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Bura is located in the Taita/Taveta County of Kenya’s Mombassa region, approximately 60 miles from the Indian Ocean. It is known for its hills which rise to 6000 feet above sea level. The geography of the location is quite diverse) extending from the grassy fields) swamps and acacia forest of the plains) to the dense patches of forest surrounded by semi-terraced farms on the steep hillsides.

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A large Catholic Mission for which the location is named is situated in a central position in the location's hills, occupying prime agricultural land. There are several small village areas within Bura (see map). For example, there is a small trading center (Sanga) near the Catholic Mission where there is a weekly market, post office, telephone booth, shops and a tea house. There is also a small center growing further up in the hills, near the chiefs office (Tungulu). Another trading center is quickly growing in the lowlands (Mwashuma) as a result of its location near the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. While the center is not electrified, the shops, lodging houses, rental units and bar have been developed quickly in order to cater primarily to the needs of the drivers who transport tourists to the reserve. Filially, the main trading center is located in Bura Station. It is located on the railway line between the large town of Voi and the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Here one finds the polytechnic school a Catholic Church, market place, many shops, a grinding mill, several restaurants, a lodging house, residential and rental units, a health center, post office, telephone booth, and the railway station. The center is electrified and has tap water, although many buildings do not have electricity and taps are placed at key points in the town for people to share.

Read an account from one of our members of staying with a family in Bura. . .

The climate varies with the altitude. The lowlands are generally hot and dry, while the hills receive more rainfall and cooler temperatures.

The most extensively grown agricultural crops are corn and beans. Those who live in the dry lowland areas grow millet, as it is drought resistant and does well in poor soil. Rice is grown in swampy areas. On the cool hillsides, one finds banana groves. Those who are able to irrigate their land produce most of the vegetables grown in the area. These crops include tomato, cabbage and green pepper and they are marketed primarily in Mombasa. Other small-scale crops include cassava, sweet potato, citrus, pea, mango and sugar cane. Most farmers cannot afford farm machinery. They farm with hoes and hands.

The People of Bura and their History

The people of Bura are predominantly of the Taita (Dawida) ethnic group, speaking the Dawida language as their mother tongue. The total number of Taita people in Kenya is estimated to be approximately 250,000 making it one of the smaller ethnic groups in the country. The ancestors of the Bura Taita were said to have migrated from Lewa in Tanzania, in search of land for grazing and cultivation. They settled initially in the hills to grow some crops, while maintaining plots of land in the lower region for others. Family members migrated seasonally to care for the farms and graze livestock. Game meat was plentiful and honey was harvested using traditional methods. There was considerable mobility and it was not unheard of for people to walk as far as Tanzania (approximately 30 miles) to visit friends or trade goods and livestock.

Several forces have largely destroyed the systems that the Bura people established to meet their needs while caring for their natural surroundings. In the late 1800's, Catholic missionaries came from the coast and confiscated 1000 acres of the best agricultural land. Many farmers moved away from their productive farms in search of land in the dry and bushy lowlands when this happened. Others resisted the Mission, and eventually it returned parts of the land that it had taken. The Mission was most generous with those who converted to Catholicism, urging them to settle on the best pieces of land surrounding the Mission, disregarding original settlers.
In the 1960's and 70'5, tourism began to emerge as Kenya's leading industry. Jomo Kenyatta, the president at that time, generously offered a huge tract of land in this area to a European friend. This became the Taita Hills Wildlife Reserve and the Salt Lick Lodge. Hunting and killing of wild animals was criminalized, but little was done to protect the farmers from the animals. The result is that animals such as elephant and buffalo freely roam the lowlands destroying crops, uprooting fruit trees and endangering lives. The resulting insecurity keeps farmers from undertaking certain activities such as planting trees. It also means that large amounts of labor are required to guard crops, particularly at night.

The 1970's was a period of land demarcation. Private ownership of land became the rule and land was consolidated in order to settle families on individual tracts. Families could no longer depend on small tracts (shambas) in several areas as they had in the past. Consolidation means that a family must now depend on one piece of land to meet its needs. If that piece fails, the family faces hunger. Cooperation between family members has been affected as nuclear families and their private land has replaced extended families managing larger and more diverse pieces of cornrnunal land. Conflicts have arisen as some acquired land in the most productive areas while others were consolidated on their least productive lands. Environmental degradation has increased as people are forced to cultivate on marginal land and destroy areas of particular eco logical importance.

Bura Location has many schools and other institutions. There are twelve primary schools, six high schools, a vocational center for the disabled, a polytechnic school and a private teachers' training college. There are plans underway to construct another secondary school in the lower region

There are five health centers in the location including Sagaighu, Mbagha, Mwashuma, Bura Station and the Mission. The first four are government operated, while the latter is a private clinic run by the Catholic church. There is a police base near the Mission, and another outpost at the Chiefs camp. The predominant religion is Catholicism. but the Anglican Chmch has a small following and plans are underway for the construction of an Anglican Church.

Bura Location has seven sub-Iocations each of which includes several villages. Each village is governed locally by a village head. Each sub-Iocation is governed by an appointed Assistant Chief, supervised at the Locationallevel by a Chief. All Chiefs in Taita- Taveta County answer to the County Commissioner who in turn answers to the Regional Commissioner and finally to the President. Elected officials include councilors at the Locational level and Members of Parliament at the Divisional Level.

There are many types of organizations in Bura. Women's groups play all- important roles in organizing women. They undertake income generating projects and village banking. Men's groups and self-help groups are also attempting to do the same, while the Horticuhural Cooperative provides members with seeds, fertilizer and a market for their produce. Each Village has a committee that works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Plan International and DANIDA to implement projects in water, health, education, and agriculture. Cultural groups provide entertainment for community events.