For many decades, Busia County has been known by millions of Kenyans as a thriving hub for cross-border trade, owing to its location.
For some, Busia is the gateway to east and central Africa.
Hundreds of trucks cross Malaba and Busia one-stop border posts daily destined for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and even the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hundreds of others cross into Kenya.
Unknown to many, this part of the country – which borders the world’s third largest fresh water mass, Lake Victoria – has a beautiful scenic environment, resplendent with geographical features to behold.
Of particular interest is the Kakapel National Monument, the home to Kakapel Rock and Community Cultural Centre in Teso North Constituency.
The granite rock, which is about 270 metres high, offers a breath-taking view of undulating landscape, with lush green vegetation punctuated with human settlements.
At the top of the rock, one is able to see some parts of Siaya, Uganda, Mt Elgon and the sprawling Chelelemuk hills.
To access the site, which is an ideal spot for hiking, bird watching and camping, one has to take a 30-kilometre tarmac road from Malaba, off the Bungoma-Malaba highway.
It is at the foot of the rock where the jewel lies. This is the home of ancient culture hidden in three caves.
The caves are home of probably the oldest rock art and superimposed paintings in east and central Africa.
The first painting, done in red and drawn by fingers, includes geometric designs and an animal that appears to be an elephant.
The second is of cattle and a small elephant while the third painting is entirely of finger-drawn images of geometric designs and animals.
Some archaeologists say the Kakapel rock art is probably the best heritage of humanity in the world.
It is for this reason that Kakapel, which was declared a national monument in 2004, was listed as country’s leading rock art centre by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).
Mr Zakayos Akwara, the curator, said this tranquil site has become a magnet for domestic and international visitors.
Mr Akwara said the paintings show the lives and environment of the hunters, gatherers and pastoralists who inhabited the region some 2,000-3,000 years ago.
“Research is ongoing to establish the exact period the groups inhabited this place. The last study was conducted by the NMK in February last year,” Mr Akwara said.
“Some students from United States excavated samples and human remains. We are waiting for the findings.”
The samples are being used by archaeologists to establish how long the ancients remained in Kakapel, their activities and lifestyle in general.
Mr Akwara added that soot in one of the caves indicates cooking or that the inhabitants used fire.
“There was some cooking going on as shown by the presence of grinding stones in the caves,” the curator said.
Locals also say a man from the Luhya community named Mukasa Mango inhabited the caves several centuries ago.
“The Bukusu – a Luhya sub-tribe – are believed to have initiated their circumcision culture at the caves. They still come here for rituals before the circumcision season begins,” the curator added.
Other attractions at the centre include thousands of bats, a variety of bird species and the resident De Brazza monkeys.
Kakapel too has many indigenous plants and trees, some used by locals for medicinal purposes.
At the Kakapel Community Cultural Centre, just next to the rock, visitors are treated to rich Iteso culture. The Iteso are found in western Kenyan and eastern Uganda.
During the annual festivities on December 26, the centre opens its doors for residents and non-locals to enjoy and share Iteso cultural heritage that includes dances, music, clothes, food, drinks, rituals and oral literature.
According to Mr Akwara, visitors comprise nature lovers, students, researchers and rock art enthusiasts from all over the world.
He however added that the number of tourists has been shrinking over the years, blaming the situation on poor marketing of the museum.
“We need funding for creating awareness. For now, we cannot move from town to town or region to region to market this vital tourism resource during exhibitions since we do not have the money,” the curator said.
“This is a very important pre-historic site. The dates and varieties of the paintings are the oldest, unique and most diverse in the country and the larger East and Central Africa.”
In April, the NMK signed a memorandum of understanding with Busia County government to give cultural and natural sites a facelift.
The devolved government and NMK said doing so would conserve the natural heritage of the region.
In the agreement that was signed by NMK Director-General Mzalendo Kibunjia and Busia Deputy Governor Moses Mulomi, the two parties said they would establish a research centre that will document cultural and heritage activities of the region.
“The management of our heritage will involve the construction of centres, museums, the landscaping of open cultural sites, building of botanical gardens and documenting and gazetting important places,” Dr Kibunjia said during the Bunyala North Culture and Sports Expo in Budalang’i Constituency.