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The Loita Naimina Enkiyio Forest: Gateway to understanding the Maasai's sustainable forest resource management in Kenya Print
By Marissa Maguide-Cabato, Research Desk, Tebtebba

The Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development (MPIDO) serves as Tebtebba’s country partner for the implementation of the climate change capacity building project in Kenya, together with the Loita Development Foundation (LDF), the Council of Elders, the Oloiboni and the members of the Loita community at the local level.

The demonstration area is the Loita community in the Narok District, South of Kenya where the Loita Naimina Enkiyo Forest is situated. Loita Forest is located between the Mara and Serengeti plains and the forests of the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. The forest is one of the few unclassified  and largely undisturbed indigenous forests in Kenya. It is one of the traditionally-managed forests by the Maasai indigenous communities whose well-conserved state is attributable to their strong and vibrant traditional practices.

The visit of Tebtebba’s Climate Team to the Loita community on February 21-28, 2010 was as memorable and educational as those with the other project demonstration areas. The team was able to witness and learn from the Maasai's very well-entrenched rich culture and socio-economic life. The Maasai are considered as "traditional knowledge holders and practitioners" since time immemorial.

A meeting-orientation in MPIDO’s office was held where the team was able to meet the rest of the staff. After the meeting, the team proceeded to Loita, traveling for almost 10 hours, passing through the vast Maasai land and encountering various herds of animals along the way. In the community, the first priority of the team was to familiarize with the community. The team was introduced to the key people and local institutions such as the Loita High School, Health Center, the Oloiboni and the Council of Elders. A sharing was then held on the objectives of the project collaboration and the local situations.

The visit to the Oloiboni is of significance to the visit and to the project. This is because the Oloiboni is highly regarded as the spiritual leader and adviser of the Council of Elders. He approves all ceremonies and rituals involving the community and the age sets  or age groups in the community, the location of the emanyatta  among other community rituals, among others.

The meeting with the 22 members of the Council of Elders, on the other hand, revolved on the discussion on the project, especially the case study in relation to traditional forest/resource management, the role of women and age-sets/groups, and how this is transmitted to the younger generations. The Council of Elders served as key informants for an initial data gathering for the case study. Likewise, the meeting served as a follow up consultation regarding the project implementation.

Capping the first day's activities was the visit to the emanyatta which is set up every 10 years. One circular-shaped village has a total of 140 families while the other is composed of 139 families. The villagers live in the emanyatta for 6 months. During this period, the age set/group of warriors are trained to survive in the forests; they also serve as forest guards. The emanyatta was constructed in December and this will be dismantled on the month of May wherein performances and rituals mark the end of the initiation period.

In addition to the visit, the Local Research Training was also conducted for two days. Relative to the capacity building objective of the project, this training will prepare the local researcher to conduct the case study and learn skills that they can use. This capacity building activity is conducted with a long term view that indigenous peoples should be capacitated to undertake their own researches based on their priorities.

This training was made possible through the team work among MPIDO, LDF, Tebtebba, and Dr. Maghenda, a natural science professor from Narok University.  Fifteen participants attended the training that consisted of inputs on the basic framework and orientation on the research, the research process, concepts of traditional forest resource management by Dr. Charles Saitabau , and workshops. During the training, participants formulated the research problem and objectives as well as the methodologies to be used in data gathering. The training's main output was the research plan that will guide them in the implementation of the case study.

Part of the training was a visit to the Loita Forest itself, wherein the team felt the pride among the participants for a well-managed forest - pride for their source of livelihood and the source of their very existence. A side trip to the Maasai Mara National Reserve was then held were the team saw the richness of the biodiversity of the Maasai territory.

Back in Narok, an evaluation meeting was arranged with MPIDO after the community visit where our general observations were shared. The team shared their experiences with previous demonstration project visits. There were similarities due to the existence of common indigenous peoples' worldviews, concepts and values but there were, at the same time, differences on the strength and level of traditional knowledge and practices on forest/natural resource management. It was also observed that the Loita Maasai indigenous peoples have maintained their very strong spiritual relations and culture-based traditional knowledge and practices in sustaining and protecting their lands, forests and natural resources. This is also true with respect to securing various benefits and services from their forests and other resources. Through their customary practices and performances, they were able to transmit the knowledge to the younger generation through the age sets and through their own indigenous socio-cultural institutions. Customary governance through the Oloiboni and the Council of Elders is still strong.