These were the entities that were embedded in the people’s way of life such that there practice was well understood by the community members; generations through generation. Examples include:


A totem is a plant or animal species used by a clan as their symbol. Members of that clan were not allowed to harm that particular plant or animal species and this led to species conservation. For instance, among the Kalenjin and Kuria communities, different wildlife e.g. leopard, lion, crane, and certain insects were considered clan totems (Odak 1992, Peristiany 1939). Among the Kipsigis, totems were never killed. Persons under the same totemic symbol would not inter-marry thus enhancing genetic diversity among the people. Among the Kikuyu, such names as Ngari (leopard), Njogu (Elephant) were and are still very common. They were symbolic in that those given such names were believed to share some positive characters of the animals. Njogu was associated with a very strong person while Ngari symbolized courage. Though destructive, these associations endeared them to the community and the animals were therefore considered valuable.

Shrines and sacred groves

These Certain trees and groves that were considered sacred thus set aside as special places/ sites for offering sacrifices to the gods and spirits. Prayers were also conducted here. For example, Mugumo tree among the Kikuyu community, Murembe tree among the Tiriki, and the Kaya Forests along the Kenyan coast. Such areas were protected by elders from destruction leading to the preservation/ conservation of species therein. Among the Tiriki, sacred groves were also used for circumcision ceremonies while the Kikuyus considered Mt. Kenya sacred, being home to their god, Murungu or Mwene Nyaga ( Karume 2010).

Ancestral Spirits

Africans believed that spirits were souls of dead people and lived in the spirit world. The spirit world could influence the world of the living especially when evils were done by punishing the living with calamities like drought, diseases, and other natural disasters. The spirits were appeased through offering sacrifices. Spirits were thought to appear in form of animals which were not to be harmed in any way, so these animals were conserved.

The Nandi believed that the dead lived in spirits and visited the living in forms of snakes, moles or rats (Huntingford 1953). Spirits were also thought to reside in some thick parts of the forests, mountains, lakes and caves which were not to be interfered with leading to their protection.


Traditional societies believed that killing some of animal species or cutting some plant species could lead to a curse on the individual or community at large e.g. killing an owl or black ants believed to be a symbol of good or bad omen by some communities. Among the Kikuyu, the bird, Fiscal Shrike, was associated with the coming of visitors; children were discouraged from harassing them (Kassagain 1992). This led to the protection of such species. Black ants were believed to be symbols of good luck or bad omen among the Marakwet. Harming them intensified bad Omen.


These are stories among various communities that are used to explain certain historical happenings that are related to some animal or plant species that led to their conservation. For instance among the Meru and the Kikuyu communities of Kenya, an owl cursed man, but still, it could not be killed. This led to its conservation despite its being associated with bad omen.

Taboos & Customary Law

These were the Do’s and the Don’ts of various societies some of which could be associated with controlling wasteful use of natural resources. For example among the Kalenjin, it was a taboo to drink milk, eat meat, and drink blood at the same time. These ensured efficient use of resources. Customary laws and taboos played a major role in protecting and conserving the natural resources in the environment. Among the Kikuyu, taboos were referred to as Migiro.

Indigenous Knowledge

In the African set up, “Education begins at the time of birth and ends with death” (Kenyatta 1965). At family level, indigenous knowledge was taught by close clan members at home. In the fields, the youth learned values of groves, clan boundaries, names of plants/animals and their uses, wild fruits, fish, and the suitable ways of exploiting these environmental resources. This was informally taught to the youth by elders of a community. As a result, the people learnt a common way of associating with the environment; through generations.

Social structures and social control

There existed rules among every community on resource use. To ensure compliance, during social functions such as dances, the community members took issue with those not adhering to the community regulations. As the song progressed, offenders were mentioned by name and this discouraged would be offenders.

Restricting flow of information

Knowledge was strictly bound to remain to the community members and any flow/ leakage of information to the outsiders that could have lead to breaking the social web of the community was strictly forbidden. Considering that the social web was bound within the environment, environmental degradation was avoided.

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