MILESTONE MOMENT

Why Thim Lich Oinga hosted the World Heritage Sites celebration

The name is a Luo world denoting a 'shield built in dense forest'. The stone structure was used as a shield by warring tribes

In Summary

-The International Day for Monuments and Sites was celebrated at the site last month

-It was inaugurated as a World Heritage Site after a painstaking process that started in the 1980s

Local tourists walk into Kochieng settlement, the biggest of the four at Thim Lich Oinga World Heritage Site
Local tourists walk into Kochieng settlement, the biggest of the four at Thim Lich Oinga World Heritage Site
Image: MANUEL ODENY

The world recently converged at a hill in rural Nyatike constituency and raised the dust from a 700-year-old heritage site to celebrate a worldwide function.

Traditional dancers armed with spears and adorned in traditional attire, dignitaries sweating around their collars in the blistering sun, and excited locals on foot, bicycle and cars descended on Thim Lich Ohinga on April 18.

The International Day for Monuments and Sites was celebrated at the site, which was named by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in June last year.

The celebration was the first time to officially inaugurate the site and add it to seven WHSs for Kenya, after a painstaking process that started in the 1980s.

“It was a delicate and complicated process, from arriving at the nominations lists to involving many consultants and landowners from Thim Lich, who gracefully gave space and volunteered their time to preserve the site,” Culture CS Amina Mohammed said in a speech read by CAS Hassan Noor.

In Africa, only South Africa has more WHSs at 10, making Kenya’s seventh an added advantage in tourism.

Amina said the declaration has added Kenya and Migori county “a free international marketing to bring in visitors, archaeologists and researchers across the globe”.

 

LONG-SOUGHT RECOGNITION

Thim Lich Oinga, a Luo world denoting a “shield built in dense forest,” adds to Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus, Kenya's Lake Systems, Lake Turkana National Parks, Mount Kenya National Park and Mijikenda Kaya Forests as WHSs. 

Kitui Senator David Musila, who is the chairman of Kenya National Museums board, said out of all the sites, only Thim Lich Oinga was built by indigenous people.

“Lamu was built by Arab traders, while Fort Jesus was built by Portuguese settlers. Here it was locals who harnessed a technology way inland,” Musila said.

He pointed out that while wildlife has been key in driving tourism, the country should shift focus to WHSs to boost more visitors.

Thim Lich’s inclusion in WHSs makes the stone-fortified villages to be part of 1,000 wonders of the world across the globe. The area was a centre of conflict between migrating Bantu and Nilote tribes.

Some 30 nominated wonders across the world for inclusion were vetted, and the site from Nyatike subcounty sailed through.

According to the Unesco site, the World Heritage List, which was initiated in 1972, had five natural sites, 22 cultural sites and three mixed ones in the 2018 shortlist category.

“We were once turned down when we first approached the nomination list,” Culture PS Josephat Mukobe said.

“We had to include academics in archaeology and consultants to ensure the fete pulled through. That is why during the celebration, the whole ministry in Nairobi closed offices to be at Thim Lich Oinga. It was a milestone.”

 

ENGINEERING MARVEL

Abade Milewa, a local elder and historian, said the area around Lake Victoria has 521 stone structures, with the main enclosure being walls varying from 1-3m in thickness, and 1-4.2m in height.

The building structure, an engineering marvel, is built by interlocking stones without mortar in outer, middle and inner walls with buttresses and low-lying doors, which was used as a shield by warring tribes.

At Thim Lich Oinga, four enclosures housed different family units: Kachieng, Kakuku, Koketch and Koluoch.

“In the area, only Thim Lich Oinga was properly preserved. We still have 40 other different similar sites in Migori, which need more archaeological research,” Milewa said.

He said some sites, like Ong’er, Osani, Nyawita and Nyang’oma, were run down.

“We have interesting findings that can be linked to migration all the way to Zimbabwe, where similar ruins with the same dateline were established,” he said.

Migori Governor Okoth Obado said the county is in talks with immediate residents to provide more land for preserving the site. It will partner with the private sector to build eco-lodges and infrastructure.

“We will approach the Kenya Wildlife Society to help us have wild animals at the site to increase tourism,” he said.

He called on locals to help build artefacts and cultural functions around the site.

“We need local culture and tradition incorporated to the Thim Lich Oinga fete,” Obado said.

 

BENEFITS OF STATUS

According to Unesco, recognition of a site to a World Heritage Status opens the area to international funding.

Other advantages include worldwide identity, protection during conflict under the Geneva Convection and a boost to tourism.

The stones at the sites include cattle pen, houses, water points and social places with narrow doors and lookout points.

“Once locked inside the fort, families could live for months under siege,” Albert Obiero, a local, said.

In 2007, a group of scientists led by doctor Christine Ogola led a delicate excavation at the site, where fish bones and three stones helped in placing the dating of the site.