Among the wealth of historical sites Kenya boasts, Thimlich Ohinga stands out as the one complex of stone ruins in Migori County, Western Kenya.
Thimlich Ohinga is one of the 138 sites that include 521 stone structures, which were built around the Lake Victoria region. The main enclosure has walls of 1.0 to 3 metres thick, measuring 1 to 4.2 metres in height. The construction materials used to build the structures included undressed blocks, rocks, and stoneset in place without mortar. Archeologists believe the site is more than 550 years old, and the area it occupies is inhabited by the Luo people. In Dholuo, the language spoken by this people, ‘Thimlich’ means ‘frightening dense forest’, and ‘Ohinga’ means ‘large fortress’.
Over the centuries, the area has been inhabited by various tribes, from Bantu speaking proto-Luhya/Gusii, who lived on the site sometime before, during or after the expansion of the Luo. Others followed, living behind traces of their existence, such as the Kisii, living near Thimlich Ohinga now, the Maragoli and the Bunyore (two branches of the Luhya) and said to be descending from three men, Gusii, Mulogoli, and Anyore. All three of them, legend has it, were the sons of a man by the name of Andimi. The Maragoli, Kisii, and Banyore (split from the Bunyore) settled in these parts in the 13th or 14th century before the arrival of the Luo. After the Luo expanded into the area, the three ethnic groups formally divided into three. The Kisii headed south, the Maragoli (often called Valogoli or even Balogoli) and the Banyore moved north.
Tribes from Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Burundi are also thought to have passed through here and left their mark. Some of these migrant populations headed south and settled in Tanzania. The area was vacated for the last time in the first half of the 20th century.
Moving forward in revealing the mysteries of the place, the architectural style is a perfect reflection of the Great Zimbabwe Empire building style. Overall, Thimlich Ohinga is an illustration of defensive savanna constructions. The access ways were purposely built small so that any potential intruders would be immediately caught by the guards watching the tower nearby. The watchtower made from raised rocks enables easy scanning of the whole complex.
Apart from its purely defensive purpose, the settlement also had side forts, which were smaller in size. These structures were used as dwellings, with meal areas, animal pens, and a granary.