Kenya has a new Unesco World Heritage Site, taking its total to seven. Thimlich Ohinga, an ancient fortress in Kenya’s western Migori region was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the World Heritage Centre’s (WHC) 42nd annual meeting in Bahrain on June 29.
Thimlich Ohinga, loosely translated as ‘frightening dense forest’, is made up of stone walls ranging from one to four metres high and three metres wide at its thickest point. The walls are built from loose stones and blocks with no mortar. The ruins resemble those found at Great Zimbabwe. It has been dated to the 16th century and it is thought ancient inhabitants used the site to guard against attacks and protect their livestock. Research undertaken by National Museums Kenya (NMK) showed that the site was also used for the manufacture of goods like pottery.
A key characteristic of Thimlich Ohinga is the small entrances. Silas Nyagweth, NMK’s curator at the site says: “The doors were made short to ensure that, by the time the enemy got inside, he was less stable as he was still bending. The guards could then easily overpower him.”
Research has shown that Thimlich Ohinga was inhabited on and off by various groups until early in the 1900s when it was vacated for the last time. In 1980, NMK undertook work on the site and in 1981 it was declared a national monument under the curatorship of NMK.
According to the WHC, the site is worthy of preservation because “it is the largest and best preserved of these traditional enclosures. It is an exceptional example of the tradition of massive dry-stone walled enclosures, typical of the first pastoral communities in the Lake Victoria Basin, which persisted until the mid-20th century.”
Nicholas Anyuor, Migori County Director of Communications, said the new development had challenged the administration to improve the site and make it appealing for tourists. “We are going to improve roads leading to Thimlich Ohinga,” he explained.
Meanwhile, at the same meeting, the WHC placed northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites. The lake was inscribed on the list in 1997 for its significance as a breeding habitat for a number of migratory bird species as well as its contribution to paleo-environments through its many fossil deposits. The WHC has noted the potentially harmful impact on the ecology of the area caused by the Gibe III dam and the Kuraz Sugar Development Project.