The Mijikenda kaya

 The Mijikenda kaya : The Mijikenda people inhabit sacred sites known as kayas in the former Coast Province of Kenya (plural makaya or kayas). A kaya, which is frequently found within holy forests, is regarded as the source of ceremonial power and the beginning of cultural identity. It also serves as a place of prayer for people of the Mijikenda ethnic group. The kaya also includes the defensive enclosure, ceremonial centre, and community connected to the forest. The kaya is still referred to as a Mijikenda traditional organisational unit today. The Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of eleven of the about 60 distinct makaya.

The nine initial sub-ethnic groups, comprising the A’Giriama, A’Kauma, A’Chonyi, A’Kambe, A’Dzihana, A’Rihe, A’Rahai, A’Duruma, and A’Digo, are together referred to as “mijikenda.” These nine groups are known collectively as the Giriama, Rabai, Chonyi, Kauma, Kambe, Jibana, Ribe, Duruma, and Digo by other academics. Additionally, in Bantu languages, Miji- and -Kenda literally mean “village” and “nine,” respectively. Separated from the other seven of the original makaya, the Duruma and Digo makaya are distinctly southern villages of the Mijikenda.

The History of Kayas

The Digo, Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Jibana, and Giriama peoples, among others, built many makaya as guarded communities. The communities were accessible via routes through the forest and are surrounded by lowland tropical forest. Only medicinal herbs were harvested from the forest’s vegetation. Within a kaya, it was forbidden to clear fields, graze livestock, or cut down trees.

The Mijikenda kaya settlements along the Kenyan coast are believed to have been established at the same time as the Swahili towns, however more has been written about the Swahili than the Mijikenda. Additionally, some archaeologists think that the makaya are even older than the Swahili coastal communities, having been created here starting in the ninth century.

In the modern era, extensive logging and devastation for agricultural purposes led to the formal designation of 38 kaya forest regions as national monuments. Local governments oversee these areas.

The wildlife conservation

There is wildlife in the Kaya Kinodao area that may be seen through an ecotourism enterprise. There are 187 plant species, 48 bird species, and 45 butterfly species known. There have also been reports of colobus monkeys and golden-rumped elephant shrews.

The traditional laws established by the ngambi, a governing body made up of senior citizens from the village, controlled access to the forest. According to the traditional views about the forest’s sanctity, this governing body was primarily concerned with managing, conserving, and using its ecological resources. The position of the local elders has been impacted by the establishment of a central governing body, nevertheless.

With funding from the Ford Foundation, an ecotourism project was started in 2001 with the aim of supporting local economies and promoting ecotourism to help protect the sanctity of the forests. Eleven Mijikenda makaya were combined and listed as the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests, a World Heritage Site, in 2008.

Due to environmental challenges and an inadequate preservation strategy, the modern-day Mijikenda community and other residents have a difficult time preserving the makaya. An illustration of this is the Kaya Mrima in Kwale, which was threatened by a Canadian mining company that would undoubtedly bring the location severe harm.

The Antiquities and Monuments Act of 1983, another ineffective conservation measure, was intended to save Kenyan cultural assets but failed due to its flexibility. Still, groups have been striving to maintain the makaya and raise awareness in the neighbourhood, such as the Coastal Forest Conservation Unit, which was founded by the National Museums of Kenya.

A Kaya replica was made by the Krapf Memorial Museum in Rabai so that non-Mijikenda tourists, who are not permitted to physically access the makaya, might interact with the historical site remotely. The exhibit, however, was deemed to be fake, and it was only on display from roughly 2001 to 2003.


At the makaya, archaeological research have been conducted as the one by Henry Mutoro, which was published in 1987. Eight different makaya, including the Singwaya, Bate, Kambe, Mudzi Mwiru, Mudzi Mpya, Bomu, Fungo, and Dagamra, were surveyed and excavated by Mutoro. Using a closed traverse approach and a variety of instruments like range poles, an alidade, a plane table, a plumb bob, a compass, and a thirty-meter tape, Mutoro and his crew set out to map the limits of each of these kaya. He was able to create contour maps, maps of specific settlements, and maps that depict the distribution of makaya throughout the area.

Because there are buried remains at the location, excavation presented a challenge for Mutoro and his team because he worried they would unintentionally exhume the dead. For instance, they had to divide the land into tiny 1 × 1 metre squares in order to avoid the vikango, or kaya grave poles, at the Singwaya site where they intended to excavate the midden, also known as the dzala.

 The Mijikenda kaya
The Mijikenda kaya

The Culture

The kaya elders who uphold the Mijikenda customs take care of the fingo (protective talismans) that are buried there. The origin myth of the Mijikenda holds that they carried the fingo charms from their ancient land of Shungwaya. Today, many fingo, which are regarded as objects of art, are stolen or lost.

According to researchers who study them, kayas have a unique layout that is quite generalizable. Usually encircled by a thick forest, they feature two routes on either side that lead to a number of stone-fortified wooden gates. From kaya to kaya, these paths have varying numbers of gates. Each pathway’s first gate has a fingo display on the right side of it. Mafingo, which might reach a height of two metres, were larger ritual symbols used by the more significant and frequently elder makaya. A wide area with a moroni, a sizable home that resembles a dome, in the centre, surrounded by fig and baobab trees, mugandi and muyu, respectively, can be found at the end of the roads. The local women of the area have told various myths and beliefs about the sanctity of these forests. The majority of people think that spirits live in the woodlands. The Mijikenda people’s founders are thought to rest in Makaya, where they are known as Korma or spirits.

Some of them think that using a machete to cut a tree could result in the blade rebounding and injuring a leg, which could only be repaired by making a gift of cloth to the village elders during a ceremony. Additionally, it is claimed that a dwelling constructed using wood from the forest would collapse and that food cooked with wood from these sacred forests could be poisonous. The preservation of the forest’s holiness had as its goal keeping it dark. Additionally, traditional practises of the Mijikenda continue to take place at kayas today, including prayers for rain, peace, political stability, and economic stability.

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