Name: Sofia Kabibi
A Culture of and for Nature
Kayas are forested areas with cultural and spiritual significance to the Coastal Mijikenda community of Kenya. Mijikenda are a group of nine closely related ethnic tribe that live in the coastal Kenya. It is believed that the group originated Singwaya (Present Somalia) in the late 17th century. On arrival to Kenya they settled in 9 different villages many years ago. The present Mijikenda community believe that their heritage and identity is in these patches of forest. To date, over 45 have been identified and over 10 of them have been listed as world heritage sites. These forest are also globally recognized as biodiversity reserves due to presence of endangered plants and animals. After years of research in to why these patches have diversified species richness- They concluded that the traditions and norms of the Mijikenda actually conserved these forest. The values attached to them have led to the conservation of these patches of coastal forests.
The kaya forest is characterized by cultural shrines, ancestral graves and homes. The practice of intensive deforestation and grazing were not allowed inside the kaya forest. In present day- the kaya forest faces a lot of threats. With modernization, the young people are able to fully comprehend the value of the kaya. Most of these forests are facing wanton deforestation to even killings the elderly leaders of the kaya with the allegation that they are witches. Allow me to paint this grim picture but we as the youth are slowly losing our culture. The respect and value people had in the kayas is dwindling- Sadly the biological diversity the kayas have is also plummeting.
My name is Sofia Kabibi- A Giriama one of the Mijikenda community. My first interaction with the kayas however was in the year 2014 when I volunteered at the National Museums of Kenya. I was amazed by the beauty of these forest- Green and pristine. The elders would later explain to me in their wise and elderly voice of how much I should actively be involved in preserving the Mijikenda culture and conserving the kaya forest. I felt challenged, I was so exhilarated by this new task that I decided I would come back to actively work for the kayas. Fast forward to 2019 and I still work actively in these forest- I work for WWF Kenya and a major part of work is working to safeguard these forest for the people. We are working tirelessly in ensuring that the forests are not deforested- We are doing so by ensuring the adjacent communities practice sustainable agricultural practices, installing efficient cook stoves and also supporting on-farm tree planting- All in the quest to reduce the pressure of our pristine forests. Most importantly we are supporting intergenerational knowledge transfer to make sure the young people are in touch with the kayas and they come to appreciate the values attached – subsequently they take on the mantle to gradually pick up what their fore-fathers did ages ago.