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Kaya Kinondo, Kenya

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Introduction to Kayas

The coastal forests of Kenya are remnants of a once extensive forest that extended along the east African coast from Somali to Mozambique, commonly known as Zanzibar Inhambane lowland forest. The forests are globally unique for the wealth of species they support with high levels of endemism in both plants and animals.

The Kayas today stand as small isolated patches of forest ranging in size from 2ha to 200ha. The word “Kaya” means homestead in the local dialect. Historically these forest patches sheltered small fortified villages (Kayas) which were set up by the Mijikenda people when they first appeared in the region many centuries ago, from fleeing their enemies in the north. As the condition became more secure in the last century the Mijikenda groups moved out and settled in the surrounding areas, but the Kaya forests were preserved as sacred places where prayers, rituals, sacrifices and burials took place. Protection of the Kayas was deeply entrenched in traditional Mijikenda culture and their integrity and sanctity were safeguarded by a council of Kaya elders who employed a system of taboos and traditional rules to protect the forests.

Kaya Kinondo

Kaya Kinondo, also known as Kaya Ngalaani, is a gazetted National Monument under the National Museums Act located in the south of the Kenyan coast in Msambweni District. The Kaya is owned communally by the local community and is managed through a set of traditional rules and regulations (taboos) enforced by a council of elders as it used to be since time in memorial. It is the main Kaya for the Digo-Mijikenda community who live around the forest in two villages (Chale and Mugwani) with a population of over 4,000 people. The forest is found close to Diani beach, one of the most intensively developed tourists resort on the Kenyan coast.

Kaya Kinondo is an indigenous sacred forest that has survived pressures from population growth, poverty, tourist development because of the cultural beliefs of the Digo Mijikenda people who have used the Kayas such as Kinondo to commune with their ancestral spirits through worship and sacrificial offerings. The main forms of livelihoods in the area are farming (mainly fruits for sale and grains for subsistence use), fishing, doing small business and employment in beach activities.

History

After a botanical survey that was done by WWF through the National Museums of Kenya between 1991-1995, the Kayas were found to be diverse in nature and culture. They hold a large array of plant life that is rare, endemic and of different values to the local communities. This led to gazettement of more than 38 kayas along the coast of Kenya as national monuments, however this did not deny the local people access to the sites.

In 2001 the National Museums commissioned a student to study the flora, faunal and cultural diversities of the Kaya Kinondo sacred forest and to oversee the viability of ecotourism in and around the forest. The findings revealed that:

  • The forest is rich in nature and culture. The forest has more than 187 plant species (all indigenous except one, and two species being rare and endemic to the site), 38 butterfly species among other insects, 42 bird species (migrants, rare and endangered species), a variety of small mammals including the endangered black and white Angolan colobus monkey and the rare zanj elephant shrew.
  • The Kaya bares marks of ancestral settlement and other sacred sites, used by the local people for traditional ceremonies e.g. traditional paths, burial sites, accumulations of ashes, settlement grounds and old sources of water are still intact in the forest.
  • The site is located close to a well connected road and alongside Diani beach, where thousands of tourists holiday.
  • The local people still maintain their culture to a large extent. Interviews with both the Kaya elders and other people of the local community revealed that most people supported the idea of using the Kaya forest for tourism activities as long as their traditions will not be changed and the meaning of the Kaya forest will continue to be maintained.

After some consultative meetings between the key stakeholders on using the Kaya Kinondo sacred forest for ecotourism, the community formed a group of over 400 registered members from the local community. The group was named as Kaya Kinondo Conservation and Development Group. The group was registered as an umbrella group by the ministry of social services and obtained a certificate. It was composed of 7 women’s groups, other self help groups and individual members. The group bares a constitution that was developed jointly among all members.

Group objectives:

  1. To enhance protection, for the long term conservation of the Kaya Kinondo sacred forest for the benefit of present and future generations.
  2. To participate in tourism activities to be implemented within the forest and the entire Kinondo Village.
  3. To tap tangible socio-economic benefits into the local community and eradicate poverty.

The above objectives would be achieved through:

  • Conducting guided forest walks at a fee to tourists in the sacred forest and villages.
  • Conducting patrols, and having the forest guarded.
  • Creation of awareness on environmental conservation and preserving the forest.
  • Selling of handcrafts, traditional foods and herbal medicines, performing traditional dances to tourists, etc.
  • Promoting traditional ceremonies in the sacred forest.
  • Investing through individual shared capital in the Kaya Kinondo financial service association or village bank.

After developing a project proposal, that was forwarded to The Ford Foundation through WWF and the National Museums of Kenya, the group obtained funds to start the Kaya Kinondo Eco-Tourism Project. The funds were mostly directed towards awareness creation meetings, capacity building workshops, construction of the project visitor center and office building with office materials, and the initial marketing activities. On the 4th of July 2003 the project was started.

