WHY KAYA FORESTS ARE TREASURED
- According to Unesco, the forests around the Kayas have been maintained by the Mijikenda community to protect sacred graves and groves.
- They provide a centre of focus for Mijikenda religious beliefs and practices, are the ancestral homes of the Mijikenda peoples, and are held to be sacred places.
- They have a huge significance to Mijikenda and are an important source of Mijikenda’s sense of belonging and of place within the cultural landscape of modern Kenya.
By Joseph Masha
Kaya elders have raised concerns over the destruction of Kaya forests and have now vowed to take a leading role in conserving the shrines.
The elders said the increasing population has led to encroachment into the gazzetted forests holding the cultures and traditions of the Mijikenda community.
Kaya elders said the most endangered forests are those in Kwale where influential personalities have been targeting the shrines for grabbing.
The elders led by Gabriel Garero, the Kaya Mudzi Muvia elder in Rabai, have now taken up the duty of patrolling the shrines to safeguard them from intruders.
“Kaya elders from the Kauma, Rabai and Duruma communities were taken for training on the conservation of the forests, most of us are fully prepared to conserve our scared forests,” said Garero.
The elders said their resolve to protect the sacred forest had come after the Government, through the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, organised training for the elders on how they can conserve the cultures and traditions of the Mijikenda by conserving the shrines.
The conversation and protection of the sacred forests was also supported by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which offered funds for capacity building.
To sustain their work, the ministry and Unesco also provided the elders with beehives to start honey farming to enable them get something to sustain themselves.
But the elders complained that due to their old age they need support from the Government in getting security agents to protect the forests.
They also complained of hunger facing most of the elders and challenged the Government to support them with relief food.