Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya

Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya” was released the African Biodiversity Network ABN, the Institute of Culture & Ecology  ICE, and The Gaia Foundation Gaia Foundation.

Recognizing Sacred Sites in Kenya

The report is an Analysis of how the Kenyan Constitution, National and International Laws can Support the Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and their Community Governance Systems by Adam Hussein.  The report aims to inform communities, civil society, lawyers and policy makers of the importance of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and of the many emerging challenges that these sites and communities face.  It makes recommendations for securing greater recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and the rights and responsibilities of the communities who protect these sites according to Earth Law principles.

The Report was  commissioned in 2011 following the enactment of Kenya’s new Constitution.  It examines how the Constitution, national and international laws can support the recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and their community governance systems. The Report makes a number of key recommendations for communities, civil society and Government to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, local Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and their customary governance systems based on Earth Law principles, which protect these areas.  It also explores some of the issues which need to be addressed in the pending Community Land Act in Kenya.

This Report is dedicated to Thomas Berry for inspiring us all in the “Great Work” of understanding, developing and practicing Earth Jurisprudence, and to Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Kariuki Thuku, and Professor Wangari Muta Maathai for their pioneering work in reviving and securing recognition of Earth Jurisprudence in Kenya.  The Report advocates Earth Law precedents including the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the proposed Crime of Ecocide and proposed Declaration on Planetary Boundaries

The report also shares grassroots initiatives and Earth Law precedents in other countries which are securing the legal recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and their Custodians.  For example, the registration a network of Sacred Natural Sites in Venda, South Africa; as UNESCO Intangible Heritage in Pira Parana, Colombia; and as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Sheka forest, Ethiopia.

Executive Summary

Importance of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories: critical sanctuaries for biodiversity, culture and spirituality

For millennia, indigenous and local communities around the world have upheld the responsibilities of their great-great grandparents and their ancestors as the Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. Sacred Natural Sites are critical places within ecosystems, such as forests, mountains, rivers and sources of water, which exist as a network embedded within a territory. Sacred Natural Sites are also of cultural and spiritual importance, as places where the ancestors’ spirits of the community reside, and are akin to temples or churches where the Custodians carry out ceremonies and rituals. Elders within the community play a vital role in upholding the ecological knowledge and customs practiced over generations which maintain the well-being of Sacred Natural Sites, ecosystems, territories and local communities. These customary governance systems recognise Sacred Natural Sites and Territories as places where the laws of Earth can be read, and from which customs, spiritual practices and governance systems are derived to protect the territory as a whole. Therefore, Sacred Natural Sites and Territories are at the heart of ecological, spiritual and cultural practices, and governance systems of indigenous and local communities.

Despite their vital importance, Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya, and across Africa, are faced with increasing threats of destruction from economic and other developments which have also eroded the customary governance systems of their custodial communities. The failure to respect ecosystems, and the Sacred Natural Sites within them, has a direct impact on the lives and well-being of communities of present and future generations of all life.

This Report examines whether the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the legal, policy and institutional framework in Kenya recognises and supports, or undermines, the rights and responsibilities of communities to govern and protect their Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, according to their customary governance systems and on their own terms.

Report: Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya is available on the ICEABN and Gaia Foundation websites.