Conservation Values

The group mainly conserves the Kaya forest with an aim of maintaining their cultures and traditions. As a result the wealth of biodiversity in the forest is being conserved, including rare and endemic plants i.e. Diphiser spp. and endangered animals. The site is ecologically important in that it is able to support such a large array of biodiversity and is a water catchment area. It contributes to the forest cover within the shimba hills ecosystem that attracts high rainfall and acts as a natural spring within the forest.

Conservation of the site has had positive impacts through the forest cover remaining intact without destruction of biodiversity, which is believed to contribute directly to the entire ecosystem. The site has created awareness of the importance of indigenous knowledge on conservation and the role of local people’s cultures in conservation, especially to the youth whose respect for the traditions is being eroded.

Impacts

Direct employment in the ecotourism project is provided to 7 members of the community i.e. driver, marketers, receptionist, forest guards and the project manager. Other employment is in the form of labor for part time work. The project supports other projects such as women’s groups and self help groups in the community through training and marketing of their traditionally-made items.

The project has enabled the support of the education facilities in the three village primary schools i.e. buying learning materials such as books and pens, renovating classrooms, providing food for study camps and assisting the payment of extra teachers in the schools. Additionally the project managed to dig two water wells in the village

The project was awarded through Coastal Forests Conservation Unit by Elisabeth Jihde Memorial Fund –WWF Sweden, USD 6,000 for its important conservation achievements and successfully involving the local community in the protection of the unique Kaya Kinondo sacred forest in Kenya. Money was used to purchase an eight seated project van that is currently used to carry tourists to the site.

In the last one year the project has:

  1. Recorded over 700 guests.
  2. Earned 380,000 Kenyan shillings.
  3. Supported the training of 25 members from different women’s groups on the value of adding Aloe and Neem to herbal beauty products. They now act as trainers to their respective groups.
  4. Trained one community eco- tour guide.
  5. Supported community social welfare i.e. yearly religious celebrations (maulid) and schools.
  6. Planted over 500 seedlings from the project nursery.
  7. Sustained its running cost, maintenance and paying the project staff with minimal external support.

Management and Governance

The community manages the area as their social, communal and ancestral ground where ceremonies as per their traditions are performed. They are guided by a set of rules and taboos of their traditions enforced by the council of elders regarding to the use of the place. The community has developed a group constitution that clearly states the management of the area and that requires sharing the benefits of tourism. By being a member of the local community one has a stake in the conserved area and can contribute to the protection of the site. A community member can be involved in the conserved area by being a member of Kaya Kinondo Conservation and Development Group and is entitled to certain rights as per the group constitution.

The community manages the site in close consultation with National Museums of Kenya especially on technical and legal matters. The Government has formed a department called Coastal Forests Conservation Unit that is within National Museums of Kenya which is mandated to oversee and help the local communities in conservation of the Kaya forests. Most Kaya forests, including Kaya Kinondo, have been gazetted as National Monuments under the Antiquities and Monument Act cap 216 of the laws of Kenya.

Threats

The site is facing very minimal threats but the most common are:

  1. Dominance of invasive species especially around the edge of the forest.
  2. Declining respect and embracement of local culture and traditions.
  3. Lack of proper marketing network and inadequate marketing equipments i.e. information materials and office equipments.
  4. Over reliance on the tourism activities and international tourists in the forest as a major income generating venture, which is at times not reliable due to factors such as seasonality, travel advisories and is sensitive towards political imbalances.

Solutions:

  • Raising indigenous plant seedlings for enrichment planting around the forest. (Planning to plant 1,000 seedlings this year.)
  • Building the capacity of the Kaya council of elders in continuing to perform traditional ceremonies every year and education awareness at the visitor information center to school children.
  • Implementing other sustainable uses of the forest apart from traditional ceremonies and ensuring tangible benefits to the local people through conservation efforts.
  • Promoting ways to enhance domestic tourism.

Future plans

1. Improve on our marketing system and record keeping i.e. improving and updating the project website, print quality brochures, posters, T- shirts, and obtain a computer.

2. Improve the project tree nursery to raise more seedlings for enrichment planting in the forest and planting in farms and school compounds.

3. Acquire a system of awareness creation equipments, i.e. a television set, video and factsheets.

4. Diversify the attractions at the site by constructing a galley room that will have a collection of traditional artifacts like pottery, basketry, hunting, fishing, blacksmithing equipments and a model of a traditional Mijikenda home and information regarding them as they were used in the olden days.

5. Explore other sustainable uses of the forest i.e. through introduction of bee keeping in the forest with an aim of producing honey for sale and increase the income of the group.

The group needs some financial support to improve and acquire equipment, perform project activities and enhance visitation at the site in order to increase its income. The group requires specific funding to implement the larger plans it has like the construction of a gallery room.

The Kaya Kinondo Eco tourism project accepts volunteers who wish to work with the community and other project stakeholders in the conservation of Kaya Kinondo sacred forest and other Kaya forests along the Kenyan coast. Volunteers are exposed to conservation activities like nursery establishment and tree planting, awareness creation and field activities. Any inquiry can be made via the email address kayakinondo@yahoo.com.

Information provided by Kaya Kinondo through the Coastal Forest Conservation Unit (CFCU), August 2010