Taita-Taveta County is a county of Kenya. It lies approximately 200 km northwest of Mombasa and 360 km southeast of Nairobi. The capital is Mwatate even though it is the third-largest town in the county after Voi, Wundanyi and Taveta in that order. The population of the county 30 years ago was approximately 45,000 persons but this has shot up to well over 250,000 persons with population densities ranging from 3 persons per km2. to more than 800 persons per km2. This is due to the varied rainfall and terrain with the lower zones receiving an average 440 mm of rain per annum and the highland areas receiving up to 1900 mm of rain. The range rises in altitude from 500 m above sea level to almost 2,300 a.s.a at vuria peak which is the highest.
In 2007, the Taita-Taveta District was split into two districts: the Taita District and the Taveta District. The two were subsequently re-united to form Taita-Taveta County
The county covers an area of 17,083.9 km2. of which a bulk 62% or 11,100 km2. is within Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. The remaining 5,876 km2 is occupied by ranches, sisal estates, water bodies such as Lakes Chala and Jipe in Taveta and mzima springs, and the hilltop forests which occupy less than 100 km2. or approximately 10 km² out of 587.5 km².
The lowland areas of the district that are do not belong to national parks are divided to ranches, estates and wild life sanctuaries. The district has approximately 25 ranches. The main land use in ranch is cattle grazing. The three operating sisal estates of the district are the Teita Sisal Estate, Voi Sisal Estate and Taveta Sisal Estate. Many ranches utilize also wildlife tourism and conservation. The Taita Hills and Saltlick Lodges sanctuary is located in the district.
There are 48 forests which have survived on hill tops in the district of which 28 are gazetted and are under government protection and management. They range in size from small 500 square metres with a few remnant trees to modestly vast 2 square kilometres indigenous and exotic forest mountains. These forests are part of a unique Eastern Arch range of forests which are found mostly in Eastern Tanzania with the Taita Hills forming the only Kenyan Eastern Arc forest type in East Africa.
The Taita Hills forest hold a unique biodiversity with 13 taxa of plants and 9 taxa of animals found only in the Taita Hills and nowhere else in the world. In addition 22 plant species found in the Taita Hills forests are typical of the Eastern arc forests. The next being in eastern Tanzania. Some of the endemic African violet - Saintpaulia teitensis among others. Within these beautiful indigenous forests, bubble pure clean water to the lowland areas to cater for both human agricultural activities and wildlife in the Taita game sanctuary and Aruba dam in Tsavo East. The lower plains are thus supplied with water by the forests in the hills which are a good catchment of rains.
Taita Taveta Constituencies
The county has four constituencies:
- Taveta Constituency.
- Wundanyi Constituency.
- Mwatate Constituency.
- Voi Constituency.
List of ranches, estates and sanctuaries in Taita-Taveta County.
The large scale land use units of the Taita-Taveta County consists of 21 ranching units, two wildlife sanctuaries and three sisal estates.
- Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
- LUMO Community Wildlife Sanctuary
- Amaka Ranch
- Bura Ranch
- Choke Ranch
- Dawida Ranch
- Kambanga Ranch
- Kasigau Ranch
- Kishushe Cooperative Ranch
- Kuma Ranch
- Lualenyi Private Ranch
- Maungu Ranch
- Mbale Ranch
- Mbulia Ranch
- Mgeno Ranch
- Mramba Ranch
- Mwasui Ranch
- Ndara Ranch
- Oza Ranch
- Rukinga Ranch
- Sagalla Ranch
- Taita Ranch
- Wushumbu Ranch
- Kidai Sisal Estate (not operational)
- Taveta Sisal Estate
- Teita Sisal Estate
- Voi Sisal Estate
Traditional Taita Festivals, Dress, Dance, Houses & Farming
The people in our community have different ways of life as a result of their customs and traditions. The culture of the people is shown through:-
- Harvest: Festivals were held after something special has taken place like good harvest/music competition.
- Child birth: Ceremonies are held to mark a major event likebirth, naming of a baby, initiation, marriage or death.
- Child Naming: The birth of the child was considered a major event. People come with gifts to see the newborn baby and special food and drinks are made and this child is blessed. The children are named after their dead relatives, naming after relatives, according to season depending on when the time the child is born – like Mwanjala (born during drought), Wamvua (born during rain season), Tabu (born during troubles), Mwashimba (born when lions were seen).
- Initiation: Initiation is a right of passage from childhood to adulthood. After circumcision one starts being treated as an adult and one had to change his or her behaviour completely. Mostly they learn how to behave as responsible members of the community. Both boys and girls were circumcised using knives, we call it Kuchwa in Taita language. But today the circumcision of girls is discouraged because it affects their health and education. Currently the boys are taken to hospital. This helps the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
- Sometimes back ancestors (living dead) used to wear skins from goats or sheeps. They were used to cover the lower part of body. Some used to wear the barks of big trees. Most woman used banana leaves as a woman respective attire. There is also a mode of dressing meaned for woman called mahando. This was worn during traditional dances and it is made from sisal.
- The traditional dance is called Kirindi in Taita language. They used instruments, live horns (nderera), whistle (firimbi), jingles (njuga), mwazindika (a drum made with a hollow trunk of tree covered with skin on top and bottom.
- The traditional houses walls were made from mud and the roofs were made of grass. The house itself is round shaped and has a kingpost which is located at the centre to support the other wooden pieces which were tied round the house to create space for the grass to be thatched through. In these houses they used hides as their beddings and also they used them as chairs (hides).
- The Taita people used to grow maize, peas, cowpeas, greengrams, cassava, sweet potatoes, yarms, pumkins, bananas, millet, water melons, orange trees, avocado, guavas, locots, wild passion fruit.
- They also kept cows, goats, sheep, camels, donkey. They used the animals for food, transport, traditional medication, dowrey. The person who kept many cattles was considered to be rich.
- Early means of transport were canoes, foot and some used park animals to carry their goods.
Lifestyle of the of the Taita people
Traditionally, one of the most important aspects of Taita tribal culture was male circumcision. Circumcision was considered an important ritual in training young boys, normally aged between 7 and 11 years, to take on more adult responsibilities. Traditional circumcision no longer takes place in most parts of Taita, as many parents opt to have the operation done in a hospital.
One very unique aspect of Taita culture is the respect accorded to the dead. In the past, when a person died, they were buried for a period of about one year, at which time their body would be exhumed. The skull would be severed from the rest of the body and taken to a sacred cave - their "proper" abode with the ancestors. While this is no longer practiced today, the caves where the skulls can still be found are treated as sacred in many parts of Taita.
Taitas and Music
The Taita people have always enjoyed expressing themselves through music. They had many interesting forms of traditional dance, the most fascinating of which was the pepo spirit-possession dance called Mwazindika. The tavetas also have a dance called Urwasi pictured below. This and other traditional dances have since died off and are now only performed during national holidays. Members of the Taita tribe are, however, still very talented musically. The late Fadhili Williams of the hit song Malaika was one of many recent Taita musicians.
One of the famous Taita Musicians
Taveta Traditional Dance - Urwasi
Dance perfomed to Taveta Sub-County visitors.
A key component of the mwazindika dance.