Promoting Culture and Conservation at Kaya Muhaka Sacred Forest

The coastal forests of East Africa have some of the most beautiful and biologically important areas in the world, supporting many endangered plant and animal species. However, more than 30 million people also inhabit this region, putting increasing pressure on these natural resources and hence the need to promote and sustain conservation of these fragile ecosystems.

Spread out along 200km of the Kenyan Coast are ten separate forested sites, mostly on low hills, ranging in size from 30 to around 300 ha. These are the remains of fortified villages, the kayas, of the Mijikenda people (The Mijikenda comprise of nine ethnic groups along the coast of Kenya, and represent more than thirty surviving Kayas). The kayas were created as early as the 16th century and some were abandoned by the 1940s, the remaining ones are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by a council of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

Kaya Muhaka is one of the sacred forests situated just outside the Muhaka village, on the slopes of Shimba Hills in Kwale County and is an important cultural and religious site for the community. The members of this village came together to form the Kaya Muhaka Forest Conservation Organisation (KMFCO) in order to educate visitors on the need to maintain the forests sanctity and its value to biodiversity. Kaya Muhaka is a very unique forest in that the forest bed is almost entirely sand measuring 0.5m or more in many places. This creates a number of interesting micro-habitats that are of significant conservation value. Kaya Muhaka is home to a variety of wildlife that includes: Vervet and sykes monkeys, bush babies, yellow baboons, suni antelopes, and endangered species such as the Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey and Golden Rumped Elephant Shrew.

Some of the KMFCO’s achievements include: production of quality honey that has been approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards; production of jatropha oil used for lighting and sale of Casuarina tree seedlings. The group is actively promoting conservation of the sacred forest through clean ups and promotion of voluntourism that has led to an increase in number of visitors to the forest.

The efforts to conserve the Kaya Muhaka forest are based on:

  • The need to involve community members in the conservation of their naturals resources and hence the need to derive tangible benefits for sustaining the forest.

  • General international concerns on forests cover particularly in Kenya where the cover has sunk to 1.7% which is far below the internationally recommended size of 10% .

  • Kaya Muhaka has been found to host a number of species of plants, butterfly and birds which offer a wide range of opportunities that offer socio-economic benefits to the locals e.g. medicinal herbs, butterfly farming

  • The Kaya is a unique groundwater forest on coral rag which is a rare type of forest found along the Kenya Coast and should be protected for future generations

  • The need to conserve and protect other nearby kaya forest for the future generations like the Kaya Kinondo Sacred Forest

  • Enhanced awareness on the need to promote forest conservation and indigenous cultural knowledge

  • The need to provide tangible socio-economic benefits to the local Digo people living adjacent to the forest

Kaya Muhaka Sacred Forest is a must visit and stay while touring Kwale County. Contact us via for more details.