By Maina Kiarie
Date: between AD 1300 and AD 1500
Location: Nyatike County, Western Kenya.
Culture: Likely Bantu, Late Iron Age.
Thimlich Ohinga is one of a number of old villages and settlement sites marked by dry stone walling that date back to the 14th century. ‘Thimlich’ literally means ‘frightening dense forest’ and ‘Ohinga’ refers to the presence of stone structures in the local language, Dholuo, of the Luo community who live in the region. The settlements are referred to as ‘Ohingni’, a name that connotes an idea of a refuge in the wilderness.
Thimlich Ohinga previously called Liare Valley was gazetted as a national monument in 1981, at which time the name “Thimlich Ohinga” was adapted. The site located about 46 kilometres north-west of Migori town, serves as an example of dry stone enclosures widespread in the southern part of Nyanza province in western Kenya. According to UNESCO there are a total of 138 sites containing 521 structures mainly concentrated in the Kadem-Kanyamkago areas, Karungu, Gwasi and Kaksingiri Lake Headlands, and in Kanyamwa and Kanyindoto areas.
Researchers from the National Museums of Kenya began working on this site in 1980. The stone structures are believed to have been built about 500 years ago by the late Iron Age settlers in the Lake Victoria region. It is believed that the stone building tradition was introduced by the first communities to settle here to meet their security requirements against wild animals and marauding groups. In construction they exploited the environmental resources in the region, in that they made use of the abundant rocks on the hilly areas as ready resource to construct complex villages or cities. As a result, both early (Bantu) and later (Nilotic) settlers in the region constructed about 521 enclosures in 139 localities in the entire Lake Victoria region. The current occupants of the region, the Luo, arrived about three centuries ago.
The style architectural technique used in the construction of the Thimlich Ohinga stone structures is very rare, only similar to those of the Great Ruins of Zimbabwe. The stone walls were assembled from undressed stones that were meticulously selected and set in place to interlock like a jigsaw puzzle forming a wall with stability akin to conventional stone mortar technology. The walls range from 1.0 to 4.2 metres in height and 1.0 to 3.0 metres in width