Project Amu - Athman Bakar Kale

We want you to understand more about why the David Sheldrick Trust has chosen to work in the coastal Lamu District

We want you to understand more about why the David Sheldrick Trust has chosen to work in the coastal Lamu District.  We want you to learn about the indigenous tribes and cultures that inhabit this historically diverse, rich and vibrant region and we want to introduce you to the people that are desperately trying to protect their heritage, environment and livelihoods.

Over the coming months you will get to meet the Project Amu Team as well as members from the local communities. 

Today we speak to an Elder of Mukunumbi village, which borders the protected Project Amu conservation area.

Athman Bakar Kale

Athman remembers as a child walking off into the bush along the Lamu coastline, watching elephants and rhinos as they drank from fresh water holes and lakes, which were always full, yet now he hasn’t seen an elephant or a rhino for many decades and each year brings harder droughts.

His great grandfather was born in Kiunga only a few days walk further north of Mukunumbi where Athman was born and like his great grandfather Athman is one of the Bajuni tribe.  Like most children of his generation Athman never went to school but instead helped his father tend to his cattle and farm, learning the skills needed to grow crops and breed cows. 

Athman remembers that life was easier back then.  The rains came three times a year, their crops always grew well and their cattle were healthy.  Yet he also remembers the invasion, the years following the late sixties, when his family were attacked and left with no cattle and a farm they couldn’t afford to run.  This time was known as the Somali Shifta War.  Athman’s village of Mukunumbi was hardest hit during the decades following the frequent attacks. 

He remembers how Mukunumbi was once a valuable and successful trading town with a healthy population, compared to today where it barely survives on small-scale farming alone.  There is no business, no trade, no employment and little hope for the future.  Athman describes how most of the youth have either left their homeland to try and find work or have stayed with their family unemployed. 

Reminiscing, Athman recalls a traditional ceremony that used to be practised every year throughout the Lamu district called ‘Chonda’ the celebration of the harvest.  Each member of the community would offer their best cows for slaughter in celebration of the gathering of the crops and in giving thanks for their harvest.  The adults would say to the children ‘eat so much meat that you will never forget this day’.  Athman remembers how his father would tell him to eat until it feels like there’s a big stone in your stomach.  Chonda has never been celebrated since the invasion. 

Athman believes that the spirit of the community and the land was crushed in those lawless years of conflict.  Their livelihoods disappeared, their wildlife was wiped out, their forests withered and the rains ceased to come.  For all these years the people of mainland Lamu have been forgotten, but now Athman feels there is a chance to regain a little of what was lost through the support given to the community through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in regenerating and protecting the wilderness of Amu and in doing so the future of his people.