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Thimlich Ohinga, the unique 600-year old site

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Built in the 14th century, Thimlich Ohinga is one of the few examples of the early defensive savannah architecture that became a traditional style across East Africa. PHOTO|FRED OLUOCH 

By FRED OLUOCH

Posted  Saturday, April 15   2017 at  18:03

In Summary

  • Being on the World Heritage List means that a cultural site or landscape has been recognised for its unique universal value to humankind.
  • If listed, Kenya would gain financially as well as technically through programmes in education and conservation, publicity and international assistance.
  • Thimlich Ohinga is one of the leading tourist attractions on the western circuit.

Thimlich Ohinga, an archaeological site in Migori County some 180km southwest of Kisumu City, is an important historical landmark in East Africa but is barely known beyond the immediate vicinity.

Built in the 14th century, Thimlich Ohinga is one of the few examples of the early defensive savannah architecture that became a traditional style across East Africa.

Despite having been built without mortar, the expansive structure, on a 52-acre piece of land, is still standing, except for a few sections that have been destroyed by weather, human and animal activities. The dry stone-wall structure was gazetted as a national monument in 1981.

This 600-year old historical landmark is now a candidate for listing in the prestigious World Heritage List of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Thimlich Ohinga’s walls consist of meticulously

Thimlich Ohinga’s walls consist of meticulously arranged stones, with lintels supporting the entrance. PHOTO| FRED OLUOCH

Being on the World Heritage List means that a cultural site or landscape has been recognised for its unique universal value to humankind.

Once listed, sites cease to be the property of the host country and become a global property, benefiting from funding from Unesco and other donors.

Kenya would gain financially as well as technically through programmes in education and conservation, publicity and international assistance.

According to the former director of the British Institute of Eastern Africa, Paul Lane, who is also a professor of Global Archaeology at Uppsala University, Sweden, and is assisting the excavation team, it was necessary to build such large enclosures with walls one metre thick to act as a defence against hostile communities or wild animals.

Prof Paul Lane at Thimlich Ohinga. PHOTO: FRED

Prof Paul Lane at Thimlich Ohinga. PHOTO: FRED OLUOCH

The walls also acted as a symbol of authority, marking the fort as a centre of political power and wealth; leaders of those days competed among each other to come up with the biggest enclosures.

“The stones signifies that a lot of labour was required and took years to build. So either the communities had a good food producing economy to sustain the labour force, or the political system could force people to work on a communal effort where there was a consensus that such enclosures were necessary,” said Prof Lane.

Archaeological records show that Thimlich had two phases of occupation. The Thimlich Ohinga landscape is a living testimony to a unique cultural tradition.

The magnificence and layout of the site point to the evolution from simple to complex structures.

The influence of this development went beyond Thimlich to neighbouring areas.

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