Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya

Our 2012 report, produced with the African Biodiversity Network and the Institute for Culture & Ecology, provides analysis of Kenya’s legal and policy framework, and recommendations for securing greater recognition of the country’s sacred natural sites and territories and the rights of custodian communities.

Laws and policies urgently need to recognise and support the rights of communities to their traditional and customary land tenure and governance systems and recognise that Earth is not just a ‘resource’ but a living Being whom we need to respect.” – explains Adam Hussein Adam, author of the report. recognisingsacrednaturalsitesinkenya cover

The aim of “Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya” is to inform communities, civil society, lawyers and policy makers of the importance of sacred natural sites and territories, and the many emerging challenges that these sites and communities face.

Commissioned in 2011, following the enactment of Kenya’s new Constitution in 2010, the report examines how the Constitution, national and international laws can support the recognition of sacred natural sites and their community governance systems. It makes a number of key recommendations for communities, civil society and Government to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, local custodians of sacred natural sites. Emphasis is on their customary governance systems based on Earth Law principles, which protect these areas. Download a pdf copy here: Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya.

The report serves as a timely training and advocacy tool for all those seeking to preserve these sanctuaries of bio-cultural diversity from growing threats, and to secure recognition of communities’ rights and responsibilities to govern and protect sacred natural sites and territories.

This Report urges us all to recognise and support the calls of communities to respect their Sacred Natural Sites as No-Go areas for development, and to recognise indigenous and local communities as the Custodians who protect these sacred places, through their ecological governance systems, for present and future generations.” (Liz Hosken, Gaia’s Director).

The report is an important contribution to understanding the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and other national laws, as strengthening the recognition and support for community protection of sacred natural sites according to their customary governance systems. It also shows the progressive development of Kenya’s legal system towards recognising Earth Jurisprudence principles, and sets the framework for developing laws to radically shape environmental stewardship in Kenya and beyond.

Community custodians of sacred natural sites from Kenya and across Africa share their views in a film – Sacred Voices. In the film, M’rimberia Mwongo from Meru, Kenya states:

We ask that people respect our rituals and prayers as they would religion, and respect our Sacred Sites as they would a Church. We ask for a system of mutual respect.”

Vhomakhadzi Joyce from Venda, South Africa explains,

Inside our Sacred spaces, the soil is very important. Beneath the soil, and below – it is sacred too. As Custodians we believe this should be left untouched.”

You can watch the film here.

 

About the Author:

The report has been authored by Adam Hussein Adam, an equality rights champion with special focus on cultural communication, diversity and inclusion, and Earth Jurisprudence. Adam is the current Equality and Citizenship Programme Coordinator at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa. He was commissioned by the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) to write this report with support from the African Biodiversity Network and the Gaia Foundation.

This Report is dedicated to Thomas Berry for inspiring us all in the “Great Work” of understanding, developing and practicing Earth Jurisprudence, and to Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Kariuki Thuku, and Professor Wangari Muta Maathai for their pioneering work in reviving and securing recognition of Earth Jurisprudence in Kenya.

 


Endorsements

Pauline Kamau, Green Belt Movement, Kenya:

”The Green Belt Movement (GBM) welcomes this report and the importance it places on community protection of Sacred Natural Sites in Kenya and the need for their wider recognition. Professor Wangari Maathai always hoped that Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga and other Sacred Natural Sites would be recognised as an integral part of Kenyan heritage. On behalf of GBM I look forward to our continued involvement in ensuring that Kenya’s cultural heritage continues to be protected.”

Korir Sing’Oei, Founding Trustee, Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE):

”This publication is an important contribution to ongoing discussions on the role of communities in the protection of Sacred Natural Sites. It documents an increasingly endangered yet important model on how spirituality and culture coalesce in the furtherance of protecting biodiversity and ecosystems. It therefore paves the way for a re-imagined role for the oft ignored traditional governance systems of land.”

Francesca de Gasparis, formerly Green Belt Movement, Europe:

”For much of her life, Professor Wangari Maathai highlighted the link between culture and biodiversity. She would say that “culture is coded wisdom. Wisdom that has been accumulated for thousands of years and generations…All people have their own culture.” And that “one is more likely to protect sites or forests, particularly when they are of a cultural significance.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation:

”This Report sounds a clarion call for citizens everywhere to defend Mother Earth with all possible tools. This is a vital contribution to the urgent call for the recognition and full application of Earth Jurisprudence.”

Colleen Corrigan, formerly IUCN- Theme on Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities, Equity and Protected Areas (TILCEPA):

“Indigenous peoples and local communities play a critical role in biodiversity conservation, in particular within natural areas that are often important for their sacred significance. Recognition of such areas and communities is increasing at national and global levels at a time when government commitments to conservation targets are often falling short. Studies like this one, focused on Sacred Natural Sites and relevant national laws and policies of Kenya, provide important opportunities to examine the challenges and opportunities that exist for increasing recognition, and thus support, for localised community conservation which underpins protection of Nature and sustainable livelihoods of people.”

Polly Higgins, Barrister and campaigner for Eradicating Ecocide:

”This report is not only timely but also gives a valuable insight into Community Ecological Governance Systems, which need to be revived and strengthened elsewhere. We can learn much from community Custodians and how to become responsible trustees of Earth. There is deepening global understanding on the urgent need to defend Sacred Natural Sites and Territories from the growing threats of Ecocide.”

Rachel Murray, Professor of International Human Rights Law, University of Bristol, UK:

”This Report is a very welcome contribution to the recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and should be of interest to policy makers in Kenya and elsewhere.”

Richard Mugisha, Independent Observer, Uganda:

”This is a wisely written paper. Protection of sacred sites goes beyond laws and policies, it is ultimately an ethical/moral question…which is determined by people for whom daily survival is a question of commitment to the highest ethical standards, namely ‘Earth Jurisprudence’. This is true across Africa and the rest of the world. Earth Jurisprudence is an ethical prerequisite and provides the right governance solution to survival not only for humanity but for the Earth as a being. This report calls for rejuvenating this governance system that derives its laws from the Earth.”