Did you know that, if you visit our home stay you will be keeping an orphan in school and you may get to see the Famaous Thim Lich Ohinga, If you thought the only historic forts in Kenya were Fort Jesus and the Coast, Lamu Fort (see adjacent story) on the Kenyan coast and built by foreigners, you may have to think again. Thimlich Ohinga is a 500-year-old fort built by indigenous Africans on the shores of Lake Victoria.
According to the National Museums of Kenya: “Thimlich Ohinga literally refers to a “frightening dense forest” in Dholuo language, a Nilotic group who occupy the region. “The stone structure enclosure has walls ranging from 1.0 to 4.2 meters in height were built of loose stones and blocks without any dressing or mortar. “Archaeological record of materials found within the site goes beyond 500 years ago. “Since the present inhabitants of the area arrived probably some three centuries ago, it seems most likely that Bantus who initially occupied this region prior to the arrival of Luos first built the stone structures.
Abundant rocks on the hilly areas provided them with building materials to meet their security requirements. “Subsequently communities that moved into this region in the period 15th to 19th centuries carried out repair work and modification on the structures. However, all these episodes of occupation and repair did not interfere with the architecture and preservation of the structures.“During the first quarter of the twentieth century abandonment of Ohinga is started en mass. No more stone structures were constructed and consequently some stone structures were reduced to mere traces of circumferences or disappeared altogether. Thimlich Ohinga is one of the few stone structures that survived.” Nevertheless, for local people, mystery has always surrounded Thimlich Ohinga that despite its long existence.
Some locals argue that Thimlich Ohinga was built by the colonialist British to serve as refuge and as a hiding place however archaeologists and historians rubbish this argument.
Closer to the mark are those who suggest the fort was constructed by natives to serve as protection against alien clans in Kadem, Kanyamwa and neighbouring tribes from what is now Tanzania.“This was like a fort to the locals, while the Portuguese had their fort Jesus, the Luo’s had their ‘Thimlich Ohinga’” says Silas Nyagweth Kenya National Museum’s curator at the site.‘There are actually four forts in here known as Kochieng, Kakuku, Kokech and Koluoch. They all combine to make the Thimlich Ohinga”, reveals Silas
Situated about an hour’s journey by road from Migori town, deep into the west of the country towards the shores of Lake Victoria at Sori, this historical site resembles the ruins of the great Zimbabwe in southern Africa and the Great Wall of China according to area MP Omondi Anyanga.
Thimlich’s strategic location forms a perfect stopover for those on their way to or from the nearby Ruma National Game Park, Gogo falls or the Macalder gold mines.
Like Great Zimbabwe Thimlich has been the subject of a lot of historical and scientific research by those who try to dispel the notion that Africans did not build in stone. Once inside, I could not stop marvelling at the skills used to join the rocks to form the protective and intimidating outer wall surrounding the site.
Records show that the first written document on the site was done by Neville Chittick, former Director of the British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa in the 1960s while National Museums of Kenya researchers began working at this site in 1980. By then the site was referred to as “Liare Valley” after the valley to the northeast of the hill. Continuing work led to the gazettement of the site as a National Monument in 1981 under its present name Thimlich Ohinga, since its previous name did not describe the exact location of the site.
Entering the fort requires agility as visitors have to crouch quite low. According to the curator, the doors were made short to ensure that enemies were subdued at the entrance. This also made it easier for the guards watching at the control tower situated right at the entrance to pick off intruders. The control tower is some raised rocks at the entrance. From here, one can see basically most of the compound.
In the smaller side forts, there are small compartment also surrounded in the same way as the main fort using stones but little bit shorter, this small forts were houses, picnic points, cow pens and a granary for those were believed to be living in the enclosures.
Some of the compartments include the games section. Here, stones where the men are believed to have played ‘ajua’ games are still intact. Besides them are the grinding stones where the women are believed to have ground the grains while the men played.
Today Thimlich Ohinga is also home to wild animals and is protected by both Kenyan national museums and the Kenya Wildlife Service as a tourist site.
The dense forest surrounding the fort is home to antelopes, monkeys, and guinea fowl.
Outside the forts through either of the two exits available, which are even smaller than the entrance there are some strange inscriptions.“These are still a subject of debate and research” Silas explains.
Silas explains that Luos came to the area around 300 years ago, which is about 200 years after the forts were built. Despite its captivating features, the site receives little tourist attention despite calls by local leaders for the site to be popularised. Nyatike MP Omondi Anyanga has constantly urged the Government to gazette the area as a National Heritage site.
Anyanga says little has changed since NMK took over its operations in 1980s.Its actively marketed in the NMK website but visits to this place has been rare mainly due to poor infrastructure in the region.
Recently the International French Research Association (IFRA) which is based at the French embassy in Nairobi mapped out the area around the fort for a possible grant to communities living around the Thimlich Ohinga tourist site to start income generating ventures.“We also want to support the residents to improve their agricultural activities and education of their children,” says Juliana Marc, the IFRA project co-coordinator during a meeting with local leaders and officials from the National Museums of Kenya. He promised to improve the infrastructure of Thimlich in a bid to attract more tourists.
He says “the site has the potential to greatly improve economic livelihood of the locals and accused successive governments since independence of ignoring it.
For potential tourist you have all the reason to hurry before this site become extinct as it is one of the listed endangered sites taking 48th position globally.