Discovering MUCH in Mida
Wes Forsythe and Caesar Bita – MUCH to Discover in Mida Creek
Marine Cultural Heritage continues to be the focus of the Mida Creek community in Kenya, as skills are developed, put in practise and new facilities constructed to act as a hub for learning, exhibitions and cultural events. Supported by the RftD project ‘MUCH to discover in Mida’, the work takes place on a beautiful part of the Kenyan coast – between Watamu National Marine Park and Arabuko Sokoke Forest Park. The parks contain important species of plants and animals, including extensive mangroves and herds of elephant and buffalo. The idyllic natural environment belies some of the challenges facing the community in this area including poorly regulated coastal development, timber depletion, unresolved land issues, social conflict and poverty. In addition, there persists the challenge of engendering a sense of ownership in an environment where exclusionary park protection measures can seem at odds with the needs of local residents.
In order to reconnect and recognise ‘people in the parks’ we have taken an approach to marine cultural heritage which seeks to enhance our appreciation of the past and celebrate the present. Activities associated with this approach include a survey of current marine practise and economies, and in recent weeks a campaign of archaeological fieldwork. The intention is that these activities will inform educational work with schools and the park managers, a community-run exhibition space, the recognition and development of coastal economies and policy recommendations.
Madam Arfa Salim Baya presents on MUCH at Mida Secondary school which is located at Mida Creek (Field Data August, 2019)
School groups visiting Mida Creek (Field Data August, 2019)
The archaeological survey successfully uncovered new evidence of human settlement around Mida, including sites that likely served as an outport for the famous Medieval settlement at nearby Gedi and others which demonstrated an intimate understanding of the marine environment. These included ancient landing places sited near deep water to permit vessels to anchor in proximity at all states of the tide; trading locations at the edge of major routeways into the bay or settlements overlooking channels through the mangrove that would have afforded a degree of privacy and protection.
The MUCH Survey team interviewing elders at Kisiwani (Field Data August, 2019)
Our visit to Arabuko Sokoke was aided by Wataa elder, Geoffrey Mashauri who as a Park botanist had both inherited and direct knowledge to pinpoint forest sites once occupied by these elusive hunters, who later acted as middlemen with Swahili traders. As the largest coastal forest in East Africa, Arabuko-Sokoke presents serious challenges to archaeological investigation. Not only is the forest dense and strewn with leaf litter, but the presence of large animals require the accompaniment of a team of fully-armed rangers (our thanks in this regard to Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service). Undeterred, Mr Mashauri led us deep within the forest to uncover evidence of Wataa sites spanning hundreds of years of occupation and predate the better known Swahili culture of this coast.
The MUCH Survey team inside Arabuko Sokoke Forest under KWS guard and Mr. Geoffrey Mashauri on the right (Field Data August, 2019)
Wavy lines pottery from Waata sites in Arabuko Sokoke Forest (Field Data August, 2019)
Geoffrey was not the only member of the local community providing advice, diplomacy and orientation on the shore. We were joined by fishermen, farmers, activists, and on one occasion a self-appointed witch doctor! The hospitality of coastal residents was magnificent, as was that of our key partners Bidii na Kazi (‘labour and effort’) women’s group, who are in the process of eagerly documenting their efforts to put MUCH training into practise through the production of honey, butterflies and baskets. Much hilarity was had as they reviewed their first forays into film-making, however it was also clear that their efforts are beginning to improve the well-being of their households. The group have successfully identified marine resources that can be converted into economic opportunities. Some of these, such as palm bushes have traditionally been a source for basketry; others provide a distinct taste of coastal life, such as the black honey made by bees browsing the mangrove forest. Our determined community partners have begun to see real returns on their efforts as their produce has successfully sold at local markets.
Bidii na Kazi women display butterfly pupa for sale. These are now being grown at Mida (Field Data August, 2019)
Over the next months we will be continuing in our efforts to establish a boat house and yard to act as a hub for education and skills as we commission the reproduction of some of the craft traditional to the creek. It will also provide exhibition space in conjunction with a café for coastal crafts and the results of our archaeological and contemporary marine cultural surveys. We will also be launching a digital platform for the collaborative documentary work undertaken with our community groups, providing a key measure of progress and means to showcase their efforts.