involved in the management of the element and in charge of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. The Department of Culture collaborates with Coastal Forest Conservation Unit, the National Museums of Kenya, Kenya National Archives and Documentation Services, Permanent Presidential Music Commission, Centre for Heritage Development in Africa and the County Governments of Kilifi and Kwale.
At the community level, the Kaya Council of Elders, Kaya community conservation groups, women groups, youth groups, traditional dance troupes, National Traditional Herbalists Practitioners Association (NATHEPA) Coast branch, and the local administration are involved in the safeguarding of the element.
The preparation of the periodic report on the status of an element inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is an intensive process that requires serious consultation with communities, groups, NGOs and in some cases individuals who have been involved in safeguarding activities in order to develop a comprehensive report based on the consultations. It is against this background that the Department of Culture organized a series of consultative meetings in coast region for the Mijikenda communities and other stakeholders to share ideas, opinions, and gathered information with a view to prepare this report. The last consultative meeting was held from 23rd to 26th November 2013 in Kilifi County.
During the preparation of this report, the Chonyi, Duruma, Digo, Giriama, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Rabai and Ribe who are the nine Mijikenda communities were fully involved. There was broad consultations with the Mijikenda communities represented by different social groups including Kaya council of elders, women groups, and youth groups. The National Museums of Kenya represented by the coastal forest conservation unit, other Kaya conservation groups, the department of forestry, County administration and other stakeholders widely participated in the preparation of this report. In the process of preparing this report, due respect for customary practices governing access to the element or aspects of it were observed.
Ag. Director of Culture