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Report on tangible and intangible cultural heritage on the coast of Kenya and on education in art in Kenyan contex

Deliverable 2.2

During TPAAE, the international research team consisting of researchers from AASZ, UNIMC, PUC, and KU carried out numerous activities to research on tangible and intangible cultural heritage on the Kenyan coast, on its changes and transformation, and on the process of its perception.  

The research, started in 2017 during a previous project funded within MSCA-RISE programme: TICASS (GA no 734602), has been carried out through the TPAAE. Since 2017, the researchers explored the target territory to understand the transformations/features of cultural heritage of Mijikenda and Swahili people, as well as the perception of this heritage, not only by Mijikenda and Swahili individuals but also by newcomers from inland Kenya and international residents. By tracing and analyzing contingent conditions that influenced changes, the research focused on appreciating the differences of tangible and intangible heritage, since the tangible heritage belongs mostly to Swahili culture, and is historically younger than Mijikenda culture which is based on intangible heritage.  


The main actions accomplished can be summarized as follows:  

  • analysis of tourist book guides to understand how the ruins of the Swahili cities are presented to the potential public in international guides for tourists and in the local guides for Kenyan citizens;    
  • gathering of completed questionnaires to understand the perception of cultural heritage’s value among local populations, mostly teachers, students, and owners of economic activities close to the ruins;  
  • interviews with the curators of the three heritage sites in Kilifi County: Gede ruins, Jumba La Mtwana ruins, and Mnarani ruins;  
  • investigation on tangible Swahili cultural heritage as well as on intangible Mijikenda heritage;  
  • discussions on oral history, involving memorialization methods from key informants, focus group discussions, and documented information on Mijikenda people from National Museum Library in Malindi;  
  • field trips and conversations with elders from Malindi Cultural District Association (MDCA), on customs and beliefs of Mijikenda people, and contemporary changes inflicted on them due to modern transformation of Kenyan society, including interviews and research trips to Kayas (sacred forests of Mijikenda): Kaya Godoma, Kaya Kinondo, Kaya Rabai;  
  • visits to the touristic sites involved in scientific research on the perception of tangible cultural heritage’s value along the Kenyan coast: Mnarani ruins in Kilifi, Gede ruins in Gede, and Jumba La Mtwana in Mtwapa.   

The research period combined analysis on both tangible and intangible heritage, looking at heritage not just as external assets, but as something that is perceived, interpreted, and lived-through. The contemporary concept of Cultural Heritage includes tangible and intangible testimonies, both having the value of civilizations; however, the idea and perception of cultural heritage is a result of the historical evolution of particular communities in specific contexts. The research focused on the present state of preservation of cultural heritage in the Kenyan coastal area by examining its notion, appreciation, and assessment both by local communities and external visitors. In this regard, it was analyzed up to the extent of which interaction with Western perspectives is creating a better awareness of said heritage within the local social fabrics. On this account, particular attention was given to examining how Western visitors/interpreters can approach this cultural heritage through dialogue and not by impositions of paradigms.  


The research also contributed to promoting participation and intercultural dialogue in the sphere of art and art education. An inclusive approach was developed by involving local stakeholders, artists, teachers, and students to explore the identified issues through round tables, seminars, and workshops, in a close interconnection within local and global contexts. Many activities were organized with reference to younger generations (primary schools, secondary schools, youth population, and university students), which involved people from different social levels, generations, and cultural backgrounds. This exercise produced a transversal impact on the local population, enhancing the knowledge and awareness of local traditions and assets, as well as giving voice to different traditions and backgrounds. Furthermore, the research concurred to give sustainable results in the sphere of art and art education, due to establishing a new curriculum in Art and Design at Pwani University (Kenya), which will offer Diploma and Bachelor courses in this field on the Kenyan coast, encouraging the development of art and related to it creative industries.   


Pwani University became interested in art education due to its involvement in the above mentioned MSCA-RISE/TICASS, which focused on art, communication, and social sciences, investigating imaging in public spaces in urban settings. AASZ and UNIMC were together with PUC in the consortium for the TICASS project. A deliverable of the TICASS project was the Recommendations for Education in Art, Media, and Design, oriented towards teaching visual literacy in an intercultural perspective. The realization of this previous project showed the need for extended analysis of the specific context to implement recommendations and to foster research on art and art education in an intercultural perspective. Further, the implementation of the project pointed to the gap in art training in coastal Kenya, and the growing interest of university students as well as practicing artists in this region for formal training in Art. This need matched well with the university’s strategic plan to establish a degree that focuses specifically on art and culture. In addition, the new curriculum for basic education implemented by the government of Kenya in 2019 established the teaching of art at primary and secondary levels; though, there are not enough teachers trained in educating art at that level. The programme therefore proposes to cover that gap by servicing Bachelor of Education in Art at Pwani University. The programme will be aligned to European accreditation bodies to enable learners at PUC to take advantage of exchange study programmes in Europe such as Erasmus+. Whereas UNIMC focuses on education of Art and Art Heritage (a conceptual emphasis), AASZ is highly pragmatic in Art training focusing on skills development. Kenyatta University has focused on graphic and organic development of art. Taking advantage of these traditions and partnerships, PUC intends to focus on pragmatic skills development, on design and computer designing, while exploring local cultural output with intent to expose its learners to the global market.   

An additional outcome of the TPAAE research on Cultural Heritage will be a scholarly publication: a special issue of the scientific journal Annals of Cultural Studies “The Perception of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Kenyan Coastal Region. Recognition and Evaluation of Transformations” – to be published in the fall of 2023. The publication contains the following papers:  


  1. Introduction – Aleksandra Lukaszewicz (Academy of Art in Szczecin/Poland), The Perception of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Kenyan Coastal Region. Recognition and Evaluation of Transformations  
  1. Giuseppe Capriotti (University of Macerata/Italy), Comparing Perceptions: Westerners and Kenyans facing Swahili Tangible Cultural Heritage. An Inquiry on Gede, Mnarani, and Jumba La Mtwana Ruins  
  1. Ibrahim Busolo Namunaba (Pwani University/Kenya), Swahili Cultural Heritage: origins, development, and influence  
  1. Tsawe-Munga Chidongo (Pwani University/Kenya), Modern Social Innovation in the Cultural Heritage of the Midzi-Chenda Community of Coastal Kenya   
  1. Aleksandra Lukaszewicz (Academy of Art in Szczecin/Poland), Transformation of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Kenyan Coastal Region – A Case Study on Contemporary Contexts of Traditional Healing, Witchcraft and Witch-Hunting   
  1. Flavia Stara (University of Macerata/Italy), Phenomenology of Perception (for Preservation) of Cultural Heritage. Insights on Coastal Kenya  


The other outcomes will be a short documentary on slaves’ paths on the Kenyan coast: “History Enmeshed with Sand: in Backwaters” and a scientific publication on “Transcultural identity of twerking. A cultural evolution study of women’s bodily practices of Slavic and East African communities” to be published in the Social Epistemology journal.

Deliverable 2.1 Report on the website

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