Regenerating Mutual Aid one Kaya at a time

Tags: Kaya, duruma, Mijikenda, Mwerya

image Members of Kaya Chilumani have been active in various Mweria activities, from constructing houses to planting trees for environmental conservation.

Kaya Chilumani is a traditional group in Kinango, Kwale, Kenya. It's made up of 12 Kaya elders from a larger community who aim to preserve their heritage. In Mijikenda culture, a Kaya is a sacred placeā€”a space for worship, but also a home and society. The ancient Mijikenda had special forests, also called Kayas, that were well-protected and served as places of worship. Each Kaya takes its name from the locality or the Mijikenda clan or tribe living there. Kaya Chilumani is named by the Duruma, one of the nine Mijikenda tribes mainly residing in Kinango, Kwale County.

The Duruma tribe had rich indigenous practices that fostered asset creation, abundance and unity. A core practice was the Mweria, a rotation of labor associations (ROLA) where people gathered for various activities. These ranged from service mwerias for tilling land, conservation mwerias for protecting forests, infrastructural mwerias for building houses or granaries, to educational mwerias led by elders to care for children. These gatherings happened during emergencies, seasonally, and were planned in yearly calendars.

However, this mutual aid practice began to fade as early as 1979, with only a few still practicing Mweria. The introduction of currency through forced taxation (Colonization) also marked the beginning of wealth and capital accumulation and the end of mutual aid. "Duruma people started working for money rather than for each other," said Mariam Ruwa, a village elder. "The last Mweria I saw was in 2003 when I was 17. It's amazing to see the practice coming back!"

To revive these traditions, the group created a digital Community Asset Voucher they call CHIMAN, enhancing transparency, accountability, and interoperability. Marunga Chiboya, a Kaya elder, noted, "Since the creation and circulation of Chiman vouchers, life has become easier. I have a record on my phone now, of all the members who will help till my land next week as I have helped them."

You can see the community using their CHIMAN on a decentralized ledger here:

"Through communal labor, we spend less time, energy, and money. Mweria brings back the good old spirits of togetherness, sharing, and belonging. These practices were slowly getting forgotten," said Halima Omar, a Kaya Chilumani group member.

image Members of Kaya Chilumani recently underwent community assets voucher training led by Mwanaidi Ruwa, a Kaya Elder.

image *Members of kaya chilumani gather to prepare maize at one of their members home as part of their Mwerya. Picture by Mwanaidi Ruwa *

image Kaya Chilumani members excavating zai pits as part of their Mwerya. . Picture taken by Wilfred Chibwara Community Development officer, Grassroots Economics

image Members from Kaya Chilumani group planting trees as a way of conserving the environment in a mwerya.

In this way, the Kaya Chilumani group is not just preserving the past but breathing new life into it, blending tradition with modern tools for a future where community and mutual aid are the cornerstones.