The Society for Alternative Learning and Transformation (SALT) is implementing a project with Tharaka indigenous community in Eastern Kenya at the foot of the revered Mt. Kenya. The project is known as “The Crisis of the Grand Falls Dam Construction at the Kibuka Sacred Natural Site in Tharaka. Tharaka is endowed with many sacred natural sites which exist in form of a network. These sites are watershed areas, waterfalls, rivers, wetlands, forests, rocks and springs among others. During the community eco-cultural mapping process in Tharaka in September 2018, the elders and custodians identified 33 sacred natural sites and territories together with their custodial clans that protect the sites. Sacred natural sites and territories are places of ecological, cultural and spiritual importance. These are places where the humans’, spirits’ and nature’s rights converge.
The Kibuka Grand Falls Dam is to be constructed in one of the key sacred natural sites in Tharaka. This is where Tharaka people go for spiritual pilgrimage to perform rituals for the rains and ask from the ancestors the rightful seeds for planting each season. It plays a very critical role in a network of other sacred natural sites. The Kibuka Dam is part of the KES 1.5 trillion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor projects that are expected to help Kenya achieve its Vision 2030. The dam will drown six communities in Tharaka constituency – Gituma, Maragwa, Kirukuma, Kamwathu, Kamarandi and Marimanti – will be completely or partially submerged under the water. A feasibility study conducted in 2012 by the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA) found that at least 4,500 households would be displaced in the three counties, with Tharaka Nithi county being the most affected. Of the 33 sacred natural sites we mapped, about 15 sacred natural sites will be affected. The custodians of sacred natural sites are very concerned that they will be deprived of their relationship with their ancestors and cultural identity.
This project aims to protect the sacred natural sites by making them potent through performance of rituals, conducting community dialogues to create awareness on the importance of sacred natural sites, conduct exchanges for sharing learning and use media coverage for the community to raise their voices.