The Kaya : Ukumbi wa Kimila ya Mijikenda (Mijikenda Cultural Centre)
Mimari Limited - Kenya
Drawings, plans, elevations
Religion is part of the cultural heritage and it is by far the richest part of the African heritage (Mbiti, 1991). Along the southern coast of Kenya, the sacred Kaya forests of the Mijikenda tribes are a living legacy of the people’s history, culture and religion. For centuries, these once-extensive lowland forests shielded the homesteads, called “Kaya,” of the Mijikenda from invading tribes and served as burial grounds and places of sacred ritual and prayer. 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. However, due to problems like population increase, demand for farm land, forest resources, intermarriages, the coming of Christianity, Islam and other religions, these sites are slowly diminishing, taking away with them these practices. Therefore, the proposed cultural resource centre is geared towards promoting the traditional worship practices carried out in these sacred forests and groves, particularly focusing on how these practices have influenced the appearance of the natural landscape. It also intends to promote ways of conserving these practices by conserving the natural landscape elements in which they take place and disseminating information on environmental conservation as a whole. Over the past three or four decades there has been a decline in knowledge about and respect for traditional values in area where the Kaya sacred forests are found, due to economic, social, cultural, and other changes in society. This has been combined with a rising demand for forest products and land for agriculture, mining, and other activities due to the increased population. One result has been the destruction and loss of the small Kaya forests and groves. By the time an active conservation programme began to be implemented for the Kayas in the early 1990s, the sacred forests had suffered considerably. This project is founded on the basis of heritage and environmental conservation. The Kaya was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage site status in July 2008; this designation has strengthened the protection of the forests. UNESCO helps countries to protect their World Heritage sites by providing technical assistance and professional training and supporting public awareness-building and conservation activities. This project will assist in achieving the above status by promoting the conservation of the Kayas of the Mijikenda people.