Synergetic protection under UNESCO’s Conventions: World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage

Published: 05 October 2020
Last edited: 05 October 2020

The protection of the Kayas is directly dependent to the protection of both the natural and the cultural – both tangible and intangible – attributes/elements of the site and its traditional knowledge system and practices. This need for integrated protection is not only reflected at the local level though the recognition of custodianship, sacredness and the important bio-cultural role of the Kayas but it is also recognized and protected internationally through the inscription of the site on the list of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (inscribed as the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests) and the inclusion of the Traditions and practices associated with the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda in the list of elements in Need of Urgent Safeguarding of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The double inscription offers an added international framework to tackle both the protection of the natural and cultural heritage as well as the Outstanding Universal Value of the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests. Additionally, it supports efforts made in directly addressing the need to urgently and proactively engage with the safeguarding of traditions that are facing significant challenges and might one day disappear.


Communication, outreach and awareness building
Education, training and other capacity development activities
Scale of implementation
Phase of solution

Enabling factors

The inscription on the World Heritage List and on the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention has been a collective effort by the State of Kenya, the National Museums of Kenya, the Kenyan National Commission for UNESCO and the Mijikenda peoples.

These adequate conservation, protection and safeguarding of the Kayas is possible through the active network of traditional and institutional partners engaged in the conservation of the site at the local, regional, national and international level.

Lessons learned

The World Heritage Convention deals with the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of a site and the attributes carrying such values, on the other hand the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention focuses on cultural heritage of traditions, living expressions inherited by ancestors and previous generations. These inscriptions officialized the recognition of the interdependent character of the tangible and intangible values of the site, for which protection is necessary both in terms of natural and cultural heritage as well as the safeguarding of the traditional knowledge of the Mijikenda in their role as traditional owners and custodians.

The inscription in the ICH in Need of Urgent Safeguarding has supported the establishment and creation of activities for the safeguarding of the traditions and practices of the Mijikenda (restoration work, intergenerational exchanges, awards for best managed Kaya Forests), as well as community safeguarding activities such as beekeeping and sale of honey, butterfly farming and sale of pupae to international markets for socio-economic sustainability of the neighboring Kaya local communities.

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