UNESCO World Heritage Site Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests: Multi-Generation Dialogue for Sustainability
With the #SOSAfricanHeritage project, the National Museum of Kenya organised meetings between stakeholders of different age groups to involve them in the governance and sustainable management of the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests. The exchange of knowledge improved the community spirit and the appreciation of the cultural heritage.
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.
The Mijikenda Kaya forests consist of 10 separate forest areas along a 200km long coastal strech, 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 to a cultural tradition functioning as a direct link to a living tradition.
Restrictions due to the pandemic
The informal governance structures of the forests of Saint Mijikenda Kaya and unstructured management approaches are currently threatened by poaching and internal conflicts. The forests provide various forms of livelihood for neighbouring communities. However, small local businesses are not profitable enough to alleviate the pressure and to ensure alimentation. Moreover, the local communities contribute to the depletion of ressources as they use firewood as their main source of energy and for building their homes. In addition, since the first COVID-19 case in March 2020, forests have increasingly been subject to urban-rural migration caused by job losses.
It is therefore necessary to strengthen the industries and promote sustainable agriculture. Data collection on the state of forest resources and the impact of the pandemic is currently needed to protect forests against the growing population.
Remedy through digital encounters and sustainable businesses
Through the project funded by the German Commission for UNESCO, the National Museum of Kenya created platforms for an interactive exchange between the elders and the other age groups ("Rika") of the local population to involve them in the governance and sustainable management of the forests. Various joint activities such as a cultural walk, bird watching, traditional hut building or an open discussion session promoted mutual knowledge sharing and enhanced the community’s sense of belonging. Local awareness of the value of the cultural heritage was raised by supporting existing local culture- and nature-based small businesses with information and equipment. This included, for example, bead embroidery, weaving and pottery, as well as agriculture, tree nurseries, beekeeping, and butterfly farming. In this way, the National Museum created new sources of income for the local residents and reduced the pressure on the forest ecosystem in the short and medium term. In addition, in the framework of the project, an inventory of the fauna and flora was carried out and cross-checked with data collected in 2018 before the COVID-19-Pandemic.
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.
- Site: Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests
- Country: Kenya
- Type of site: UNESCO World Heritage (cultural heritage)
- Year of inscription: 2008