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Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests Kenya

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The Mijikenda Kaya Forests consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests Kenya
Continent: Africa
Country: Kenya
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (III)(V) (VI)
Date of Inscription: 2008

Ten Separate Forested Sites

Spread out along around 200km of the coast province of Kenya are ten separate forested sites, mostly on low hills, ranging in size from 30 to around 300 ha, in which are the remains of fortified villages, Kayas, of the Mijikenda people. They represent more than thirty surviving Kayas.

The Kayas began to fall out of use in the early 20th century and are now revered as the repositories of spiritual beliefs of the Mijikenda people and are seen as the sacred abode of their ancestors. The forests around the Kayas have been nurtured by the Mijikenda community to protect the sacred graves and groves and are now almost the only remains of the once extensive coastal lowland forest.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests Kenya

Browse Gallery Plus UNESCO Storyline

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.

Slideshow for this Heritage Site


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.

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 Kayas demonstrate authenticity but aspects associated with traditional practices are highly vulnerable. The integrity of the Kayas relates to the intactness of their forest surroundings which has been compromised for Kaya Kinondo.

Management needs to respect the needs of individual Kayas and to integrate the conservation of natural and cultural resources and traditional and non-traditional management practices; the authority of the Kaya elders should be established.

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