An Examination of Kit Mikayi as a Historical, Cultural, Religious Site among the Seme People of Luoland.
This essay examines the cultural, religious, and economic importance of heritage sites in Africa, with a focus on the Kit Mikayi site in Kenya. We look at how nature, spirituality, culture, and economic and environmental issues interact with one another in African historical and heritage sites. Some of these sites are part of the natural landscape, and include caves and rock formations. Kit Mikayi near Kisumu, Kenya, is a prime example of such sites. Kit Mikayi is important to the Luo for spiritual and cultural reasons, but it is also now becoming economically beneficial to the local people. The site’s growing popularity is leading to conservation efforts to protect the site.
The African continent, like other continents around the world, has many natural rock formations and other structural wonders with deep significance for the ethnic groups and communities living around them. One of these is Kit Mikayi. Kit Mikayi is a natural geographical site in Kenya with hallowed grounds that attract thousands of religious members who look to the formation for contact with their ancestors, for prayers and for healing, and for celebrating traditional Luo culture. We are interested in the history of Kit Mikayi. More specifically, we are interested in how Kit Mikayi is viewed by others, and, lastly, in its religious, sociocultural, political, and economic importance among the Luo people.
Natural structures such as Kit Mikayi have taken on cultural significance among the Luo, the fourth largest ethnic community in Kenya (Nyamweru, 270). Kit Mikayi is a large, imposing rock formation in Kisumu county, Kenya. It is part of the natural landscape and has spawned many oral traditions throughout the ages, many of which try to explain how the seemingly gravity-defying rocks formed. The stone monument is 70 meters high (“Kit Mikayi Lures Visitors…,” n.p.). Kit Mikayi means “first wife” in Dholuo, the widely spoken language in the region.
According to one Luo oral tradition on the origin of the name, in the past, an elderly man named Ngeso had a great love for the natural stone monument (Ibid.). Every morning, Ngeso would go and lie in the cave under the rock all day. He was so fascinated and consumed by this stone that his wife would often bring his breakfast, lunch, and dinner to him as he lay in the cave around the stone, or on the stone itself. He ate most of his meals there. The story goes that, one day, someone asked Ngeso’s wife where he was. The wife replied that he was at the stone, which she referred to as his first wife because he spent so much of his time at the monument and loved it very much. His actual first wife felt like a second or third wife to the stone, since he gave more attention and time to the stone structure, as if it were his first wife.
There is also a tradition that states that the rock formation reflects the Luo culture of polygamy. The rocky formation consists of three stones lying on top of each other. Traditions have developed around these stones, referring to the stones by the names of huts of the first three wives in a traditional Luo homestead. Thus, the first wife’s [Mikayi] hut is said to be the one lying in between the three rocks. The second wife’s [Nyachira] hut is “on the right-hand side of the rocky formation, and the third wife’s [Reru] hut is on the left-hand side” of the formation (“Kit Mikayi Lures…,” n.p.). The position of these rocks within the rocky formation is therefore depicted in terms of the typical Luo family structure and homestead organization. This can be seen from the accompanying photographs.
In both the present and ancient times, this rock structure held great significance for local people. People from all over Kisumu (and Kenya) have visited the rocks in the hopes of getting blessed with wealth, rain, and spiritual cleansing. Others visit it to meditate or do some soul-searching. This means that different people see Kit Mikayi in different ways. People’s perceptions of Kit Mikayi are influenced by their gender (and gendered labor and roles), level of education, occupation, and age group.
According to a study by the Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Kenya, women see Kit Mikayi in terms of its connection to nature more so than the men. Men, on the other hand, connect it more to traditional beliefs and religion (Benter et al 176). Older people connect it more to practice traditional beliefs. This study also demonstrates that the major cultural reason for people visiting the site is meditation (Benter et al 177). Other reasons include nature visits (getting in touch with the natural world) and research and education. People do not generally go there simply for relaxation. Thus, it is not yet frequented for recreation, but for another, usually more serious and important reason.
Various songs and dances were, and are sung at and are associated with the site. The most common songs relate to nature and marriage. The song “Ramogi” relates to nature and is a song that “[p]raises a royal leader from the community” (Benter et al., 176). Dudu, which is associated with marriage, has a dance type “performed during bountiful harvests” (Ibid.). The dances and songs performed here represent the wider cultural, spiritual, natural, and economic significance of the site.
