Thimlich Ohinga Historical site

Thimlich Ohinga Historical site : Kenya is known for its amazing wildlife and great for Kenya safari tours especially the great migration safaris in Maasai Mara National Reserve but it is also a great place rich in Historical sites such as Thimlich Ohinga. Thimlich Ohinga is the name given to a group of stone-built artefacts found in the Nyanza Kenya region of East Africa. It is the largest of the 138 locations that contain 521 stone buildings near Lake Victoria in Kenya. They are grouped together tightly.  The main enclosure at Thimlich Ohinga has walls that are 1 to 4.2 metres (3.3 to 13.8 feet) height and 1-3 metres thick (3.3 to 9.8 feet). The structures were built without the use of mortar because they were made of undressed blocks, boulders, and stones. The stones fit together securely. It is believed that the region was inhabited as early as the fifteenth century.

Where is it located?

Thimlich Ohinga is located in Migori county, 181 km (112 miles) south of Kisumu, on a gently sloping hill next to Macalder’s Mines, 46 km (29 miles) north-west of Migori town. It is comparable to another 137 sites in the areas of Karungu, Kadem-Kanyamkago, Gwassi, Kaksingiri Lake headlands, Kanyidoto, and Kanyamwa.

Former director of the British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa Neville Chittick documented the site in the 1960s. Researchers from Kenya’s National Museums began their inquiry of the site in 1980. In 1981, Thimlich Ohinga, originally known as “Liare Valley” after a valley in the area’s northeast, received the designation of Kenyan National Monument. The name was altered since “Liare Valley” misrepresented the site’s geographic location. The area is home to the Luo people. The words Thimlich and Ohinga have different meanings in the Luo language of Dholuo. Thimlich means “a terrifying dense forest,” whereas Ohinga means “a large fortress.”

Why was Thimlich Ohinga built?

The magnitude of Thimlich Ohinga and accompanying structures indicates a well-organized community with the capacity to mobilise labour and resources. The surrounding, easily available rocks provided the building materials for the enclosures. The fences were allegedly built as a kind of defence against wandering animals, cattle rustlers, and other hostile parties, according to Luo oral histories. These stories claim that the people of the area at the time constructed Thimlich Ohinga to serve as defence against foreign invaders in the Kadem and Kanyamwa regions as well as from surrounding ethnic groups from what is now Tanzania. The economic, religious, and social hub of Thimlich Ohinga also acted as a defensive fort.

Who built Thimlich Ohinga?

There is considerable disagreement over the exact dating of the site. Quartz flakes from the late stone age have been found there, which are believed to precede it. There is substantial debate regarding the architects and history of Thimlich Ohinga and the other stone-walled settlements. However, it is at best doubtful to draw simple inferences about the linguistic or ethnic origin of the site’s founders given that all current historical, linguistic, and genetic data point to extensive population admixture and movement during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. The area’s original builders and subsequent people sustained a pastoral lifestyle where cattle were a significant component of the economy, according to historical and archaeological study. These studies also reach the conclusion that the development of Thimlich Ohinga and other neighbouring defensive structures required strong socio-political organisation.

Thimlich Ohinga Historical site
Thimlich Ohinga Historical site

At the locations, crowds of people streamed in. Oral histories suggest that the original inhabitants were a Bantu-speaking people before the migration of Nilotic-speaking peoples. The proto-Gusii/Kuria or proto-Luhya lived in the Thimlich Ohinga region, according to certain sources. It is also believed that migrants from Burundi, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi went through the area; some of them subsequently entered Tanzania from the south. The spatial organisation most closely resembles that of conventional Luo homesteads, according to archaeological and ethnographic studies of the sites. Thimlich Ohinga, for instance, exhibits a layout of circular Luo homesteads with a major gathering place near to a central cow fence. Furthermore, pottery that has been discovered at the sites has unusual decorative patterns that are exclusive to Western Nilotic speakers (Luo), but not to Bantu speakers. These findings suggest that the residents of these structures may have also contributed to the genealogy of the locals who still identify as Luo today. For an unknown reason, the original builders had left Thimlich Ohinga behind. As various populations increasingly migrated into the area between the 15th and the 19th centuries, the residents of the complexes maintained them up by fixing and changing the buildings. The buildings were remained standing despite the restorations and reoccupation. The area was lastly abandoned in the first half of the 20th century as the colonial authorities established peace and order there. Instead of using stone for fence, the family who had been residing in the enclosures divided off into their own homesteads. As the indigenous population shifted from a communal to an individualistic way of life, so did their way of thinking.

How it was designed

The Thimlich Ohinga’s architectural style is a reflection of Great Zimbabwe’s (3,100 km) to the south in Zimbabwe, albeit being smaller in scale. In contrast to Great Zimbabwe, Thimlich Ohinga was built using loose, haphazardly shaped basalt stones from the region. Because dressing and mortar were absent from both sites, stability required extreme caution and knowledge. The walls of Thimlich Ohinga are 1 m (3.3 ft.) thick, free-standing, and do not have a base that has been dug. They are between 0.5 and 4.5 metres (1.6 and 14.8 feet) tall. The ovoid walls curve and zigzag together, with irregular buttresses adding additional stability. Similar enclosures in Northern Nyanza include granite supports and stone linings as well. Stone lintels and engravings can be seen on the gates.

Defensive savannah architecture, which later spread to other regions of East and Southern Africa, is exemplified by Thimlich Ohinga. Thimlich Ohinga gives the image of a society with a centralised system of control and a communal lifestyle that was dispersed over the Lake Victoria region when viewed in conjunction with the other stone-built enclosures.

Interior design

A watchtower made of high rocks is just adjacent to the entryway. Three entrances lead to the main monument in Thimlich Ohinga, two of which face east and one towards west. The structures are separated into corridors, depressions, and numerous smaller enclosures. The homes inside the enclosures were constructed on tall platforms and in circular depressions. Inside the main monument are five fences and six habitation pits. A recreation area with a board game resembling Mancala, called locally as ajua, is located within the main enclosure of Thimlich Ohinga. Additionally, there are grain-grinding stones there. In addition, retaining walls for gardens and animal cages for guinea pigs, chickens, lambs, cattle, and goats were built. The site contains the remains of both domestic and wild animals, including cattle, ovicaprids (sheep and goats), chicken, fish, hartebeest (Kongoni), duiker, and hare. It was intended for the entryways to include small tunnels so that guards stationed on the nearby watchtower could easily disarm any potential attackers. The watchtower offers a fantastic vantage point of the entire complex and its surrounds. Additionally included in the enclosures are smaller side forts with dwellings, dining areas, animal cages, and granaries. At Thimlich Ohinga, there was an iron smith. Iron slag, smoking bellows, and other iron objects have been unearthed in an area that is only partially walled and close to the main enclosure. Thimlich Ohinga participated in a network of cross-country trade, as evidenced by the discovery of imported glass beads at the site.

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