Kenya’s mountain treasures

Protecting shrinking forests with ancient knowledge

Jimmy Greenwood & Kabir Dhanji/CIFOR
20 May 2020

A growing number of people are turning to Kirinyaga’s precolonial past to save the mountain’s vital forests from an uncertain future.

Kirinyaga – commonly known as Mount Kenya – was once considered the home of God: Ngai, as he was called.

Jimmy Greenwood & Kabir Dhanji/CIFOR

Kirinyaga’s original Kikuyu people lived below its snowcapped peaks, farming and herding on its slopes, but rarely venturing into the sacred upper realm.

Then English colonialists brought Christianity and took land, leaving little space for a growing population.

Old beliefs faded as the land became crowded.

Jimmy Greenwood & Kabir Dhanji/CIFOR

Wildlife was hunted. Trees were cut down for firewood, charcoal and timber, or to make way for farming homesteads.

Now, more and more of the Kikuyu want to restore their ancient reverence for the mountain and stop using it merely as a source of wood and land.

The old ideas of managed access, sustainable use and respect for the trees are beginning to show signs of a comeback.

Jimmy Greenwood & Kabir Dhanji/CIFOR

Twice a week Joseph Mbaya trudges into the forest a few miles south of his home in the lee of Mount Kenya to forage for roots, bark, sap and leaves with which to make herbal concoctions of steeped and infused teas.

Among the cedar, yellowwood, rosewood, water-berry, olive and stinkwood trees the 64-year-old finds treatments for arthritis, prostate cancer, toothache, ear infection, upset stomach, indigestion and even “pungent wind”.

Mbaya’s knowledge of Kirinyaga’s forests is part of a value system that sees trees as more than just timber or charcoal, that understands chopping them down has a cost that outstrips their market price.

Read the full article at Forests News.

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