KAYAS in UNESCO
World Heritage List
UNESCO AND KAYAS
UNESCO World Heritage List A KAYAS
In 2008, eleven of the approximately 30 separate kaya were grouped together as the Mijikenda Kaya Sacred Forests and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List:
Kaya Fungo – Giriama tribe
Kaya Kambe – Kambe tribe
Kaya Jibana – Jibana tribe
Kaya Ribe – Ribe tribe
Kaya Kauma – Kauma tribe
Kaya Mudzimuvya – Rabai tribe
Kaya Bomu – Rabai tribe
Kaya Fimboni – Rabai tribe
Kaya Gandini – Duruma tribe
Kaya Mtswakara – Duruma tribe
Kaya Kinondo – Digo tribe
Why were the kayas inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List?
To protect them from devastation. Criteria adopted by UNESCO:
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 kaya forest management strategy adopted by UNESCO
Our vision for the future of the kaya forests is their survival as intact and fully functioning cultural landscapes reflecting Mijikenda values and history. Of continuing importance, not only to the local people and Kenyan society at large, but also globally for their natural and cultural heritage.
The main objective of the strategy is to establish principles and sustainable management of cultural and natural heritage. The strategic objectives of kayas management are:
- preserve and enhance the unique cultural and natural heritage of the kaya for the local community and all Kenyans
- contribute to meeting the livelihood and livelihood needs of local people using kaya areas where cultural and natural heritage is not compromised
The coastal region of Kenya, where the kayas forests are located, faces serious challenges in sustaining its people. Most people (over 70% in some areas) live below the poverty line, on less than a dollar a day. Many households struggle to meet basic needs.
The population continues to grow, combined with high unemployment. Hence the pressure to exploit forest areas, including kayas, as areas of “abundance” and shared natural resources. This manifests itself in numerous incidents involving:
- converting kayas forest land for cultivation (a major threat to kayas that are located in rural agricultural areas and are the only common areas, i.e. without an assigned owner). The problem of landlessness is spreading along the coast and contributes to the problem.
- the felling of trees for house construction (support poles). Kayas are the only major forested areas around the nearest villages, and residents cannot afford to buy alternative materials for such construction
- cutting down trees for timber. Kayas are often the only areas with seemingly “free” resources of this raw material
- extracting livelihoods or collecting sand near forests. Kayas are often located in close proximity to areas rich in minerals and other materials such as sand and iron ore.
The impact on forests and their biodiversity is obvious. Degradation and clearing of forests also affects cultural activities and reduces the sense of peace and sanctity that forests provide.
Abdalla Boga, a member of the Kaya Diani elder group, one of the many people who have suffered serious threats from developers, said: “I spend sleepless nights when I imagine that this kaya will one day disappear because of (the actions of) greedy human beings and that we will have nothing to show our future generations “.
The following strategies will be adopted in collaboration with local communities:
- putting the few remaining unprotected areas under legal protection
- clearly define the boundaries of the kaya forest area, using visible and culturally recognised methods
- work closely with kaya elders and community members to monitor threats and their incidence, using support from local groups
- promote increased timber resources and income generating projects to communities adjacent to kayas
- promote legally recognised deterrents to the sale and transfer of kaya land into private hands
- promote agreements and arrangements with private landowners located in the kayas regarding the management of these areas
- encouraging the revival of the kayas community and its protection so that the sacred forests of the kayas are cared for by multiple groups of Mijikenda members, not just elders.