Kenya: Inside Centre That Prevents Erosion of Akamba Culture

22 November 2019

Three grass-thatched huts at the foot of a sprawling rock outcrop form a spectacle to behold.

The address is Iviani Cultural Centre, which carries great cultural significance in the region.

The facility at Iviani village on the outskirts of Mtito Andei Town, in Makueni County, is funded by the county government.

It is designed to be a one-stop shop for Akamba cultural practices that are facing extinction.

The devolved unit is building a museum to showcase traditional Akamba artefacts, such as the traditional hut, wooden pestles and mortar used for pounding maize, grinding stones for grinding assorted grains into flour as well as bows and arrows.

"The primary purpose of the cultural centre is to showcase Akamba traditional artefacts and cultural practices, which are almost fading into oblivion," said Mr Paul Kikuvi, the chairman of a committee of residents who manage the project on behalf of the community.

MEETING CENTRE

The centre sits on a two-acre parcel with the sprawling rock in the middle. It symbolises an enviable synergy between man and nature in the region known as Nthunguni, Kamba for the 'place of giant boulders'.

A development agency installed a rainwater harvesting system on the surface of one of the giant boulders and water tanks where the crucial commodity is stored. This is where the community draws water during the dry spell. Iviani rock is higher and more spread out.

The Nthunguni community has had a strong affinity to the rocks before banks, non-governmental development agencies and the county government invested in upgrading its locality to a cultural centre.

Community members hold their meetings at the venue where an earth dam a serves as a watering hole. It is an ideal venue for small conferences and weddings receptions.

The centre is located at the heart of the vibrant Ngai Ndethya Game Reserve that provides a buffer between human habitat and the Tsavo East Game Park.

ENCROACHMENT

Its use has been changing over the years as more people settle in the area, pushing wild animals into the park, aggravating human-wildlife conflicts.

The National Land Commission wrote to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment last year to surrender 52,385 acres of the land to a settlement scheme following pressure from residents and their leaders.

The government is yet to degazette the game reserve, which remains one of the biggest corridors of wild animals -- especially elephants -- that terrorise residents.

Multiple caves around the 60-foot rocky spectacle provided elephants with a conducive breeding ground. "Elephants deliver their young ones inside the caves, sheltered by the surrounding bushes," Mr Kikuvi said.

A giant fig tree at the centre of the site once served as a shrine. Twice every year, shortly before the rainy seasons, the bushes swallowed a select team of revered elders who regularly trooped to the shrine for prayers back in the day.

They mostly prayed and offered sacrifices so that it rains, and their efforts were believed to have been rewarded when the rains followed.

Although the entrenchment of Christianity has displaced African traditional religion and beliefs, the community still values the practice.

"This is what we are preserving for prosperity," Mr Kikuvi says.

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