The Mijikenda community in Kwale County has been dealt a major blow following the death of Abdalla Mnyenze, a Kaya elder who steered the conservation of Kaya forests.
Until his death, 93-year-old Mzee Mnyenze was the chairperson of the Kwale Kaya Elders. He was known for fighting for the preservation of endangered sacred forests.
He had seven wives and was known for his efforts to preserve the culture and traditions of Kwale communities.
His grandchild Hamisi Kapera said Mzee Mnyenze had been sick before he died.
“This is a big blow to our family and even to the whole county because people knew him as one who had taken all teachings from our ancestors and this preserved our culture,” he said.
He was also in charge of Kaya Kinondo, the largest Kaya forest, ensuring that it was preserved.
“He is the one who ensured that our culture and traditions are respected in the whole country,” he said.
Kaya Elders Association chairperson Mwinyi Mwalimu said that Mzee Mnyenze fought for the rights of the Mijikenda community in the Coast region.
“He was a great counsellor even to the other older men and led key decision-making concerning our culture and even the natural calamities that we faced,” he said
His death comes as elders want at least 30 Kaya forests in Kwale County gazetted by the government, saying they are at risk of being grabbed by private developers.
The elders recently urged the government to fence off the forests and carry out a fresh survey to determine their boundaries after encroachment was reported.
Speaking at Kaya Kinondo on World Tourism Day last month, Kaya elder Suleiman Gombo said this was important to preserve the tradition in the forests that are also key tourist attraction sites.
“Many people are getting into the forests illegally and those living next to the forests are cutting precious trees. This puts them at risk of losing their value,” he said.