Thimlich Ohinga is located 46km north-west of the town of Migori, in the Migori county Lake Victoria region.  The site is a dry-stone walled settlement built in the 16th century and it is the largest one of the one hundred and thirty eight sites which are found in the areas of Karungu ,Kadem-Kanyamkago ,Gwassi, Kaksingiri lake headlands, Kanyidoto and Kanyamwa containing  five hundred and twenty one stone structure that were built around Lake Victoria region in Kenya. The Ohinga settlement are highly clustered, it seems to have served as a Fort for communities and livestock, but also defined social entities and relationships linked to lineage.

Thimlich Ohinga is the largest and best preserved of these traditional enclosures found in the Lake Victoria region. It has walls that vary and ranges between 1 to 3 metres in thickness and 1 to 4.2 Metres in height. It is also a major tourist attraction in the Nyanza region of Kenya with and it is an exceptional example of the tradition of massive dry-stone walled compound built from undressed blocks, rocks and stones set in place without mortar. The stones are densely interlock typical of the first pastoral communities in the lake basin, which persisted in the period between the  16th to the mid 20th century.

Thimlich Ohinga is believed to be more than 550 years old. The Ohinga appear to have been built to served primarily as security for communities and livestock, but they were also built and used to defined social units and relationships linked to lineage based systems of these communities.

Thimlich Ohinga is an exceptional testimony of settlement patterns and spatial community relations in the Lake Victoria Basin, which documents the successive occupation by different people from various linguistic origins during an important episode in the migration and settlement of the Lake Victoria Basin between the 16th and 17th centuries. It also gives reference to habitation patterns, livestock cultivation and craft practices prevalent in communal settlements at this time.


Kenya wildlife service and the National Museums of Kenya have designated Thimlich Ohinga as a conservation area. Wildlife found here include; Guinea fowl, monkeys of different species, birds, and Antelopes living in the surrounding forest areas. The National Museums of Kenya submitted it to be UNESCO World Heritage Site and it became the heritage site in 2018.

The site provides a wonderful architecture and testimony to different communities settlement traditions in the Lake Victoria Basin. It illustrates shared communal settlement, livestock cultivation and craft industry patterns, utilized and practiced by several successive inhabitant groups of different linguistic origin. The archaeological evidence testified not only to the communities’ spatial organization but also to an elaborate system of interrelations between the different Ohingni within proximity to each other. It, therefore, allows to understand and further research community interaction patterns between the 16th and the mid-20th century in the region.

It provides an impressive reference to spatial planning and settlement types in the wider Lake Victoria Basin, at a period in history characterized by increased human mobility as a result of social, economic and environmental pressures that affected human populations in the region. The massive stone walled enclosures at Thimlich Ohinga mark an important episode in the migration and settlement of the Lake Victoria Basin and sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Thimlich Ohinga also illustrates an outstanding example of a community which was able to mobilise Labour and resources  undressed dry-stone construction typology characterized by a three-phase building technology using stones of irregular shapes in two phases joined together by a third middle phase. The readily available rocks from the local environment provided the materials in which the structure were constructed. Thimlich Ohinga has been kept as the best preserved example of Ohingni constitutes a representative and outstanding example of Ohingni, a distinctive form of pastoral settlement that persisted in the Lake Victoria Basin from the 16th to the mid-20th centuries.

Thimlich Ohinga
Thimlich Ohinga

The origin

The archaeological site was documented by former Director of the British institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa Neville Chittick in 1960s. Later the researchers from the National Museums of Kenya commenced work on the site in 1980. It was once known as “Liare Valley “ a Valley found on the North East part of the area. It was later changed to Thimlich Ohinga and gazetted as  a Kenyan National Monument in 1o81. The name was changed because “Liare Valley “ did not properly describe the exact location of the site. The current inhabitants of the region are the Luo people, with Thimlich being a luo word which means “ Frightening dense forest “ and Ohinga which means “ a large fortress” in the Dholuo language of the luo.


Debates still exit with regards to the origin and builders of Thimlich Ohinga and other stoned walled settlements. The current historical ,linguistic and genetic evidence indicates that a high populations movements occurred in the region in the pre-colonial and colonial period this resulted to simple interference to the ethnic or the linguistic identity of the builders of this site. Archaeological and historical studies have concluded that the original builders and later inhabitants of the Thimlich Ohinga site maintained a pastoral traditions. It also showed that cattle played an key role in their economy, socio-political organisation of these early inhabitants played a crucial role in the establishment of this site and other surrounding fortified structures.

The study of the site shows that the site was occupied in waves with the oral history of the site suggesting that the early inhabitants were a Bantu speaking people prior to the migration of Nilotic speaking groups. Some sources also suggest that migrants from Uganda ,Rwanda, Sudan and Burundi made their way through the area, some of whom ended up going south into Tanzania. Archaeological and ethnographic analysis have shown spatial organisation most closely resembles the traditional layout of the Luo homesteads . E.g The luo homesteads are circular with a focal meeting point adjacent to a central livestock enclosure, pottery too recovered from the site demonstrate specific decorative pattern commons found among the western Nilotic speakers who are the luos and not Bantus.

The original builders of the Thimlich Ohinga site abandoned the site for reasons yet to be known. Over centuries those who lives within the complexes have been maintaining and modifying the structures without interfering with the preservation of the structures.

Architectural design

The architectural style of the site is similar to the building style of Great Zimbabwe which is approximately 3,600 kilometres to the south in Zimbabwe. The difference between the two is that unlike the great Zimbabwe, Thimlich Ohinga was constructed using random unshaped loose stones but with both sites motor and dressing were not used and therefore great care and skills was needed to ensure its stability.


There is a watchtower which was constructed from raised rocks immediately after the entrance. There are three entrances to the main Monument, one facing the West with two entrances facing East. The structures are partitioned into corridors, several smaller enclosures and depressions. The main Monument has six house pits and five enclosures within it. In the North-Eastern side ,there are recreational games such as Mancala like board game locally known as “Ajua” which is curved into the rock surface. There is also grinding stone for grain ,Livestock pens for cattle ,sheep, goats, chicken guinea fowl with retaining walls for gardens were also built.

Animals found in the site include domestic and wild species such as cattle, sheep ,goats ,chicken, fish ,hartebeest duiker and hare. The watchtower gives a clear view of the whole complex and the surrounding area.

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