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The Kayas Of Mijikenda

The existence of the Kaya forests is largely attributable to the cultural beliefs of the Mijikenda

people. When the nomadic pastoralists like the Oromo and Galla drove them from their

settlements in the upper Tana, they settled in the forests and got protection from the

outsiders. The forests may not be sacred, the most revered part is are the Kaya, which is the

clearings at the center, also known as the homestead of the community. They were the burial

sites for the villagers when their relatives died. Among the Mijikenda, the spirits of the dead

reside in the Kayas to date and people still feel their presence. Hence, the forests are the

abode of their ancestors.

The grave sites of various great leaders act as shrines and are separate from the rest. A

‘Fingo’, a powerful talisman that the Mijikenda believe to have protective charms, lies in the

middle of one of Kayas. They carried it when the Oromo displaced them from the Tana and

buried it at a secret place in the clearing. There are also some trees and caves which have

spiritual powers.

The Mijikenda believe that one can only access the Kayas using specific paths and going

against the routes was a taboo. Those using such paths experienced hostility from the

villagers who did not want to associate with the visitor’s bad luck. The locals also took

seriously the rule not to cut down trees from the forests and did not graze their livestock near

them. Even if there were dead logs and twigs, they were left untouched. When the locals were

walking inside the forests, any strange animals such as big snakes were considered sacred

and met no hostility. (http://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/cultural-places/traditional-

cultural-landscapes/kaya-forests.html).

According to the National Museums of Kenya, the Kaya forests have more than half of plants

that are rare in Kenya. The forests have a high conservation value with botanically diverse

plants. However, the present day Kaya forests experience intensive deforestation as the

locals engage in agricultural and logging activities. It is against this background that the

Kenyan government declared the forest areas as national monuments. The locals protect the

forests under the supervision of the council of elders.

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