• Rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi shrine in Kisumu stood out as a unique heritage site with a significant representation of an African cultural legacy.
• According to Unesco, shrine is threatened by encroachment on surrounding areas, ageing practitioners and decreased frequency of visits among others.
Last week the Intangible Heritage Committee in Bogota, Colombia, inscribed four practices on Unesco's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Alongside the other three inscribed elements from Mauritius, Botswana and Philippines, the rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi shrine in Kisumu stood out as a unique heritage site with a significant representation of an African cultural legacy from the past, what we live with today and what we pass on to the future generations.
For a long time, Kit Mikayi - a Luo dialect meaning 'The Stone of the First Wife' has been an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration to the surrounding community who use it for prayer, oath-taking and other rituals. Most importantly, it’s been at the centre of attracting tourists in the Western tourism circuit.
Like many other cultural centres across the globe, Kit Mikayi faces a similar challenge of inability to offer participatory tourist experience that can give room for producing dividends for local economies, improve the quality of life of communities and that which can give room for investments. According to Unesco, the shrine is threatened by several factors including encroachment on surrounding areas, ageing practitioners and decreased frequency of visits.
Being listed among the intangible cultural heritage sites gives it international visibility, thus serving to attract tourism development, which in turn will provide potential public and financial support for the conservation.
It also provides a window of opportunity for the Ministry of Culture in conjunction with its Tourism counterpart to reinforce, strengthen and initiate relevance of the site to facilitate transmission to the tourists and future generation.
To leverage on this tremendous promise of becoming a vibrant host for tourists in Western Kenya, a well-planned, regulated and responsible investment approach by relevant stakeholders is necessary.
Such an approach can create a typical preference and experience for tourists. This will address the situation of perceiving many cultural and tourism sites as a place that features unique natural landscape, culture, or art; instead, it is seen as a compound product that satisfies the tourists’ need.
Community participation through involvement in decision making as far as safeguarding the site is concerned will be essential in ensuring sustainability.
Due to their historical knowledge of how the heritage site came to being, practices within the shrine and being the group most affected by the new development, they should be actively involved in tourism planning, especially given the expectation that they will become an integral part of the tourism product.