The Kenya National Commission for Unesco (Knatcom) has initiated measures to save Kaya forests that are shrinking following increased human activity.
Kaya Gandini/Mtswakara found in Kwale County was feted as the best managed and conserved Kaya among the Kayas of the Mijkendas.
The ceremony took place at Vwevwesi village in Kilifi County.
The event was attended by KNATCOM CEO Dr Evangeline Njoka, acting chair Ms Agnes Gatere, Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi among top heritage and culture officials.
The two kayas won with 74 per cent a point ahead of 2017 winners, Kayafungo which garnered 73 points to emerge second.
Following the win Kaya Gandini/Mtswakara was awarded a total of Sh750,000, a certificate, trophy and three wheelbarrows to supplement conservation programs at the two Kayas while Kayafungo emerged second and received a cash award of Sh500,000.
Dr Njoka said the objective of the event was to contribute to the sustainable conservation of the Kaya forests and to promote protection of the Kaya forests and its related cultures.
“The Kaya conservation project through the award giving ceremony has entered its second phase and KNATCOM is committed to continue to support this project to the future. We shall further mobilize resources from partners to make this activity more rewarding and because of that, I want to challenge the Kaya communities and all those that are involved with conservation to come up with more innovative ways to conserve the forests,” she said.
She said awarding of the best managed and well conserved Kaya forests of the Mijikenda is a critical approach for the sustainable conservation of the Kaya forests and for the continued enactment of the traditions and practices associated with them.
“These awards will serve as an incentive for conservation of the Kaya cultural and natural heritage. It will boost the communities’ capacity in terms of materials required for the continued conservation as well as provide for the motivation of volunteer site caretakers. We intend to make the award giving programme as a bi-annual activity so as to strengthen the communities’ efforts and resolve for better conservation,” she added.
Spiritual and cultural significance
Ms Gatere said the sacred Mijikenda Kaya forests in Kilifi and Kwale counties are very distinct from other forests because of their spiritual and cultural significance to the Mijikenda communities.
“I understand that these Kayas are primarily used as places of worship and are regarded as the ancestral homes for the Mijikenda people. They are a fundamental source of Mijikenda authenticity that underscore the identity, continuity and cohesion of the Mijikenda communities. It is these traditions and practices that protect the Mijikenda communities and guarantee them harmonious coexistence with the natural environment and their entire ecosystem,” she said.
Mr Saburi said the Kilifi county government will join hands with the national government in ensuring that the sacred forests are protected. He also called for the government to make sure that the sacred forests get title deeds to deter them from being grabbed.
“As a county government we urge the national government to make sure that these sacred forests are given title deeds to protect them from grabbers eyeing them,” said Mr Saburi.
Kaya conservation efforts
Kaya Gandini chairman Mzee Mwanamwenga Chigamba said their honey and tree nursery project in their kaya is all that was needed to place them at position one.
“We have big tree nursery as you enter the kaya and we also have a bee keeping project which we started last year and it is progressing well,” said Mr Chigamba.
Shaban Ndegwa from kaya Mtswakara said by the end of last year, they had planted more than a million trees.
Kaya Chonyi which was voted as the worst preserved kaya in 2017 jumped three steps ahead to emerge number six. The judges said the Kaya had made tremendous improvement in tangible Cultural Heritage and site management since the first evaluation.
As a result, Kaya Chonyi apart from the Sh100,000 it received to implement its activities, it bagged another Sh100,000 from the youth and sports ministry as the most improved kaya forest among the rest.