The Kinondo forest is in the very south of Diani (Kinondo) and is sacred to the local Digo tribe. Visiting this small grove is a nature walk, historical journey and cultural experience all in one. As you make your way across tangled roots and chunks of ancient coral, the guide points out various plants used in traditional medicine. You also get the chance to transmit your fears and worries to an ancient tree by hugging it.
- 49,- per person
- 2 hours
Before entering the Kaya Kinondo in Diani Beach you have to remove head wear, wrap a black kaniki (sarong) around your waist and… promise not to kiss anyone inside the grove!
Then you go with a guide, who will explain the significance of some of the 187 plant species inside. They include the pimple tree (a known cure for acne), the rather self-explanatory Viagra tree and a palm believed to be 1050 years old. Enormous liana swings (go on, try it) and strangling fig trees abound.
600 years old
The preserved forests are meant to facilitate dialogue with the ancestors, but they offer more. They also provide a direct link to ecosystems that have been clear-felled out of existence elsewhere. Kaya Kinondo contains five possible endemic species, and 140 tree species classified as ‘rare’, within its 30 hectares – the space of a suburban residential block.
Sixhundred years ago the first people of the Mijikenda tribe came to Kenya from Singwaya, their semi-legendary homeland in southern Somalia. They started to worship the forrest, and cutting vegetation within the kaya became strictly prohibited – visitors may not even take a stray twig or leaf from the forest. Now, many trees here are about 600 years old. The historical connection becomes tangible when you enter the woods and realise – and there’s no other word that fits here – they simply feel old.
The main purpose of the kaya was to house the villages of the Mijikenda, which were located in a large central clearing. Entering the centre of a kaya required ritual knowledge to proceed through concentric circles of sacredness surrounding the node of the village. Sacred talismans and spells were supposed to cause hallucinations that disoriented enemies who attacked the forest.
The kaya were largely abandoned in the 1940s and conservative strains of Islam and Christianity have denigrated their value to the Mijikenda. But thanks to their Unesco World Heritage status, they will hopefully be preserved for future visitors. The kaya have lasted 600 years; with luck, the wind will speak through their branches for much longer.
Expect to tip your guide.