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THE MIJIKENDA

The Mijikenda (“the Nine Tribes”) are nine Bantu ethnic groups inhabiting the coast of Kenya, between the Sabaki and the Umba rivers, in an area stretching from the border with Tanzania in the south to the border near Somalia in the north. Archaeologist Chapuruka Kusimba contends that the Mijikenda formerly resided in coastal cities, but later settled in Kenya’s hinterlands to avoid submission to dominant Portuguese forces that were then in control.  Historically, these Mijikenda ethnic groups have been called the Nyika or Nika by outsiders. It is a derogatory term meaning “bush people.”

Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Jibana, and Giriama and northern Mijikenda while the Digo are southern Mijikenda. Digo are also found in Tanzania due to their proximity to the common border.

Each of the Mijikenda groups has a sacred forest, a kaya, which is a place of prayer. Eleven of the approximately 30 kaya forests have been inscribed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests. Mijikenda people are also known for creating wooden kigango funerary statues for which there is an illegal international market.

Shungwaya, is the origin myth of the Mijikenda who were Bantu migrants, and speakers of Sabaki Bantu languages. Each ethnic group has unique customs and dialect of the Mijikenda language, although the dialects are similar to each other and to Swahili.

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