To truly immerse yourself in your chosen destination, it pays to visit the historical and cultural sites of the area you have chosen to explore. Kenya is home to multiple heritage sites reflecting both archaeological and historical milestones as well as preserved culture and art over the years. Here are a few spots you should definitely have on your radar!
1. Lokori Standing Stones
Turkana is home to some of Kenya’s most notable archaeological sites. The Lokori Standing stones are right off the banks of Kerio River and steeped in lore. Local communities will tell you that the stones were once in fact people gathered at a dance, cursed to this strange fate for laughing at a mysterious stranger.
Photo by TARA- Trust for African Rock Art
Stories are also told of the stones dancing and singing on dark nights. Apparently sometimes the bleating of sheep and golden glow of fire are also seen. Excavations have however revealed tools from the Early Stone Age and Late Stone Age microlithics as well as graves. This leads archaeologists to believe that the area was likely a significant burial site for ancient communities.
Photo by TARA- Trust for African Rock Art
Regardless of origin, the stones are still observed with high respect and visitors are encouraged to leave offerings of tobacco and instructed against touching the stones.
2. African Heritage House
A red framed gate set on the Athi Plains takes you into the African Heritage House, Africa’s first Pan-African Gallery. The property is the brainchild of Kenya’s First Vice president Joseph Murumbi and award-winning art collector Alan Donovan. Immediately on arrival, you notice the pre-colonial African theme of the house. Inspired by the curators’ love for the continent, it draws influence from the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali and Swahili homes on the East African Coastline.
Each room within the house features carefully curated pieces capturing art, history and culture across Africa. The reception for instance showcases a portrait of the King of Benin, Nigeria’s ancient city state. It is further adorned with ceremonial daggers also sourced from Benin and beautiful pottery.
The bathroom in the Moroccan Suite features pink stone from the Maasai Mara and silk batiks in addition to a 1971 art piece by Kenyan artist Ancent Soi. Truly a paradise for any history and art lover! Guests are welcome to explore the gallery, stay overnight or even host events at a fee.
3. Kaya Kinondo
Created around the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, Kayas were and still are traditionally sacred areas for the Mijikenda communities. Now UNESCO Heritage sites, there are 10 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages. These spots are presently revered as the abodes of ancestors by local communities and maintained by councils of elders.
While in Diani, Kaya Kinondo is definitely a quieter destination you want to visit. Introductions are made upon arrival giving a brief history of the Digo culture and history as well as some ground rules to follow while in the forest. Guests are wrapped in a black cloth known as a ‘kaniki’ as a sign of respect before entry and a guide then takes you through what seems to be a world frozen in time.
During the hour-long tour of the forest, you get to learn about the surrounding flora from a local guide who takes you through medicinal uses of various trees and herbs. There is also a tree believed to ease worries and grant wishes when hugged. Visitors are encouraged to embrace the tree and make a silent prayer as part of the experience.
Histories of clan gates and sacrificial sites are also shared by the guide as you journey deeper into the forest. A wonderful experience for grounding and reconnecting with your inner self while appreciating local culture.
4. Shimoni Caves
As with any society’s history, there are far less illustrious parts that are still worth learning about. After all, to truly progress in the present we must acknowledge the pain and struggles faced by those that came before.
Before the infamous Arab Slave Trade of the 8th to the 19th centuries, the Shimoni Caves were used as sacred sites by kaya elders. Today, the area is managed by a community-based organisation and opens doors to tourists daily from 8am to 6pm at an affordable fee.
Tour guides vividly explain to visitors the sad story of their ancestors over approximately half an hour. Captured slaves from the local communities were held in the coral caves then transported in dhows to the main slave markets in Mombasa, Bagamoyo, Kilwa, Zanzibar and Pemba. From there on they were shipped to places that are now Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, China and Iran.
Other elements of significance at Shimoni include the colonial buildings erected by the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) in the later part of the 19th century during the war to stop the slave trade in the region.
Being a community project, all proceeds go to several other community initiatives like sponsoring bright, poor students, buying drugs for local dispensaries, paying salaries for school and madrassa teachers and other community needs.