From a barren quarry to a flourishing ecosystem
The unrelenting humidity is suddenly replaced by a cool breeze as you approach the entrance. A rustling of green leaves greet you as you snake your way into the theme park. Birds, perched atop trees, chirp happily as if welcoming visitors. Before you know it, you are already in one of Kenya's rural villages, replete with a garden and a cowshed. Welcome to Ngomongo villages, fondly referred to as "little Kenya".
Nominated by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 2001, Ngomongo was born in 1991. Then a sun baked arid, barren and rocky base of a former limestone mine, barely five feet above the slightly salty water table, it was transformed into its present status through the efforts of a local medic, Dr Fredrick Gikandi
The result is a 'must-visit' aesthetic theme park for ecosystem and cultural lovers; students; and tourists taking a deserved break from the oft-tiring safari and game park offerings.
Ngomongo village is a classic case study of how unproductive and neglected land can be turned into a sustainable economic venture.
It has particular relevance to Kenya where innumerable hectares of land are left idle for lack of agricultural potential.
Additionally, the project serves as a best-practice model for the 'en vogue' ecotourism, which serves to interface tourism with society and helps the latter reap the benefits of the former.
The theme park is located in the northern coastal town of Shanzu, 500 metres off the main Mombasa-Malindi highway.
Although the project launch in 1998 was disastrously affected by the destructive El-Nino rains and low tourist inflows occasioned by the infamous Likoni tribal clashes, the project picked up well in 1999, breaking even towards the end of the same year.
Dr Gikandi single- handedly began to reclaim the quarry by planting four acres of eighty different indigenous trees, followed by the easier to grow casuarinas trees. Public awareness on tree planting was the created and members of public invited to join in the reclamation process.
To date, through a sustained piecemeal afforestation programme over a period of ten years, Ngomongo boasts 15000 trees. The reclamation exercise has since been extended to the surrounding farms by recruiting the local farmers into tree planting to mark out their farm boundaries. The ultimate goal is to have the project replicated locally, regionally and globally.
But the ultimate beauty of Ngomongo lies in the fact that it comprises all of rural Kenya in one spot. It is a collection of 10 diverse rural Kenya tribal homesteads, each complete with a hut, cultivated crops, domestic and wild animals (for example crocodiles for the El Molo), wild animal traps, charms and even a village witch doctor.
The tribes have been chosen according to the geographical distribution of ethnic groups namely Cushites, Bantus, Nilotes, and the Hamites, that form Kenya's 45 tribes. Each village has tribe-specific activities for the visitor to engage in, including archery, rafting, tasting tribal foods and liquor, hook fishing, grinding of grains and a variety of tribal dances. At the end of the trek through the village households, one gets the feeling that one has literally walked throughout rural Kenya in just one and a half hours!
A visitor arriving at Ngomongo is welcomed with a drink served in a traditional calabash to initiate one into the traditional African villages. Ngomongo also offers traditional African games. They include the traditional Maasai practice of "spearing a lion". Other games include jumping up the Maasai style and fishing the Luo style. Visitors to Ngomongo, including the Big Brother housemates who were there mid December happily participated in the games.
And what better way to enjoy your visit than to be an African villager for once! While in Ngomongo, visitors are asked to participate in the daily activities of each village. One would be given a bow and an arrow and asked to be a Kamba - famous hunters and asked to shoot a deer 100 feet away.
Alternatively, one would be asked to be an El Molo and ride on a raft in the crocodile infested Lake Turkana at one's own peril! Visitors are also treated to tribal foods and drinks, including the Kikuyu traditional brew, "muratina" and the famous "mnazi" (palm wine) from coast province. After the trek, visitors can retreat to the traditional African foods restaurant, where service is also traditional.
According to the villages' marketing manager Mr Austin Mghendi, Ngomongo receives an average of 8000 visitors a month, mostly school parties and foreign students doing research.
The trek begins with a visit to a traditional Kalenjin homestead, where one comes across skulls of goats lining up the pathway to the hut. Traditions demand that the Kalenjin - who mostly feed on goat meat preserve the skulls of all the slaughtered goats.
A Kalenjin woman ushers you to her hut and demonstrates how to grind grains using the traditional grinding stone. Cherise Makubale, the Big Brother housemate who won the US$100000 cash prize tried her skills on the grinding stone when she visited the village. "She really enjoyed grinding millet using that stone", observed Mr Rashid Yassin, a tour guide at the village.
The next stop is at a cave, where a Mijikenda witch doctor lives. He receives his patients in this cave, where he also communicates with the ancestors. Tourists seeking his services are served on the spot.
But it is a visit to the homestead of the El Molo, a minority group living in a small island in lake Turkana, in northern Kenya that leaves one petrified. Here, visitors come face to face with crocodiles which stare menacingly at visitors, their mouths agape. The El Molo, numbering only 500 in the whole republic, survive by hunting crocodiles and hippos. According to them, only the tail and the hind legs of the crocodile are eaten, the rest of the parts being severely poisonous.
For those who think it is customary to greet people and enquire about their health, a piece of advice before visiting a Turkana homestead. The Turkana - a pastoralist community living in the northern part of the country - value their cattle more than even their own lives.
Consequently, visitors to a Turkana homestead have to enquire about the health of the animals before enquiring about that of the host. And make no mistake, for a Turkana will not welcome you if you do not find out from him how his cattle are doing. Their huts are constructed using animal skins, which they also use for making seats.
Ever tried fishing? Well the Luo village is the place to be. The Luo, a populous nilotic community living on the shores of Lake Victoria are known for their fishing skills. Their village in Ngomongo is replete with a model of Lake Victoria, where visitors enjoy a ride in dug-out canoes and rafts, besides testing their fishing skills. A variety of fish species are available in the stream that has been christened Lake Victoria. The netted fish are dried in the sun or smoked in a traditional oven.
The outlook is bright based on current Government efforts to promote eco-tourism. Whereas this effort is aimed at opening up remote parts of the country, Ngomongo is poised to benefit as a model case of best practice in this sub sector.
For further information on Ngomongo, please contact:
Dr Fredrick Gikandi,
P.O. Box 88478,
Tel. 254 41 5486480/5487063/5485346,