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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forest kayas

Who is concerned about the conservation of the small but valuable coastal forests around Shimoni? Well, not a lot of people besides GVI and Friends of Shimoni Forest... but some of them do. For instance, the elders from the village. The ones that still go to the remote sanctuaries in the forest, known as "kayas" to pray and practice their traditional beliefs. Some of them, over a hundred years old, have been adventuring into the depths of the forest for decades to arrive to this sacred places, even in times - not so long ago - when you could encounter dangerous animals such as elephants and hyenas in between the trees.

So what are exactly this places? They are particular spots in the forest, generally a clearing or a cave, in which a spirit lives (or is supposed to live). People go to these places to pray, ask for things or thank a spirit for their actions. They are not particularly striking or distinct from the surrounding woods, but they have been chosen by the spirits to live in.
The person that approaches the Kaya, generally an old man, goes there at night, often naked. He stops in the "door" of the Kaya, to ask for permission to enter to the main place. The permission is granted in exchange for a small sacrifice, which is most of the time a bottle of rosewater (that's why there are a lot of glass bottles in these particular spots) but the offer, in earlier times, could be even a human sacrifice. Obviously, this is not practiced any longer. I hope.

Then, the person can access the Kaya itself. There it is, the place for praying, asking for help or expressing gratitude. The believer carries a colored bracelet according to the purpose of its visit: black, red or white, depending whether he asks for the help in the resolution of a conflict, ask for goods or expresses gratitude.
In some cases, the spirit may even decide to show himself to the believer, in different shapes. It may be even the shape of a male lion, approaching the old man whilst praying naked in the night darkness of the deep forest... but we all know that there are no lions in the Shimoni forest.

Hassan, the forest guide, leading the way to the Kayas.