The Taita Way

Kidafsida (sp?) or the taita way of doing things was a platform for normative assertions – the specific outlooks and behaviors that qualified as properly or acceptably taita. In the days of yore, rejection of or failure to live up to proper ways were described as getting lost and would incur severe social sanctions including being ostracized and displaced from social networks even disinherited.

These norms were applied to environmental concerns as well and as part of the collaborative effort “Tamaduni Zakiafrica Zaboresha Uhifadhi”, KUAPO together with Njavungo Council of Elders, Amara Conservation and KWS are trying to bring back into play traditional taita conservation practices that when used in tandem with modern day wildlife management could lead to a better tomorrow for Kenya, Kenyans and Kenya’s wildlife.

As part of the pilot program that took place in August, we documented as closely as possible the various “taita” ways when the Elders spoke. They reintroduced to the community the notion that they can be equal to the task of preserving their environment and wildlife – if they wanted to. Some of the interesting facts we learnt about the taita way include:

  1. In the past, community members were prohibited from cutting down specific trees by the elders council (for example the “fig “tree being of more significance and considered sacred.). If a community member did cut down a tree without permission, that member would face sanctions from the council of elders. In this way, the elders would limit logging as well as ensure that trees in their prime were not cut down.
  2. People were deterred from venturing into forests and other sacred places so as to preserve the natural environment there. These places were often life-giving areas like water sources.
  3. Community members would only plant local indigenous trees based on the advice of the elders, this helped to prevent any invasive plants from taking over and ruining the ecosystem. Today, trees and plants are planted without thought to what is best for the area and what is local to the area.
  4. Elders would only allow the killing of wildlife in cases of self-defence. If a wild animal did find itself close to a settlement, the elders would ensure that the animal would be taken back to the park safely.
  5. Elders would punish disobedience within the community in accordance with the offence; this included environmental offences like cutting down trees without elders consent, burning charcoal, tampering with shrines/sacred groves within the forests, killing wildlife without cause, grazing out of the designated areas etc.
  6. The Taitas would use rainmaking rituals in case of droughts so that the animals would get water in their water-pans and not be forced to move to the community water-points in their migratory routes. There were specific communities that had the rainmaking skill and would be called upon incase of such natural issues as droughts to ensure the animals didn’t move to the community area.
  7. Elders would clearly educate their people on park boundaries; they also defined an area between the park and community lands as a buffer zone to help guide community members so that they would not enter wildlife areas for grazing or picking firewood.
  8. Taitas used to derive traditional medicines from trees. Today, they are ready to teach the community on the herbs that can be used as medicine or food.

All partners learnt much from the initial pilot project but feel there is so much more oral history that needs to be documented. We will keep you posted as this interesting program is developed.


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