Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shimoni Forest Kayas Revealed

After the temporary break of the GVI Kenya expedition we are pleased to be back up and running. However Shimoni forest (locally known as Mbuyu Tundu) has been hit hard since our absence, with much land been cleared for subsistence farming, continued charcoal burning and power saws cutting down the larger trees for furniture. In addition, Coastal plots that have been sold to private developers have begun to be cleared ready for development.

This increase in human disturbance has alarmed the local Shimoni community who are worried their ancient coastal forest will be lost forever. During June and July, Friends of Shimoni Forest and the chairmen of the seven surrounding village’s came together to discuss the recent issues and solutions to protect this beautiful area, and its endemic species for the future generations.

In addition to the biological value, Shimoni forest holds cultural value to the tribes that live along the coast. The traditional inhabitants of these areas still practice ancient rituals and ceremonies at the Kayas located deep within the forest. These Kayas are ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, and offerings in the form of gifts, prayers and sacrifices are given to continue their animist practices. The Kayas have been passed down through generations and are of upmost importance to their users.

Many Kaya’s are located within the Shimoni forest, and local elders of the village want to ensure their protection. Four elders from the surrounding villages accompanied our Terrestrial Science Officer, Emma, into the forest to reveal their Kayas and explain the belief’s behind them.

After the second day, 15 Kayas had been located and an array of information provided to us by the elders. The Kayas were as different in form as they were in use. Some were peaceful places, used for prayers only, and gifts were present at the centre of them in the form of glass bottles containing rose and honey water. Others were used to ask for help in times of drought or food shortage. In all cases, the areas were highly thought of by the elders, shoes were removed before entering and each person had to go through a ritualised cleansing to pay respect to the ancestors. It was obvious how important these places were to the people.

In addition, the elders were asked if the forest was important to them and what it would mean to them if it was lost. Mohammed Burashe, from Anziwani village replied “the forest not only holds our Kayas, but is also essential for our livelihoods. Trees are used to make our dug out canoes for fishing; firewood is collected allowing us to cook food. If the forest was lost, how would we live? Also, many animals have homes in this forest, if the forest was cut down, where would they live?”

The community plans to take this information to National Museums of Kenya, who annex areas of Kaya forests as National Cultural Monuments, empowering local communities to manage them. Hopefully this will assist towards conserving both the local biodiversity and culture.