History behind Kenya’s best heritage sites

Part of the wall and the gate at Thimlich Ohinga in Nyatike Migori County on 2nd July 2018 the site has been listed as the World Heritage site by the United Nations. (Photo by Caleb Kingwara, Standard)

1. Uhuru Park

If you are millennial, you may never know that in 1989, the then KANU government wanted to construct a 62-storey building to be known as the Kenya Times Media Trust on this site. Fortunately, the plans were scuttled by Wangari Mathai and the park was spared. One of the few green spaces next to the city centre, the park has green lawns, an artificial lake and an open stadium on a piece of land that is approximately 10 acres. Activities include boat riding, while it is also Nairobi’s leading street skate-boarding spot. Photo enthusiasts can use the elevated platform on the upper edge to take memorabilia images of the city.

2. Kit Mikayi

While in western Kenya, take time to stop by Kit Mikayi, the unique rock formation off the Kisumu-Bondo route. Kit Mikayi is buried in heaps of legend. In a previous visit, our guide told us that Kit Mikayi is Luo for “the stone of the first wife.”

Then the fables. We are told that an old man was said to love the stone so much that he would literally camp there all day to the point where his wife would be forced to bring his food there. When others in the village enquired about his whereabouts, she would say he had gone to see “his first wife.”

As with other folk tales in Kenya, verifying such stories would be an exercise in futility. Enjoy the historical site and move on.

3. Hell’s Kitchen, Marafa

Off the Malindi-Garsen Road is the small town of Mambrui. A turn to the left on a dirt road takes you to Marafa where an eerie, strange but spectacular sight opens up. People here call it Nyari, or a sacred depression. It is a wonderful site despite the name a white visitor gave it years ago – Hell’s Kitchen.

Hell’s Kitchen is Kenya’s small version of the Grand Canyon in the United States and is perhaps one of the well hidden secrets of the Kenyan coast. The spectacular gulleys and rocky outcrops, some 30 metres high, were formed by years of eroding the soft sandstone. The natural process has left verdant white, pink, orange and crimson hues.

Despite the scientific explanation, a local guide here will regale you with legends about how the depression came about. Don’t dispute lest the gods get angry with you.

An Ostrich feeds in Nairobi National park. [ WILLIS AWANDU]

 4. Uhuru Gardens

Anyone driving along Langata Road will not fail to notice the giant monument standing at Uhuru Gardens next to Carnivore Restaurant. Again, millenials may know little about the monument that has a unique place in Kenya’s history.  

The monument was erected to commemorate 20 years of the country’s independence and has been dubbed Kenya’s “Eiffel Tower” after the French model. This is where the Union Jack, or the British flag was lowered for the last time and the Kenyan flag hoisted in its place on midnight December 12, 1963.

The grounds are also home to yet another monument that commemorates the country’s silver jubilee in 1988.

Uhuru Gardens was gazetted as a national monument in 2006 as part of the national heritage sites under the National Museums of Kenya. You can take a nap here if you do not mind the noise of aircraft landing at the nearby Wilson Airport.

5. Nairobi National Park

While we all know about the global significance of Nairobi National Park, few know about its origin. During the First World War, the British, eager to take the war to the Germans in neighboring Tanganyika carved out a road through what is today the forested area of the park. A military camp was set up near Mbagathi complete with firing ranges and battle trenches. The traumatised animals were slaughtered indiscriminately to feed the soldiers.

After the war in 1918, British ex-servicemen of Somali origin were allocated some part of what is Nairobi Park today for their heroic war exploits a move that cast dark shadows over the wildlife.

Parents and their children at Uhuru Park to end the year in style. ON 31/12/2018 ( Jenipher Wchie, Standard)

Writing in the then East African Standard in 1937, Mervyn Cowie, a Briton born in Kenya in 1909 used reverse psychology to whip up public emotions recommended that all wildlife be destroyed because it served no useful purpose. Stung to the core, fellow white settlers and the colonial authorities took that as the cue to fast track the park’s establishment.

Thus, Nairobi National Park—the first such park in East Africa—was born on December 16, 1946.

6. Thimlich Ohinga

Recently, another historical site was added to the country’s growing list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Thimlich Ohinga in Migori is a dry-stone walled settlement that dates back to the 16th Century. According to UNESCO, it may have served as a fort for both humans and livestock and constitutes one of the best preserved sites of that nature. A visit here will give you an idea of how the local Luo community lived centuries ago. Worthy of note is the architectural feat accomplished back then.