Respondents recognized Kit Mikayi as a “place used to perform animal sacrificial rituals, mainly during morning hours. These rituals were performed because of a calamity such as a drought or divorce or separation cases amongst the community” (Benter et al., 177). The site has therefore been used to appease the higher powers to help the community survive and prosper. “During times of catastrophe like hunger and famine, the elders would conduct sacrifices here, leading to plentiful rainfall and harvests (Ibid.).
The significance of Kit Mikayi extends beyond just its immediate vicinity. In fact, its power transcends far beyond its local geographic area. “The rock was presumed to send visions to people” in relatively faraway places “on the need to conduct animal sacrifices to avert calamities” at a given time (Ibid.).
There are also rituals that are done during marriage ceremonies at the site. The respondents say that it is believed that after sacrificing animal(s) at the site during a marriage ceremony, “heavy rainfall would follow immediately, which was interpreted as a sign to cement the marriage vows” (Ibid). During marriage ceremonies too, newlyweds usually passed under the rock whilst the husband sang traditional songs and the wife ululated (Ibid.). The idea was that this would result in a long, successful marriage. The significance of the rocks to successful marriages is based on a tradition about a young man who married a woman from another area. The newlyweds must perform certain rituals on the inside of the natural monument with the aim of solidifying a bride’s induction into the community and ensuring that she does not leave her husband. Those who believe this tend to cite this as the reason that the region has a very low number of divorces (Dila, n.p.).
The study also indicates that praying is one of “the most common special event performed” at Kit Mikayi. The percentage of those praying at the site stood at 58% compared to other reasons (Benter et al., 177). Religious people crowd the rock when it “releases” water in May and June (Ibid.). It is traditionally believed that the monument possesses therapeutic powers and that this water can heal them. Some people even connect the rock to Christian ideals and the community’s origins. The Legio Maria sect, for example, views the place a “shrine” and as “the place of its founder,” and it reserves “the shrine for this founder as well as for Jesus’ mother, Mary” (Benter et al., 178). Legio Maria members frequent the place to pray and fast for weeks at a time. The group combines the Roman Catholic religious beliefs and the traditional Luo cultural practices. This is quite reflective of African traditions and colonialism and its attendant agencies.
The sacredness of the Kit Mikayi site has produced some unforeseen benefits to the community, which have further led to the strengthening of the group, its cohesion, and its connection to nature. The community is aware of these benefits and the members of the community frequently work to preserve the site. Such benefits include ecotourism. Tourists traveling to the site view and climb the rocks, listen to traditional Luo songs, watch (or perform) the dudu and other dances, visit homesteads, and take photos (Misiko, 8). Because of this, the local Luo people support tourism here. This therefore represents another important function and practical use of Kit Mikayi as a heritage site. If people come to the site, local merchants can sell goods, tourists will bring in money and will buy goods from or donate to locals, non-locals will pay around $5 USD at the visitor’s center, and, as a result, it can give the community a sustainable source of income (Mealey, n.p.). In fact, the respondents tended to view Kit Mikayi’s tourist potential as being the only viable source of economic sustainability.
Conservationists and others have started using the economic benefits of the sites to encourage people to remember their traditional beliefs and the oral history of Kit Mikayi and promote conservation efforts around the site. Thus, long-lasting traditions are helping to conserve and preserve this site for the betterment of the members of the community.
The importance of conserving and preserving the site is not only for its cultural, medical, natural (to get closer to nature or for meditation), and religious or spiritual reasons, but also for economic reasons as well. Indeed, “The Kit Mikayi cultural landscape is a multi-purpose landscape area” (Bender et al 179). To preserve the site and keep it as a part of living history and culture, scholars and lay people have begun recording those who can narrate the history and beliefs about the famous rock formation.
In conclusion, the natural site of Kit Mikayi has given life and religious meaning to innumerable groups of people. It is a privilege to encounter such a significant structure that answers the cultural, economic, and religious meanings of a rich tradition. Kit Mikayi’s sacredness keeps the people uplifted and driven to continually preserve the site. The Luo people thus properly care for it and devote their time to share the story and significance of the site to others. Kit Mikayi will forever be admired by the Luo, as well as others, as a natural site that has reflects a vibrant heritage.
“The Many Uses of Kit Mikayi | Macleki,” Macleki, August 26, 2018, https://macleki.org/stories/the-many-uses-of-kit-mikayi/.