Mijikenda People : The Mijikenda is one of the Bantu speaking ethnic group which comprises Nine tribes inhabiting the coast of Kenya, between Sabaki and the Umba rivers. They occupy the area stretching from the border of Tanzania in the southern part to the border of Somalia in the North. There are nine Ethnic groups that form the Mijikenda are the Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai,Jibana,Giriama and  Digo. The Digo are found in the southern part and are also found in Tanzania due to their proximity to the border, while the others occupy the Northern part.

Each of the Mijikenda groups has a sacred forest a Kaya. Kayas  Forest are small patches of forest land that stretches between 10 and 400 hectares on the coastal plains of Kenya. Eleven out of the approximately 30 kaya forests have been inscribed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests. They were originally created in the 16th century as places of settlement but they were later abandonment in the 1940s. These places have been defined mostly for their spiritual and religious values. The Kaya forests play a key role in the Mijikenda religious sphere, for their beliefs and practices as they are regarded as the ancestral and sacred homes of the Mijikenda peoples.

To protect and preserve the Mijikenda Kaya Forests it requires an overall collective responsibility on both natural and cultural values together with appreciating the role of the Mijikenda people in the conservation of these Sacred  site through their traditional knowledge. This process of identifying and protecting the values of the Mijikenda people is very important in the  protection of these Sacred sites, the unity and  the togetherness as a whole of the people and  keeping safe their sacredness in their unique diversity. The Mijikenda people are more famous for making of wooden funerary statues called kigango. These Kigango statues made their way into some of the international markets and were very marketable to a point that they were put on  display in several Museums around the world. They gained value and were sold in some of the international art markets. These cultural materials were very valuable that at one time especially in the 1970s made their way to the shelves and were legally sold by some of the reputable art galleries and curio shops. The period between the early 1970s to the 1990s some kigango statues were reported missing from the cultural sites and were believed to have been illegally sold. The Mijikenda people originated Somalia and Shungwaya together with other parts of Somali coast is believed to be their dispersal point. The Mijikenda were pushed by the Galla or Oromo people and migrated to Kenya at around 16th century. Today all  the Mijikenda ethnic groups consider Shungwaya also known as Singwaya as their common point of origin and also as the birthplace of their language, cultures  and traditions.


After their migration from Shungwaya, the Mijikenda constructed Kayas which were to act as their homesteads. The Kayas were established around the 16th century but they were abandoned in the early 20th century. It was the Digo who were the first to migrate southwards and established the first Kaya. These kayas are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are referred to as the sacred sites and they are maintained by a councils of elders. The Kayas also represented a important cultural and political symbol to the Mijikenda people. The  Kayas played political important role during the resistance to colonialism by the Mijikenda people.

The Kaya settlement had a set up with the central areas being specifically set aside for leaderships  and worshipping  with other areas being set aside for initiation ceremonies, areas for medicine and magic, and areas set aside to burials and entertainment. The Forest surrounding the Kaya acted as a barrier between the settlements and the outside world.

Mijikenda People
Mijikenda People

There are ten separate forested sites which are  found on low hills. They range in sizes from 30ha to 300 ha as the evidence remains of protected villages, Kayas of the Mijikenda people are spread out along the coastal region of Kenya. There are more than thirty surviving Kayas in Kenya which are now referred to as the repositories of spiritual beliefs of the Mijikenda people they also act  as the sacred abode of their ancestors.

The forests and the regions surrounding the Kayas have been well kept and protected  by the Mijikenda people. The purpose of the forest is to protect the sacred graves and groves of trees, today they are seen as the visible remains of the once extensive coastal lowland forest.

The Kayas also acted as the vocal points for Mijikenda religious beliefs and practices, because they are regarded as the ancestral homes of the different Mijikenda groups. The are highly regarded as their sacred places. The Kayas gives the Mijikenda people the sense of  significance and a unifying factor within their cultural landscape ,this gives them the defining Characteristic of identity.

The Kayas ceased to be their preferred places of settlement, and have been changed from the domestic organisation of the Mijikenda landscape to its spiritual aspect. From the time these transformation were effected some restrictions were placed on the access, use and utilization of natural forest resources. It is because of this reason that up to date the biodiversity of the Kayas and forests surrounding them has been properly maintained. The Kayas are today under threat both externally and from within Mijikenda society because of the decline of traditional knowledge and respect for the practices.

The Kayas are now  considered to be a place where they connect with their spiritual being, the Mijikenda perceive it to be their most sacred places where their ancestors reside. These important sites spread over a large area, it also plays an important role as it is associated with beliefs of local and national significance, and possibly regional significance as the Kayas extend beyond the boundaries of Kenya. The Kaya are spread along around 200 kilometres of the coast province of Kenya.

All the nine Mijikenda kaya were abandoned as the Mijikenda people settled elsewhere ,but they continued to observe the importance of these which they still held as sacred.


In the pre-colonial period the Mijikenda people were pastoralist and horticulturalists. They practice trade with the coastal swahili people and grew food which the swahili people depend on. The trade was based on economic, military, and political alliances in which they even participated in Mombasa politics.

There is one group of Mijikenda people known as the Giriama people who were mistrustful of the British colonial government. The enslaved Giriama people fled and even seek refuse in some Christian Missionary stations.

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