UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Kaya Forests of the Mijikenda: Multi-Generational Project to Renovate Sacred Sites

The organisation “National Museums of Kenya” renovated the ceremonial sites of the Kaya Kauma. This involved young and old members of the community alike to strengthen the sense of community responsibility for the World Heritage.

The programme

The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.

All projects

The Mijikenda Kaya forests consist of ten separate forest areas along a 200km long coastal stretch, which contains the remains of numerous fortified villages, so-called kayas, of the Mijikenda people. These kayas, which were built from the 16th century onwards and were abandoned by their inhabitants in the 1940s, are now considered to be the homes of ancestors. They are venerated as holy places and as such are maintained by councils of elders. The site is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a unique testimony of a cultural tradition functioning as a direct link to a living tradition. Last year's funding under the #SOSAfricanHeritage 2020 programme already promoted approaches for intergenerational exchange to protect the sites.

Restrictions due to the pandemic

The preservation of the sacred kayas is closely linked to the performance of traditional ceremonies. Because of the restrictions on social gatherings imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic these ceremonies could not be held. This had a direct impact on the infrastructure of the sites: for example, the traditional huts of the Kaya Kauma had partially collapsed due to insect infestation, the forest paths had become overgrown, places of assembly and prayer were in poor condition, and sacred artefacts had been stolen.

Remedy through renovation and meeting with elders

National Museums of Kenya restored the deteriorated Kaya Kauma in the scope of the #SOSAfricanHeritage programme. The elders, whose traditional task is to look after the sacred sites, were supported in the renovation of the huts and the clean-up work by young people from the local communities This way, not only jobs were created, but at the same time cultural knowledge about the management and preservation of the Kayas can be passed on.

The first #SOSAfricanHeritage project in the "Sacred Kaya Forests of the Mijikenda" already aimed at strengthening exchange and unity between the councils of elders and young people in the local population. To promote community responsibility for heritage conservation, measures already taken were continued and supplemented: In order to counteract misunderstandings about the status as a World Heritage Site and to raise awareness for its protection, workshops were held for young adults to educate them about the significance of the World Heritage Convention. In addition, discussion rounds and encounters during joint activities, such as bird watching, cultural walks or traditional games, served as an interactive exchange between the old and young people of the local communities. Local cultural enterprises, e.g. from the traditional arts and crafts sector, were also integrated as meeting places. This was to strengthen the sense of community and to ensure the sustainable protection of the sacred sites.

The consortium

On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the COVID-19-pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.

The International Relief Fund

The project

  • Site: Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
  • Country: Kenya
  • Type of site: UNESCO World Heritage (cultural heritage)
  • Year of inscription: 2008


Website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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