The tribe of the Digo represents together with eight other separations the main tribe of the ‘Mijikenda’, once settled along the coast of Kenya. The word ‘kaya’ is taken from their language and means ‘home’. It describes their villages located in forests which were abandoned by their inhabitants since the beginning of the 20th century. These remaining kaya forests are situated mostly on low hills and ranging meanwhile in size from 30 to 300 hectares. The Digo tribe is one of the largest of the nine tribes and established their kayas in the Kwale district. Their culturally most important kaya is ‘Kaya Kinondo’ which is the original home of the Digo before its population grown and new places – like secondary kayas – were built.
Today kayas are sacred places, still used as burial place for the elders as well as for ceremonies of the ancestor veneration or other traditional ceremonies and activities by the remaining tribe members.
The culture and traditions of the ‘Mijikenda’ saved the forests in the last decades from the expanding tourism industry, an increasing demand for land due to a growing population and an increasing demand in natural resources such as firewood. In 2001 the Kaya Kinondo became the first sacred forest in Kenya to be open for tourist purposes. This ecotourism project formed the basic concept for creating awareness to outsiders of the community and establish livelihood for local residents. Finally it is a sustainable opportunity to protect, preserve and appreciate the heritage of the Mijikenda.
The income generated by ecotourism activities in the last decade supports also the two primary schools within the area, women groups to start income generating activities, cultural activities and ceremonies and the community to buy shares in a Kaya Kinondo village bank.
Ten of the known kayas have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Papa Musili Safaris Ltd. supports the community project of Kaya Kinondo by providing well-directed excursions to create awareness to clients for the Digo’s culture, traditions and their sacred forests worthy being protected.