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Government to build Mijikenda Cultural Centre in Kilifi

Gender, Culture, the Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa addresses mourners at the burial ceremony of legendary traditional dancer and musician Masha Iha in Malindi town.

The government is planning to build a Mijikenda Cultural Centre aimed at preserving and promoting the Mijikenda culture in Kilifi County and reviving tourism.

Gender, Culture, the Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa said the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) in conjunction with the National Products Industry (NPI) has already documented the indigenous knowledge and instruments of the Mijikenda in Kilifi County.

“We have documented traditional dances and every instrument in the Mijikenda culture and I will personally come here to hand over the report to our governor, Mr Gideon Mung’aro, so that they can be used to grow the economy of Kilifi through tourism,” she said.

Speaking during the burial of legendary Giriama traditional dancer Masha Iha Thoya in Malindi town at the weekend, Ms Jumwa asked the governor to ensure that the documented knowledge and instruments such as drums, traditional attire and foods are recognised and respected like those in other cultures.

“We are building a cultural centre because we have the instruments which when properly explored can bring a lot of revenue to our county,” she said and urged the Mijikenda to take pride in their culture.

She pointed out that although locals disregard their cultures, the international communities respect them, noting that was the reason many traditional artifacts such as the vigango were stolen and taken to Europe where he government is doing its best to return them.

A kigango (plural vigango) is a carved wooded memorial statue erected by the Mijikenda people in honour of a dead member of the secret Gohu society (or the society of the blessed). Many such statues were in the 1970s and 1980s stolen and taken to Europe.

“If they (vigango) are not important, why did the white man take them away? That is why we are fighting hard to ensure they are repatriated to our country. We want them to be a source of revenue in Kilifi County,” she said.

She urged the Kilifi County Executive Committee to draft a Bill on the proposal to have a cultural centre in Kilifi and submit it to the County Assembly of Kilifi for enactment in order to give her the legal framework to start the cultural centre.

“In the coming financial year, we shall build a Mijikenda Cultural Centre in which among the people we shall be watching and celebrating daily will be the late Masha Iha. I want to say that the plan has started and the concept is being developed and I will not leave that ministry before building the centre,” she reiterated.

She said her ministry would use the annual Chenda Chenda Festival celebrated in the Coast region on September 9, to remember and celebrate heroes and heroines who have contributed to positive cultural practices, among them the late Masha wa Iha.

The late Masha Iha entertained the first and second presidents of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi among other dignitaries in and outside Kenya, and was famous for his ability to let his stomach dance, at times making it appear like an empty bowl (with no entrails).

The Cabinet Secretary said the national government would be keen to promote positive culture and fight cultures that adversely affect people such as early marriages and female genital mutilations.

Malindi Member of Parliament Amina Laura Mnyazi had earlier urged the cabinet secretary to take advantage of her position in government to help promote the culture of the coastal people, which she said had been looked down upon.

Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro said her biggest agenda was to ensure the expansion of the Malindi International Airport to enable large planes to land, a factor he said would boost tourism as visitors would fly directly into Malindi.

She lamented that the tourism industry was on its knees but added that he had started consultations with key stakeholders with a view to reviving the sector and create employment for local youths.